The premise of the "Collaborative Team" is that parties and their chosen professionals act as a problem-solving team rather than as adversaries. A Collaborative Team can be any combination of professionals that the parties choose to work with to resolve their dispute. It can be just the parties and their collaborative lawyers, which in all cases comprise the Collaborative Law component of Collaborative Practice.
The multi-disciplinary collaborative team model is an approach to dispute resolution, which includes attorneys, coaches, a financial specialist, and when there are minor children, a child specialist, working interactively as co-equals. Professionals on the team all subscribe to the same core values and shared beliefs, consistent with the IACP ethical guidelines. The team members will not be involved in any court process concerning a shared case, and all members will withdraw from the case if it becomes a court process.
Team members are selected by the clients at the beginning of the case. The team is ideally made up of the clients; two collaborative lawyers, one for each partner; one or two divorce coaches (either a shared coach or one for each partner); one neutral financial specialist; and, where appropriate, a child specialist who represents the voice of the child(ren). The divorcing couple works with their coaches to enhance their communication skills as well as learn self-management and negotiation skills to help them during their divorce process. In many non-domestic cases it may also be helpful to have the parties work with coaches to enhance their self-management, communication and negotiation skills to assist them in the collaborative process.
A key element of the team approach is that the couple can enter into the Collaborative Process through any "door." A couple might, for example, first contact a collaborative divorce coach, a collaborative lawyer or a collaborative financial specialist to begin the process. Regardless of which "door" they enter, the couple will be guided to select their team. Many teams share a common participation agreement which the clients sign first with their attorneys.
When the parties first meet with their coaches, they work on acquiring the skills and knowledge they will need to have successful meetings with the other party and the other members of the collaborative team. During these meetings the parties learn how to communicate their concerns effectively and discuss options for the resolution of their respective issues. These meetings are not only crucial in helping the parties to work with the rest of the team during the collaborative process, but can assist them in improving their relationship for improved communication and working together in the future.
The neutral financial specialist meets with the parties and helps them begin their dialogue around financial issues, while assisting them in gathering all of the necessary financial information. The financial specialist works closely with the parties and their respective lawyers in understanding both present and future financial consequences of various possible settlement options. Often this information is presented in a five-way meeting with the financial specialist, the two collaborative lawyers and the parties where the options are discussed. Then the parties, with the assistance of their attorneys, craft the settlement agreement.
In divorce and custody matters, the child specialist talks with the parents and meets with the children to assess the children's needs and concerns. The child specialist also assists the parents in recognizing and meeting the developmental needs of each child, while providing the children a voice in the process. Unlike a custody evaluator, the child specialist does not make specific recommendations, but works with the coaches and the parents in making informed decisions to help their children. This information that the child specialist provides is essential not only for parents, but for the entire team as well. With the information and assistance from the child specialist, the couple, with the help of their coaches, will craft the parenting plan which is then incorporated into their final divorce document.
This integrated model provides the parties with the support they need from the professional most qualified to address the complex issues involved in the dispute. Working together, these collaborative professionals help parties achieve an outcome that would not be possible without this cooperative team involvement and support.
The team approach can be used to resolve many disputes where there is a desire to continue the relationship beyond the dispute, such as, family law matters, estate administration matters, business relationships, partnership disputes and other civil matters.