In my last blog, I provided an overview of the Collaborative Law Process. In this blog, I will discuss the importance of a “Participation Agreement”. If you and your spouse have decided to resolve the issues in your divorce using the Family Collaborative Law process, you will need to sign a Participation Agreement.
What is the Participation Agreement?
The Participation Agreement is the contract that is signed at the first meeting by you, your spouse, and the Collaborative Professionals involved in your case. It sets out the expectations of everyone involved in the collaborative process – to engage in the collaborative process openly and transparently and to resolve your issues through negotiation and cooperation. One of the most important provisions of the Participation Agreement is the agreement to stay out of court. If you choose to go to court before reaching a settlement, you must start over with new attorneys and new experts, and those that you used during the collaborative divorce process cannot contribute to your new case in any way. The underlying philosophy is that by removing the threat of court, parties will negotiate more openly, honestly and efficiently. The Participation Agreement expressly states this.
Another important provision of the Participation Agreement is confidentiality. The New Jersey Family Collaborative Law Act protects the confidentiality of communications made as part of the collaborative law process. If a party terminates the collaborative process, neither can use any of the communications in subsequent litigation without the express, written consent of the other party. Also, neither party can use any of the communications of the other collaborative team members with their consent. Protecting the confidentiality of the process encourages open and frank settlement discussions, which inevitably will lead to a resolution.
Who signs the Participation Agreement?
The parties and every collaborative professional involved in the case signs the Participation Agreement. Not all professionals sign at the same time. At the first meeting, the parties and the attorneys will review and sign the agreement. If the parties have already engaged a divorce coach, financial advisor, or some other neutral professional, then that professional will also need to sign the Participation Agreement at the first meeting. Most commonly, though, the other professionals will add their signatures to the Participation Agreement as they join the collaborative team.
It is important that you read the Participation Agreement closely, and review it with your attorney. Any questions or concerns should be addressed before you sign it. It is a contract and you will be bound by its terms. Be certain to retain an experienced, collaboratively trained attorney that will guide you through the execution of the Participation Agreement and help you navigate the collaborative law process.
If you are interested resolving your divorce through the Collaborative Law Process, you should contact our experienced collaborative law attorneys at Ruvolo Law Group. Attorneys who participate in Collaborative Law must receive court-prescribed training. Cindy Ball Wilson, Esq., Melissa M. Ruvolo, Esq., and Laura Ruvolo Lipp, Esq., have all been qualified by the State of New Jersey as Collaborative Law Attorneys.
This blog and the Collaborative Law Blog series are authored by Cindy Ball Wilson, Esq. Cindy is the President-Elect of the New Jersey Collaborative Law Group. She is also a member of the International Association of Collaborative Professionals (IACP).