Did you ever wish there was a way to resolve a dispute with another individual or business without going to trial? On July 1, 2020, SL2020-65 went into effect which enacted the Uniform Collaborative Law Act, N.C.G.S. § 1-641 through § 1-663, and opened that process up to all kinds of disputes that we might have with one another, with a business, or with a governmental entity. These are among the many disputes that are now suitable for an attempt at resolution under this new law.
While Collaborative Law is not new to our state, this change in law does open the process up to areas where it was not previously available. Since 2003, Collaborative Law has been available for attempted resolutions in divorce and family law matters as set out in N.C.G.S. § 50-70 through § 50-79. This new law leaves in place the process that has been used in divorce and family law cases but gives a whole new array of cases the option of pursuing resolution in this manner.
Some key components of using Collaborative Law procedures include the following:
- The parties must have a written Collaborative Law Agreement;
- The lawyer(s) that represent you during the collaborative law process cannot continue to represent you if a settlement is not reached and one or more of the parties wants to proceed to a trial and have a court decide the matter. That is, if you want to go to trial after an attempt to resolve using the collaborative law process, then you will need to hire and pay for a different attorney to represent you in the court proceeding.
- Everything you discuss in your attempt to settle your differences cannot be used in a subsequent trial. That is, while the underlying facts may be able to come out in various other ways, the other side cannot use in any subsequent trial anything you said during the collaborative law process including your settlement discussions, any exhibits you used, or any expert testimony that you prepared for the collaborative law process. Generally speaking, you start from scratch if you do not settle your differences in this process.
- The Court will leave you alone while you pursue settlement in this manner.
- The Court will be there and make itself available to convert any collaborative law agreement into a judgment or issue orders that may be necessary to enforce the agreement that you have reached.
- The statute of limitations and other deadlines are tolled while you engage in this process. If you are unable to reach an agreement, you have 30 days to initiate a proceeding that would otherwise be time-barred against a party to the agreement once you give notice to all parties of the termination of the collaborative law agreement as provided for in N.C.G.S. § 1-645(j).
The idea, of course, is to encourage parties to work out their differences on their own and not leave it to one person, a judge, who often cannot possibly know everything that has transpired between or among the parties. The protections placed within the Collaborative Law Act regarding confidentiality of communications during the process and the privilege against having any protected material from being disclosed in later proceedings encourages candor and allows parties to be open and honest with one another without the fear of it being used against you in a later proceeding.
So, what’s the big deal? The big deal is that now the process is open to people with disputes that are not divorce and family law issues. Litigation by its very nature is a highly contentious process. People feel backed into corners and often cannot see a way to escape confrontation without lashing out at one another or becoming so defensive that you cannot hear what the other party is saying or understand where they are coming from. By opening the collaborative law process up to other civil disputes, this law is recognizing that we all have the capacity to resolve our differences if we have a process that protects us and allows us to be open and honest with one another.
COVID-19 has changed the landscape of everything we once thought to be normal. We simply are not able to have jury trials or hearings in the same manner or in the volume that we did before the pandemic. The waiting time to have a jury trial or a bench trial for civil matters grows longer by the day. SL2020-65 gives all of us another tool to use when we have a dispute with one another, or with a business, or a dispute between businesses, or with a governmental entity. The process can go as fast or as slow as the parties agree to go. If the process breaks down, either party has the option to call it quits and ask a court to resolve the dispute.
The Law Offices of Jason E. Taylor, P.C., has experienced litigators and we know there are times that the parties simply cannot resolve their differences and need someone to go to bat for them in the courtroom. We are ready to do so. We do, however, also recognize that most people do not enjoy conflict and that a trial can be a very stressful event for anyone going through one and the litigation process can be very demanding on a party to a lawsuit. Collaborative Law Agreements may provide many out there the opportunity to resolve their disputes with less conflict and less stress, and we are in favor of opportunities to make your life easier and less stressful. Especially, given the times we are living in lately.
From our family to yours, we hope you enjoy learning about changes in the law that might affect you or someone you know. We want you to have the best information and to keep you updated on what is happening in the law. As always, let us know if we can ever be of service to you. Whether you have a case that needs an experienced litigator or needs an attorney who understands that your case might be better suited for the collaborative law process, the lawyers and professional staff at the Law Offices of Jason E. Taylor are ready to answer your questions at any of our offices across North Carolina and South Carolina.