Continuing its progressive role in stream-lining the court system and making it more accessible, the Contra Costa County Superior Court has implemented new rules that encourage divorcing parties to avoid court, to reach their own agreements through a voluntary, out of court process, and save significantly on the attorney’s fees that are otherwise needed to appear repeatedly in court.
Local Rule 12.5 governing “Collaborative Law” cases went into effect January 1st of this year (1/1/2011), stating “The Court recognizes the unique nature of family law disputes and the fact that family law issues are best resolved by the parties reaching agreement over critical matters as child custody, support and property, without engaging in the traditional adversarial litigation process.” Unique among Bay Area family courts, this suburban county court has officially stated it “strongly supports the use of the collaborative law process” and other out of court means to resolve disputes to “meet the best interests of the entire family, particularly the children”.
Many divorcing families are now choosing this alternative divorce process calledCollaborative Divorce, which involves attorneys and other specialists to help the family understand and decide important (and often complicated) custody and financial issues, but which is almost entirely done out of court in a mediation style process. To be “collaborative”, both sides sign a contract promising to stay out of court, to freely exchange documents and information, and to work with professionals to find mutual agreement, rather than constantly threatening the other side with court.
Previously, collaborative attorneys have been in a gray area so far as what was necessary to satisfy the usual requirements and formalities imposed by every court when a divorce petition is filed. Now at least in Contra Costa County, there is some clarity, which should save money for collaborative divorce litigants.
The most tangible impact of the new Rule 12.5 is that the attorneys for both sides will not be required to file statements, and appear in court for routine Case Management Conferences, which are otherwise required of litigants and potentially involve multiple appearances to achieve nothing more than “management” of the case, and which do not typically resolve any of the substantive issues. Instead, parties are allowed at least 1 year to resolve the case out of court without needing to pay their attorneys to report to the judge on how the case is coming along. Parties are also freed from other common deadlines and “scheduling orders” that tend to drive up the cost of a divorce. Real cost savings are expected to result by freeing parties of these various burdens.
To benefit from the new rule, parties must sign a formal document binding them to the collaborative divorce process, typically by hiring an attorney specifically trained in this cutting-edge approach to divorce.
Mr. Holcomb is a trained Collaborative Divorce attorney, offering “out of court” divorce services. He has 25 years experience as a divorce and civil litigator in all the Northern California courts. He is available for mediation, litigation and pre-marital and post-marital planning.
Mr. Holcomb offers a fixed fee initial consultation at either his main South Berkeley or Walnut Creek office.