A Uniform Collaborative Law Act is in Effect in Virginia
In 2021, the Virginia legislature took a major step in acknowledging and encouraging the Collaborative Law Process in Virginia by passing the Uniform Collaborative Law Act (UCLA). More general than collaborative divorce, this new law is a significant development in alternative dispute resolution of family law matters in Virginia. The new law clarifies certain critical issues, providing guidance to attorneys as well as Virginia Family Court judges with respect to Collaborative Law.
It begins with the Agreement
The UCLA makes it clear that the Collaborative Law Process in Virginia has to be voluntary, and the parties need to sign a written agreement to handle their family law matter using the Collaborative Process. The UCLA requires Collaborative Law attorneys to assess whether there is a history of or existing family abuse, and otherwise determine whether the process is safe and voluntary for both parties before agreeing to start or continue a Collaborative Law Process. The law sets out the terms that need to be in a collaborative law agreement, which must include the participation of a Collaborative lawyer for each party to the agreement. Once completed, the Collaborative Law Agreement can be used to obtain a stay in a family law matter that is in court.
Confidentiality and disclosure
In order to make the Collaborative Law Process in Virginia as effective as possible, the UCL addresses two important matters. First, it requires the parties to make full, candid disclosure to one another without having to go through a formal process as would be necessary in a litigation. This duty is ongoing, so the parties have to update one another to any changes. Second, the Collaborative Law proceedings, including communications between the parties, are treated as confidential communications in order to encourage the parties to be honest and forthright without fear of publication. This means that, subject to very specific circumstances such as a threat to inflict harm, communications between the parties in a Collaborative Law Process cannot be used if the matter ends up going to court for resolution.
Attorney commitment to the process
In addition to requiring the collaborative lawyers to continually assess the safety of the parties to the process, the UCLA also prevents Collaborative lawyers from working with the same client in litigation. A lawyer who signs a Collaborative Law Agreement cannot simultaneously represent their client in court with certain exceptions. This prohibition extends to other lawyers in the firm as well.
The provisions of the UCLA give courts and attorneys important guidance on the Collaborative Law Process, particularly as it relates to matters that have been filed with the court. It also puts an emphasis on the importance of protecting the parties as well as the process from inappropriate influence or intervention. The UCLA codifies existing practices so that parties can expect consistency in the Collaborative Law Process in Virginia.
Reese Law has experienced Collaboratively trained attorneys who have deep experience with representing parties in the Collaborative Process. There are many benefits to Collaborative Law. If you are considering this option for your family law matter in Virginia, contact us today for a consultation from a collaborative divorce attorney in Northern VA.