Bar News - November 18, 2015
Family Law: Collaborative Law Alliance Establishes Pro Bono Pilot Program
By: David W. Sayward
The Collaborative Law Alliance of New Hampshire (CLANH) and the NH Circuit Court have developed a pilot program to provide collaborative law services on a pro bono basis to families at Salem Family Division.
CLANH worked with Judge Edwin Kelly, the Circuit Court administrative staff, Master Thomas Cooper, Clerk Kathleen Tripp and the Salem Family Division staff to create the program, which makes use of a “scorecard” for determining whether litigants meet special income guidelines for participation in the program.
The NH Bar Association Pro Bono Referral Program has referred some Pro Bono clients to CLANH.
Inspired by the international umbrella organization for collaborative practice, the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP), CLANH formed a committee to create a pro bono collaborative divorce program and then worked with court administration to refine the idea.
The program is now being described in the Salem Family Court’s First Appearance presentations to divorcing parties. In every Salem Family Division Orders of Notice package, notice of the collaborative option is being included, along with notification about mediation, child impact seminars and other resources. As a result, by the time the parties arrive at the First Appearance, divorcing parties will have been notified of the collaborative divorce option and have had the opportunity to discuss whether they want to apply for the program after the First Appearance. A “Roadmap” for the collaborative process and an introduction for clients are both available at the courthouse.
The program launched Sept. 2, with Committee Chair David Sayward and then co-chair of CLANH’s Executive Committee Cathy McKay in attendance at the First Appearance, representing the pro bono collaborative option. Master Cooper included in his presentation a description of the process and its potential availability as a free service, and invited divorcing couples with an interest to meet with McKay and Sayward after the presentation.
The pilot program will last one year, with CLANH representatives attending each First Appearance. Divorcing couples who are interested in applying for pro bono services will complete financial applications to determine whether they financially qualify and self-assessment forms to determine their suitability for the collaborative divorce option.
The CLANH representatives will determine qualification at the courthouse and notify the clerk’s office after meeting with the couples whether they qualified. If the parties qualify, the case will be stayed to allow the process to proceed. If not, the parties will be scheduled in the usual course for mediation or temporary hearing.
For those parties who qualify for the pro bono program, CLANH Administrator Joanne LaGree will assemble a volunteer team of two attorneys and mental health and financial professional neutrals to assist the parties in the process. If the case fails to settle during the collaborative process, the stay will be removed and any unsettled issues will be scheduled for resolution in the usual course. As is required by the Collaborative Participation Agreement, the attorneys will no longer be involved in the case.
After the pilot program is completed, CLANH is hopeful that it will be deemed suitable and desirable to expand it to other courts and eventually to include notification to divorcing parties of the availability of collaborative divorce services on a fee-basis if they do not qualify for pro bono services.
In addition to making collaborative law services available to people who might not otherwise be able to afford them, CLANH hopes the pilot program will also help raise public awareness generally about the collaborative law process, which aims to assist divorcing couples in settling disputes amicably and reducing harm to children and relationships.
The Pro Bono Referral Service has referred two cases to CLANH and volunteer teams are representing those parties. CLANH thanks all involved for their cooperation and assistance in getting these two projects up and running and looks forward to expanding access to collaborative law to members of the public without the means to hire the services of a collaborative team to assist them with the difficult process of divorce.
David Sayward of Soule Leslie Kidder Sayward & Loughman in Salem is chair of the CLANH committee on pro bono collaborative services.