When most people think about the idea of divorce, the word neutrality isn’t likely to come to mind. “Traditional” divorces are fraught with opposition and often look more like an emotional and material whirlpool than a clear fork in the river of a client’s destiny. Collaborative divorce strives to find that clear fork in the river; neutrality is one buoy that keeps the process afloat.
In Alaska’s six-way team model, there are typically two neutral allied professionals on the team—the Mental Health Professional and the Financial Professional. And, while Collaborative Lawyers are not considered neutral professionals, they rely on the neutrality of their team members and they model neutral behavior where possible.
What Exactly is Neutrality?
You probably have an idea of what it is, but let’s clarify in the context of Collaborative Law:
Neutrality = Not aligned with or favoring one participant against another. This does not mean that the neutral party has an absence of opinion regarding a certain issue, but that they strive to promote the shared interest of all participants.
For allied neutral professionals this isn’t just about the clients (although they are the priority). Neutrality is about a commitment to the entire team and the Collaborative process. If neutrality is compromised, the integrity of the Collaborative process deteriorates. Therefore, neutrality is of utmost importance to a successful Collaborative effort.
How is Neutrality Maintained in Collaborative Divorce?
Training: Allied neutral professionals are trained in the Collaborative process and hence, gain an intimate understanding of what a neutral role requires.
- From the get-go, efforts are made, through clear and thorough communication, to demonstrate that a neutral professional will maintain objectivity and neutrality throughout the process. For example: full disclosure of the professional’s relationship to each party prior to the Collaborative matter is required.
- During certain cases, the neutral professional may be required to interact with one of the parties more than the other. In order to alleviate any perception of bias, every effort is made to ensure that the clients and other professional team members understand why and agree to the inequality of time.
- In the event one party bears or advances more of the financial costs of the neutral professional than another, every effort is made to alleviate a potential perception of bias through open communication.
Commitment to the Collaborative Process: Neutral professionals are first committed to the foundational elements of the Collaborative process. If they perceive a threat to the integrity of the process, they must act to eliminate that threat. Two primary examples of this are:
- Any Collaborative professional is required to disclose, and ultimately extract themselves from the matter if necessary, if they discover that a party or team member has ulterior motives and is using the process to gain an advantage.
- If an allied neutral is asked to take on an ongoing role with one of the parties, after resolution of the matter, they must first determine if it will compromise their past, present and future neutrality (in the case that the matter may at some point need to be revisited).
Neutrality ensures that a difficult time does not become even more difficult or contentious. Instead, a team of professionals is able to assist their clients in finding their way to an agreement that benefits each person involved and focuses on healthier transitions.