What is cooperative law?
Cooperative law is a method of resolving family court cases without having a judge decide the issues for you and your family. The method is grounded in one basic concept – cooperation. If lawyers and clients on opposite sides can commit to meaningful communication, voluntary sharing of information, treating one another with civility and generally acting in good faith, then family court disputes can be resolved more quickly, less expensively, and more satisfactorily than they can through the roller-coaster of litigation. Parties and lawyers engaged in cooperative law must commit, in writing, to do these things.

What is the difference between cooperative and collaborative law?
Collaborative law is a formalized process for handling family court cases that involves gathering together a team of professionals – attorneys, accountants, therapists – along with the parties, in an attempt to resolve a case without contested litigation. Both collaborative and cooperative law seek to avoid the contentiousness that can make co-parenting nearly impossible and damage families irreparably. Where they differ is primarily in what happens if negotiations break down. In collaborative law, the same lawyer who initially attempts to resolve the case cannot file any contested litigation. In other words, if your negotiation fails, for whatever reason, you must get a new attorney. While this is meant to make everyone fully committed to an amicable resolution, we at CCFLA believe it may actually serve as a disincentive to some who do not want to potentially have to start all over again with a new lawyer if negotiations fail. We feel that a cooperative process can provide meaningful commitment to an amicable resolution without “punishing” anyone if a resolution proves unattainable.

Does cooperative law take longer than the conventional route?
If your case is resolved without contested litigation, it should take less time. That is one of the reasons CCFLA was created.

Is cooperative law more expensive than the conventional route?
Just as it should take less time if your case is resolved without contested litigation, it should also cost less money. That is another reason CCFLA was created.

How much less?
Less expensive may be different than cheap. Your attorney will still charge a retainer fee and bill an hourly rate. If an accountant or other professional is utilized, you will still pay his or her fee. There may still be significant work to be done in preparing a settlement agreement and doing those things that need to be done to have it approved by the Court. Any of our members can give you an estimate of the total fees and costs at your initial meeting, where cooperative law as well as the traditional approach are explored.

Is this the same thing as mediation?
No. Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution that is mandatory in all counties in South Carolina. The “alternative” in the definition means alternative to litigation. Mediation is a settlement conference (typically lasting one-half to one day) that is facilitated by a “neutral” – a third party who does not represent either party or work for the court. The neutral is there to help the parties settle their case. The process of cooperative law may very well involve mediation. But cooperative law is more of a philosophy than a process. It is a commitment to resolving family court disputes with cooperative methods, one of which may very well be mediation.

Why aren’t more people doing this?
Although many lawyers, including many CCFLA lawyers, already operate under cooperative principles, this formalization of the concept is a recent development. We hope that more and more lawyers and litigants will sign on to cooperative law.

Am I prejudiced if we cannot work it out?
No. We hope that everyone who commits to the cooperative law process makes every reasonable good faith effort to resolve the issues and avoid litigation. But inevitably there will be cases that cannot or will not settle. There is no stigma, punishment, or negative repercussions to you if that happens, although if you are the party that has acted in bad faith, that can lead to consequences beyond just the failure of the cooperative process.

If there is an emergency, or something unexpected happens, can we still file in court?
Yes. Your lawyer will always be an advocate for your best interests, and if that requires an emergency filing or some other action, that is what your lawyer will do.

What if my lawyer is not a member of Charleston Cooperative Law?
You and your lawyer can still choose to use the cooperative law method, even if he or she is not a member of the organization. All it takes is your and the other party’s commitment.

Become a Member

Are you an attorney practicing in the Charleston area and experienced in family law?

Contact Us To Learn More