Since divorces will occur, the following approach appears to have merit. Our advice is for people to stay out of today's dysfunctional courts if at all possible.
Coming to terms without a court
By JARED JANES World Staff Writer
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Attorneys embrace a collaborative law system that is seen as a better plan for family law cases.
Don't expect to see Tulsa attorney Malcolm McCollam in divorce court any time soon.
He won't go, which is an odd attitude for a lawyer who practices family law.
"I won't be in court for (divorce) cases soon," said McCollam, one of 22 lawyers in Oklahoma who are taking a relatively new approach to handling divorces -- collaborative law.
In collaborative law, the parties and their lawyers decide beforehand to attempt to resolve cases without going to court.
The clients and their lawyers sign a contract stating that if an agreement can't be reached without litigation, the lawyers will withdraw from the case. The parties are then free to hire new lawyers to resolve the case in court.
"We just believe this is a better way for families to resolve these issues," McCollam said.
He is the first Oklahoma attorney to swear off litigation completely in family law.
He is finishing four cases that might have been headed to litigation but, as of May 1, he won't accept a family law client unless the couple agree to collaborative law.
McCollam and 21 other Oklahoma lawyers -- all but one from the Tulsa area -- have joined the Collaborative Lawyers of Oklahoma, which promotes no-litigation resolution.
McCollam said attorneys who offer collaborative law believe that they are helping their clients through a difficult time.
"You don't come out of a litigated divorce case with a great deal of satisfaction that you've really helped somebody," McCollam said. "But in collaborative law cases, you come out feeling like you've done something good for your clients."
David Tracy, a member of Collaborative Lawyers of Oklahoma, said the process forces people in lawsuits to look at alternative solutions.
With the clients and their lawyers working toward a settlement instead of preparing for court, it's easier to come up with an acceptable conclusion on both ends, he said.
"The key context in the collaborative process is attorneys and clients are all pulling in the same direction," Tracy said. "Everyone is working together to create a win-win solution."
Because collaborative law removes thoughts of winning and losing, it is credited with making divorces easier for children. Parents are more likely to make it through a divorce without hating each other.
Tulsa County District Judge Linda Morrissey, who hears family law cases, said she endorses the concept of collaborative law.
"We want to support families as they transition from one family unit to two family units," Morrissey said. "The collaborative process is very compatible to the concept of a nonadversarial system to divide the estate."
McCollam said no firm numbers are available to detail how many cases have been settled by collaborative law but that the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals wants to track statistics. The group's Web site at www.collabgroup.com lists 27 states and the District of Columbia with active collaborative law groups.
No one has calculated the average length or cost of collaborative law cases, but McCollam said that in most cases, collaborative law tends to be cheaper and cases are finished more quickly.
Morrissey said she suspects that the process will prove less expensive.
"I think a substantial percentage of cases would resolve much more quickly and efficiently; there would be fewer hearings and fewer post-decree hearings," she said.
Some attorneys in collaborative law groups practice the concept exclusively, but most still work in litigation, mediation and collaborative divorces.
Kent Francy, a Broken Arrow attorney, said the range of options is important because collaborative law is not for every client. A level of trust must be established between the parties before they can reach a negotiated settlement, he said.
McCollam is satisfied with his decision to accept only collaborative law cases. Even though he enjoys the thrill of trying cases in court, he is convinced that collaborative law is a better way.
"It changes the whole dynamic of negotiation," he said. "The lawyers have every incentive to help the clients settle the case, because if they don't, they have failed.
"As a collaborative lawyer, if I don't help my client (reach an agreement), I've lost my job."
Jared Janes 581-8413
Charles E. Corry, Ph.D., F.G.S.A.
President, Equal Justice Foundation http://www.ejfi.org/
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