Family Matters with Reese Law Podcasts
Episode 1: Introduction to Collaborative Law
In this episode, we address top level questions about the collaborative law process and discuss some of the benefits on using this approach over litigation.
Kate Reese: Welcome to Family Matters with Reese Law. We are a family law firm based in Fairfax, ends of the Northern Virginia in Montgomery county communities. In our podcast, we are going to discuss current topics of families in transition from premarital agreements to divorce, custody and visitation. I am your host, Kate Reese. I'm a fellow of the American Academy of matrimonial lawyers, and joining me today is one of my associates Christine Hissong. Christine and I are both collaboratively trained professionals practicing more than 20 years each, and we are also Virginia Supreme Court certified mediators. In Episode One, we are discussing Collaborative Law. Please know the material contained in the podcast is not offered nor should it be construed as legal advice. The material in our podcast has been prepared and published for informational purposes only. You should not act or rely upon information contained in these materials without specifically seeking professional legal guidance. Chris, tell us what Collaborative Law is.
Christine Hissong: Sure. So Collaborative Law is an out of court dispute resolution process. And what that means is that the parties to the dispute decide the terms of the resolution. They're not bound by what a judge orders them to do.
Kate Reese: And what are the benefits of using the Collaborative Law process in family law?
Christine Hissong: Well, there are lots and lots of benefits, but I think, really primarily at the base level, a benefit is that the collaborative process is forward focused. So we don't spend a lot of time rehashing what happened between the parties that brought them into the collaborative process. What we do is we take the parties where they are currently and we try to move them ahead to a better future. A lot of times people will sort of want that other party to be reprimanded or to be punished by a judge. In reality that doesn't really happen. What happens is instead is that there's further destruction of the parties in their relationship, there's destruction of the children, depletion of finances, there really is no satisfaction in that sort of punishment process such as litigation.
Kate Reese: Okay. What role do the parties take in the collaborative process?
Christine Hissong: So the whole process is really party focused. The parties and their attorneys meet and regularly scheduled meetings and during those meetings, they generate the options for the resolution. And so those meetings are geared toward when the parties are available and what works best for them. They're not bound by court schedules.
Kate Reese: Is it in public in any regard like court is?
Christine Hissong: No. That's a great benefit for parties and something that is really attractive to people. Typically, family law cases involve a lot of very personal details about the parties, their children, their finances, even their employment. And these are things that people prefer to talk about in private with their most trusted advisors and in litigation, they're talking about it in an open public courtroom, and that's very unappealing to most people.
Kate Reese: Okay. In the collaborative process, besides the attorneys, who helps the parties?
Christine Hissong: There are options for having other collaboratively trained professionals join the attorneys and their clients, and those other professionals might be mental health professionals, financial neutrals and child specialists who will also be mental health professionals. And those other professionals join the team and they do the tasks for the parties that they're trained to do. And typically the rates at which they do those tasks, and their professions are much lower than the attorneys would charge to do the same tasks.
Kate Reese: So what cases are a good fit for the collaborative process?
Christine Hissong: Sure. So in my opinion, every case is a good case for the collaborative process. A lot of times you'll hear people say, “Well, if the parties get along really well already, or they've already agreed on terms of their resolution.” And of course, those are good cases for the collaborative process, but in my experience, in my opinion, those very contentious cases, difficult cases, the ones with very complex issues, those are perfect for the collaborative process.
What I look for really is where there's a case where the parties really are interested in having the best chance for a successful future and who want the best opportunities for their children sort of coming out on the other side of the process.
Kate Reese: Does it cost more?
Christine Hissong: No, there are several things about the collaborative process that really help to keep costs under control. So the attorneys are really problems solvers. They're really focused on helping the parties get through this process and having both people come out and a positive note on the other side. And so with the attorneys being really problem solving focused and not focused on creating fear or more chaos, that in and of itself really keeps costs low. The other professionals who can join the attorneys and their clients to help them reach resolution, really, because they are charging a lower rate typically for those particular tasks than the attorneys would charge if they were performing those tasks in a litigation mode, that helps keep the cost very low. In the collaborative process, we have a rule. And that rule is that all necessary and relevant information has to be shared between the parties. This is rather than engaging in a costly formal discovery process that you do in litigation, and so, again, this helps to keep the costs low. And of course, you are not preparing for trial that really, really increases those costs for parties when you have to go to a trial.
Kate Reese: And being outside of the trial process in the collaborative system, you also have the opportunity to share more information with the people that are the decision makers, isn't that right?
Christine Hissong: Sure. The decision makers in the collaborative process are the parties. They guide their process. They decide the terms of their agreement, of course with the support and advice of their attorneys. But yes, there's a lot of information that can be discussed and shared exchange between the parties that a judge would never see or judge would never hear. And so one of the things that happens is not only are the parties making decisions after having all of the information necessary to make that decision, but they also feel heard, which a lot of times when you're going through trial in the courtroom, that's a complaint of parties. They go through the entire litigation process and they never really feel heard.
Kate Reese: Are there options for using technology? And what if you had a parent that was out of state, can the collaborative process work in that situation?
Christine Hissong: Yeah, absolutely. So what we're finding out during this pandemic, with everyone working from home and isolating and social distancing, is that we can do meetings over zoom, or any of the other platforms. It's really helpful. And we were doing some of that before. I’ve had cases personally that we did over Skype and those types of platforms. And I anticipate really that a lot of parties will prefer to continue to do the remote hearings on whether they're out of town, one or both of the parties or if it's just more convenient because of work obligations or childcare obligations.
Kate Reese: You’re also a trial attorney, correct?
Christine Hissong: Yes.
Kate Reese: What do you see is the end game benefits of the collaborative process that you don't see in a trial setting?
Christine Hissong: What I really like to be able to give my clients in the collaborative process is self determination and control. They are the experts about their children. They are the experts about their finances, how they want to live in the future, what is possible for them, and they get to sort of take all that information, take their history, take their ideals for the future and create something that works for them instead of sort of giving over to the judge, to someone who doesn't know them or their family and only hear a tiny bit about what has gone on in their lives, giving over to that judge the power to dictate to them how they will live in the future.
And so, I think that the best thing about the collaborative process is that control and self determination.
Kate Reese: Understood, Chris, thank you very much for sharing about Collaborative Law. And to our audience, thank you very much for taking the time to hear about what Collaborative Law has to offer you.
Christine Hissong: Thank you.
Kate Reese: Thank you for joining us today on Family Matters with Reese Law. Please subscribe to our show so that you never miss an episode. You may also visit our website at www.reeselawoffice.com for more information. We hope you tune in next time when we talk about mediation in episode two.