The state of North Carolina has taken a progressive step by officially recognizing and authorizing collaborative law proceedings. This alternative dispute resolution method, often called collaborative divorce, offers separating couples a unique opportunity to resolve their marital disputes amicably, with the support of their respective attorneys. So, how has North Carolina embraced collaborative law, and why is it significant?
Legal Foundation of Collaborative Law
In 2003, North Carolina’s State Legislature adopted Article 4, Collaborative Law Proceedings (found in § 50-70 to § 50-89 of the North Carolina General Statutes). This legislative action marked the state’s official establishment of collaborative law procedures. Within this legal framework, collaborative law is defined in NCGS § 50-71 as “a procedure in which a husband and wife who are separated and are seeking a divorce, or are contemplating separation and divorce, and their attorneys agree to use their best efforts and make a good faith attempt to resolve their disputes arising from the marital relationship on an agreed basis.”
The Notable Aspects
The fact that North Carolina recognizes collaborative law through statutory law carries significant implications for couples considering this approach. Two noteworthy aspects stand out: the tolling of time periods and the privilege of confidential communications.
Tolling Time Periods
Under NCGS § 50-73, a validly executed collaborative law agreement effectively freezes all legal time periods relevant to the parties’ legal rights and issues under the law. This means that, regardless of whether a court action has been initiated, the passage of time stands still while the collaborative process is active.
Statutes of limitation, filing deadlines, discovery deadlines, scheduling deadlines, and similar legal constraints are all temporarily paused. This provides couples with the flexibility to take the time they need to reach a comprehensive and lasting agreement without the risk of forfeiting any court remedies.
Privileged and Inadmissible Evidence
Another crucial provision is found in NCGS § 50-77. It states that all statements, communications, and work product made or arising from a collaborative law procedure are confidential and inadmissible in any court proceeding. In essence, this means that any information shared during the collaborative process cannot be used against a party in a courtroom.
The purpose behind this provision is to foster openness and encourage information sharing during the collaborative process, with the ultimate goal of facilitating a long-term resolution of marital issues. Furthermore, this statute also extends to protect the communications and work product of attorneys or third-party experts involved in the collaborative process.
The Benefits of Collaborative Law in North Carolina
North Carolina’s recognition and authorization of collaborative law proceedings offer numerous advantages to couples navigating divorce or separation:
- Reduced Conflict: Collaborative law promotes a non-adversarial approach, minimizing hostility and conflict between spouses.
- Confidentiality: Parties can speak openly and honestly during the process without fear of their statements being used against them in court.
- Customized Solutions: Collaborative law allows couples to create tailored agreements that best suit their unique circumstances and needs.
- Control Over the Process: Unlike traditional litigation, where a judge makes decisions, collaborative law empowers the parties to decide about their own future.
- Preservation of Relationships: Essential when children are involved, collaborative law can help preserve amicable co-parenting relationships.
Final Thoughts on Collaborative Law in North Carolina
North Carolina’s recognition and authorization of collaborative law proceedings provide couples with a valuable alternative to traditional divorce litigation. With the ability to pause legal time periods and the assurance of confidential communications, collaborative law offers a path to a more amicable and cooperative divorce process, ultimately benefitting both parties involved and any children affected by the separation. This progressive approach reflects the state’s commitment to fostering constructive and peaceful resolutions to family law disputes.