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On April 1, 2019, the Tennessee Supreme Court amended their rules to add Rule 53, a new rule addressing Collaborative Family Law. This decision has been a long time coming and thanks should be given to the many professionals that have worked hard for this outcome. It is just another tool for those families having to go through a divorce. This “new” tool provides a team-based approach for divorce.

What is Collaborative Family Law? It is a form of alternative dispute resolution process, like mediation or arbitration. The Collaborative process is completely voluntary, and any party has the right to terminate the arrangement at any time. Everyone contractually agrees not to seek court intervention and instead cooperatively negotiates to resolve their dispute in a team-based approach. A Collaborative family law matter involves any sort of dispute that arises under or is related to Tennessee Code Annotated Titles 36 (Domestic Relations) and 37 (Juveniles) and includes but is not limited to: marriage, divorce, annulment, property distribution, parenting time, child support, adoption, pre-marital or post-marital agreements, or alimony.

Unlike other forms of alternative dispute resolution processes such as mediation or arbitration, Collaborative law requires each party to be represented by Collaborative lawyers. Collaborative lawyers along with other neutral professionals that make up the Collaborative Team, assist their clients in reaching an agreement. The Collaborative Team may consist of all or some of the following types of professionals: A Divorce Coach, a Lawyer for each party, a Child Specialist, a Financial Advisor, or others. Prior to signing any agreements, the Collaborative lawyer must assess the appropriateness of the dispute relative to a Collaborative family law process and must reasonably believe that a Collaborative process is possible. The Collaborative lawyer is also under a duty to not seek judicial resolution of the dispute. Because both the lawyers and the clients are required to avoid court intervention it facilitates negotiations and civility on all ends.

Rather than pointing fingers at each other and playing the blame game, the Collaborative Team focuses on combining thoughts and ideas to come to a resolution. If at any time either party initiates a proceeding asking for court intervention, the Collaborative process terminates. The parties can still use other forms of alternative dispute resolution services that do not require court intervention in order to reach a settlement.

The benefits of the Collaborative process over judicial remedies includes efficiency, lower expenses, and less hassle by avoiding the long and expensive process of going to court and having a trial. All communication is privileged and none of the participants may be required to testify in a proceeding related to the attempt at a Collaborative divorce. Here, it’s the parties making the decisions rather than the Judge. The Collaborative process is beneficial toward the client since it is centered around the individuals involved and their personal timelines rather than a Judge getting through their court docket. There are proven long term benefits as well to the Collaborative process. Statistics show that there is less post-divorce litigation after a team based Collaborative Divorce rather than the usual mediated or judicially based outcome of a divorce.