A number of state laws passed in Alabama’s 2013 Legislative Session were geared toward the protection of children.

These laws ran the gamut – from making it a crime to fail to report a missing child to improving school and daycare safety measures.

Our Alabama child custody lawyers know that another noteworthy piece of legislation passed was HB 396, the Alabama Uniform Collaborative Law Act. It is relevant to all those who are involved in the state’s family law system, and becomes effective Jan. 1, 2014.

Essentially, it provides a procedure by which parties to a family law or domestic relations matter – be it divorce, visitation, custody, adoption, premarital, marital, post-marital or parentage – could resolve that matter through a collaborative law agreement, rather than by court intervention or through a judicial tribunal.

It’s an alternative to litigation. Alabama is one of only seven states, plus the District of Columbia, to have enacted collaborative law. Five others have introduced it this year.

Collaborative law is a legal process that enables couples or parents to work through their divorce or child custody issues through their divorce lawyers and other family professionals without having to take matters into a process of contested litigation. It’s an entirely voluntary process, consented to by both parties in a "participation agreement." 

The goal is that the process would be less expensive, time-consuming and adversarial than it might otherwise be. This can’t be promised, but you would be eliminating certain legal processes present in the litigation process, such as depositions, discovery issues and litigation-related disputes. On the other hand, you may need to hire other family professionals as part of the process, so that could add to the expense. Also, one shouldn’t think of collaborative law as a type of "quickie" agreement. In fact, there are some circumstances under which it could take longer.

The idea is also that it would be less burdensome and stressful for young children, as the process is designed to be more amicable. Even attorneys, who are typically opponents in divorce or child custody litigation, have motivation in collaborative law cases to work together. It’s an entirely different approach, and it may ultimately lead to a more effective resolution in a way that litigation would not.

It’s worth noting that either party to the collaborative law process may terminate it at any point with or without cause. That’s a risk both sides take when they enter into the agreement.

Of course, if there are significant matters of disagreement, a collaborative law agreement might not be the best course of action in the first place. Another example of a situation where collaborative law is not advisable would be one in which there is a coercive or violent relationship. In those instances, it may be more important for you to act on protecting yourself and your children than working together – which could end up next to impossible with an abusive spouse anyway.

The decision of whether to enter into a collaborative law agreement is not one into which you should feel pressured. It’s one you should consider carefully and privately with your attorney, who can help you weigh all of the potential risks, as well as benefits.

If you are contemplating collaborative divorce in Birmingham, contact Birmingham Family Law Attorney Steven Eversole at (866) 831-5292.

Additional Resources:

Several new laws benefit children, June 11, 2013, By Ebony Horton, The Dothan Eagle

More Blog Entries:

Birmingham Divorce Asset Preservation Requires Careful Planning, May 29, 2013, Birmingham Divorce Lawyer Blog