John Sarratt

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New North Carolina Law Supports Collaboration: What It Means for You

On July 1, 2020, the Uniform Collaborative Law Act was signed into law in North Carolina and becomes effective on October 1, 2020. What is in this new law and how will it help businesses, individuals, and families in resolving disputes that may arise?

First of all, what is Collaborative Law?

  • It is an out of court dispute resolution process that avoids expensive and time-consuming pleadings, motions, hearings, and discovery.
  • It is entirely voluntary. No one is required to use it; and any party can quit the process at any time if it is not working out for them.
  • It is client-centered with no judge, jury, or arbitrator deciding the outcome.
  • It is a non-adversarial approach to problem solving, which means that the lawyers involved agree not take the matter to court.
  • It is based on the voluntary and good faith exchange of relevant information and joint retention of neutral experts to assist the parties in reaching agreement.

What does the new law do?

  • It provides uniform standards across the 19 states and the District of Columbia that have adopted it to date.
  • It assures that the process is voluntary.
  • It assures that parties are informed of the benefits and risks of the process.
  • It assures confidentiality of communications in the process.
  • It provides a formal mechanism to stay court and other adversarial proceedings while the parties engage in the collaborative process.
  • It pauses the proverbial stopwatch to allow the parties to engage in creative and collaborative legal problem solving without fear of losing their rights.

Why is this law good news?

  • It saves time and money.
  • It provides complete flexibility in allowing the parties to set their own schedule.
  • It can be conducted in the lawyers’ offices or even online and is, therefore, not effected by court closures or full dockets amidst a pandemic or otherwise.
  • It provides an opportunity for parties, especially family members, friends, or closely held businesses, to maintain or even strengthen their relationships as they work through their conflict, with guidance and support of collaboratively trained lawyers.

Collaborative Law Is Open For Business

It’s hard to believe that our lives have been altered so dramatically and so quickly. On New Year’s Day this year, who had even heard of the coronavirus or COVID-19? In less than three months it seems as though everything has changed. Schools and businesses are closed. Stay at Home Proclamations have been issued. Most in-person court proceedings, as well as discovery proceedings and mediations, have been postponed. The end of the crisis is difficult to predict; and even when that end comes, there will be much catching up to do.

While much of the suffering and dislocation that is occurring and will continue to occur will be difficult to avoid or to recover from, in some areas of our lives steps can be taken to address today’s problems today. One such area is in dispute resolution where the parties and their counsel choose to resolve disputes using the Collaborative process.

The Collaborative process occurs entirely outside the court system. There is no reliance on courthouses, judges, juries, or public filing of documents. There is no need for depositions, mediations, or other in-person proceedings. Instead, the parties and their counsel agree to the exchange of needed information and meet informally to discuss their real needs and interests and to brainstorm over ways to resolve their dispute. The end result is a settlement agreement that is truly “owned” by all parties because they have been instrumental in reaching that agreement. Typically, the entire process takes a mere fraction of the time or expense of a court proceeding.

Ordinarily, these meetings take place in person. However, during the current crisis, there is no reason they cannot occur online. Using Zoom or similar online meeting platforms, each party and each attorney can be in a separate space, maintaining appropriate “social distance” while still being together to resolve their dispute. The health benefit of staying in place to stop or slow the spread of a global pandemic does not have to mean that we stop or slow the pace of resolving disputes.

Even when the crisis passes and in-person meetings become more frequent, using the Collaborative process would avoid any of the delays that seem inevitable once the courts are fully open for business. Collaborative would also allow all parties greater flexibility to manage their schedules and meet online to continue moving towards a resolution whatever the “new normal” turns out to be.

So, whether in the midst of COVID-19 or on the other side of “flattening the curve,” the Collaborative approach to dispute resolution could literally proceed as though the crisis had never occurred.

To learn more—and to find a list of Collaborative attorneys—please visit the North Carolina Civil Collaborative Law Association website.