Mary Ellen Flynn, Esq.
Pending before our State Legislature are bills that would create a Maryland Uniform Collaborative Law Act. Two such bills are set for hearing at the end of the month of February 2014:
(1) Bill SB 805 is set for a hearing before the Judicial Proceedings Committee in the Maryland Senate on February 27th; and
(2) Bill HB 1052 is set for hearing before the House Judiciary Committee in the House of Delegates on February 28th.
For more information on this proposed legislation and to see why so many people believe the Maryland Legislature should create a Collaborative Law Act, please read on. Or if you’re interested in using collaborative law to resolve a dispute, call us today to schedule a consultation concerning your specific situation.
What is Collaborative Law?
Collaborative law is an alternative means of dispute resolution. Instead of going to court and litigating disputes and issues, you can sit down in a comfortable meeting room with the other party and each of your own collaborative law lawyers-facilitators to voluntarily disclose all information and documents that are relevant to your situation. Together, with the assistance of the two lawyers-facilitators, you’ll decide what needs to be addressed, in what order the issues should be addressed, and how the disputed issues should be resolved.
In the collaborative law process, the parties make the decisions. There is no judge, mediator, or arbitrator dictating the process and making the decisions; rather both of you, with the advice and advocacy of your attorneys-facilitators, decide how to proceed and resolve your disputes.
I have handled dozens of collaborative law cases, mostly for my family law clients, but sometimes for other types of disputes as well—such as division or dissolution of business assets and debts, contractual disputes, and neighbor disputes. When a client signs onto the collaborative process, he/she acknowledges that the matter is not a win/lose proposition, but rather a process by which the best or fairest result for all can be achieved.
Throughout the collaborative process, the attorney-facilitator still has a duty to educate, counsel, and advocate for his/her client; however, it is done with full voluntary disclosure of all information, data, and documentation and without the worries of hidden agendas—such as the negative stereotypes of the opposition trying to ruin, take advantage, or pull-one-over on the other side. Time and time again, I have seen the benefit of using collaborative law to resolve differences between individuals without the family or business being forever torn apart or going into bankruptcy because of the high costs of litigation.
Why Should the Maryland Legislature Create a Collaborative Law Act?
Seven states (Alabama, Hawaii, Nevada, Ohio, Texas, Utah, and Washington) and the District of Columbia have already enacted the Uniform Collaborative Law Act (UCLA) and it is supported by the Family Law Section of the American Bar Association (ABA). Further, the use of collaborative law has been approved by the ABA’s Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility and, most importantly, those individuals who have been involved in the collaborative law process often share their positive experiences with the process.
A major reason why we should be in favor of Maryland enacting the Collaborative Law Act is so that the participants of the Collaborative Law Act have the privilege of confidentiality. This privilege of confidentiality would prevent either party from using what was said or shared during the collaborative law process later in the courtroom to gain an advantage in a future court case, which is what collaborative law is all about.
My Experience with Collaborative Law
In addition to being a fulltime attorney, with the majority of my cases being handled either through the collaborative law process or through litigation, I am involved in both of the collaborative law organizations in Montgomery County, Maryland.
The Collaborative Dispute Resolution Professionals (CDRP), of which I am a founding member, is made up of attorneys and other professionals who employ the collaborative law process in a variety of types of matters, and the Collaborative Divorce Association (CDA), on which I serve on the Board of Directors, specifically concentrates on collaborative family law.
For me, it is a great accomplishment and privilege to be a part of the collaborative law process that lets spouses who have crossed that proverbial line between love and hate learn how to communicate and work together again to resolve matters between them, treat the separating family members civilly, and move forward to handle their separate lives in a positive way. The purpose isn’t a reconciliation of the marriage, but rather to create a positive environment which prevents the separating spouses from destroying each other and their life savings, while figuring out how best to divide their assets; and if there are children, how to best resolve all issues that are in the best interests of their children.
Collaborative law isn’t the right approach for all types of disputes, but if you believe that your family law, business, or other type of dispute might benefit from discussing the possibility of handling your issues through the collaborative law process, please call me at 301-563-6685 or email me at [email protected].