January 25, 2022

How Collaborative Law Prioritizes Co-Parenting in North Carolina

Michael & Russell, PLLC is honored to be the first law firm in the Wilmington area to focus on adoption and collaborative family law. It is our mission to provide families and spouses in the southeastern North Carolina region with a healthy and respectful alternative to family law litigation. In addition, we believe in spreading awareness about this type of law throughout the state of North Carolina and encouraging more families to choose alternative dispute resolution processes, such as collaborative law, which will keep them out of a potentially volatile courtroom.

The History of Collaborative Law

Collaborative law is considered an alternative dispute resolution process. Essentially, these types of legal methods take place outside of a courtroom. This means that during the collaborative law process, a judge is not involved and the court does not make decisions on behalf of the divorcing couple or their children. Since it was created in 1990 by Minnesota family law attorney Stuart (Stu) Webb, it has become one of the fastest growing types of law nationwide. This process became appropriately known as a respectful way to divorce, causing the movement to gain traction across the country.

While collaborative law first entered North Carolina in the 1990s, it became officially recognized by the State in 2003. That’s when the North Carolina General Assembly incorporated collaborative law into Chapter 50 of the North Carolina General Statutes. Over the past three decades, it has not only spread across the United States but also in other countries including Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom.

Spreading Awareness Across North Carolina

While collaborative law has been part of North Carolina’s General Statutes for nearly 20 years, it is still considered a newer way to divorce. The majority of divorces across the country and in North Carolina are handled through the process of litigation. These traditional types of divorces are often associated with increased costs, lengthy courtroom battles, and an overall tumultuous experience.

Meanwhile, it is our law firm’s goal to spread the benefits of collaborative family law and explain how it can be used as a healthy alternative to litigation. As a way to continue sharing the positive impact of this type of divorce proceeding, our law firm’s co-owners are both founding board members of the North Carolina Collaborative Attorney Network, also known as NC-CAN. Ashley Michael and Ashley-Nicole Russell, along with several other collaborative-trained attorneys in North Carolina created this organization to share important information about the process and the benefits it provides to families in our state. To date, there are 11 attorneys who are part of this group. Along with our co-owners, these attorneys meet regularly to discuss ways to enhance this type of law and spread awareness for its practice in North Carolina.

Prioritizing Co-Parenting Arrangements

Here at Michael & Russell, we truly believe that collaborative law is the best and healthiest way to divorce. Through a combined 20 years of experience, our attorneys, Ashley Michael and Ashley-Nicole Russell, consider it as the most effective process when dissolving a marriage which includes separating assets, dividing debts, and examining finances – as well as co-parenting, if the couple has children.

During a collaborative divorce, the well-being of the divorcing couple’s children is a top priority when negotiating the agreement. As part of that commitment, equal custody is the standard and it is the goal of attorneys to created shared parenting agreements that support both parents. These types of movements are gaining attention around the country and several states are beginning to pass laws that support shared parenting for separated and divorced parents. A recent success for this concept is in the state of Kentucky where National Parents Organization (NPO) championed and advocated for equal shared parenting legislation. Ashley-Nicole Russell is a national board member for NPO and works closely with the organization on their efforts to bring similar bills to North Carolina lawmakers. NPO was recently featured in a Washington Post Magazine article about the success of the shared parenting legislation in Kentucky.

“Kentucky’s 50-50 custody legislation — which did end up passing and took effect in July 2018 — was the first of its kind in the country to make equal parenting not just up to a judge’s discretion but the standard outcome. In 2021, Arkansas followed suit. Additional laws pushing for more equal parenting time are under consideration in states as politically diverse as New York, Michigan and South Carolina.”

- Sushma Subramanian, The Washington Post Magazine (January 2022)

As experienced family law attorneys, we recognize that each family comes with unique conditions. During a collaborative divorce, each parents’ set of circumstances will be evaluated in terms of employment and availability. This allows us to consider the overall needs and best interests of the children to help create a co-parenting schedule that best fits with the collective whole.

Our Commitment to Collaborative Practice

We are proud to be the first collaborative law focused law firm in the Wilmington area and we are committed to educating our legal clients on all of their options. Our law firm believes that it’s essential to give our clients all of the information they need to make their own informed decisions on how to pursue their family law needs. It is our duty as attorneys to guide clients through the process of divorce and it is a responsibly that we take with honor and sincerity. Managing Attorney, Ashley Michael, is a board-certified legal specialist in family law by the North Carolina State Bar Board of Legal Specialization.

At Michael & Russell, PLLC, you can trust that we are committed to serving you and your family with compassion and empathy. Through our New Hanover County office, we are able to provide collaborative divorce and family law services to all of southeastern North Carolina.

Please reach out to our Wilmington-based legal team at 910-255-5722 to learn more about working with us for your collaborative divorce or family law needs.