Ohio Family Lawyer Services:
Divorce, dissolution, custody, paternity, parenting and companionship, step-parent adoption, wills, living wills, powers of attorney, real estate sales and acquisition, local government law, public records, open meetings, governmental utilities, public improvements, eminent domain, special assessments, and construction.
Alternative Dispute Resolution/Collaborative Law
Sometimes filing a lawsuit and proceeding with discovery, depositions and trial are the only ways to resolve disputes. However, because most courts are so busy and attorneys’ fees and related expenses are so costly, taking any kind of case through the courts is extremely time consuming and expensive, whether it’s civil (for example, a personal injury lawsuit) or domestic (for example, a divorce or custody battle). And, after spending all that time and money, the result is often disappointing for the client, because it is extremely rare that any plaintiff wins 100% of their case. No one, regardless of how experienced or well trained they are, can predict with certainty how a judge or jury will decide.
For those conflicts that do not require a full-blown legal battle, there are extremely effective alternatives: Mediation, collaborative law and, in some cases, arbitration.
Mediation: A process where the parties take their dispute to a trained individual (mediator) who does not make the decision for them (as in a judge or jury), but helps the individuals discuss their issues and their interests and, in doing so, reach their own conclusions about how to resolve the dispute. This can be done either before a lawsuit is filed or, if the lawsuit has already been filed, in order to reach a settlement so that the lawsuit does not have to proceed to trial. Mediation is non-binding, unless the agreement reached in mediation is made a final order of the court.
Collaborative Law: Currently, “collaborative law” is used in family law cases but is being expanded to other civil disputes. The parties choose attorneys who are trained in the principles of collaboration and negotiation to resolve conflicts. Through a series of meetings with their attorneys and “four-way” meetings, the parties discuss, negotiate and decide all of the terms of their own agreement. In a true “collaborative law” case, the parties and attorneys sign an agreement wherein they make certain commitments to each other. For example, they fully agree to negotiate in good faith, to disclose all information to the other party, and to not commence a lawsuit while the negotiation process is pending. In addition, they agree that if they decide to discontinue the collaborative law process, they give the other party notice of their desire to discontinue. Each party then must fire their attorneys and hire new litigation counsel to proceed with trial. The last provision is often difficult for the parties to understand, but the reason for it is very simple: During conflict and periods of high stress, it is tempting to “throw in the towel” if you reach a deadlock with the other party. The next thing the client knows, they’re in the middle of a full-blown lawsuit because tempers have flared and the parties have instructed their attorneys to “take it to the courts.” The collaborative process strives to get the parties past those deadlocks without losing patience. Thus, when the attorneys are prevented from filing the lawsuit, everyone involved is more motivated to continue to negotiate, even when it’s extremely difficult and exhausting to do so.
Arbitration: A process that occurs after a lawsuit is filed where the parties take their dispute to a trained professional who acts as a judge. Arbitration proceeds much like a trial and is often just as costly, but because the parties do not have to wait for a judge to become available, arbitration is often faster in resolving disputes than the courts. In addition, decisions are made by an individual or panel of individuals who are often very experienced in the types of facts and areas of law presented by the case. Decisions from arbitration are binding on the parties and will become an order of the court.
Family Law and Alternative Dispute Resolution/Collaborative Law
Many family law cases do not require and are not even appropriate for litigation. Through collaboration and/or mediation, couples terminating their relationship are better able to maintain control over their case, negotiate their own terms, develop separation agreements and parenting plans that meet their children’s and their own needs, and finally resolve their disputes with the least amount of time and expense possible. More importantly, there is often much less anger and hostility when the parents are working together toward a peaceful termination of their relationship, which results in children who are mentally healthier and more easily adjusted to their new family situation.
In the context of family disputes, numerous studies have found that it is the conflict between separating or divorcing parents that causes psychological and/or emotional problems for children, not the fact of divorce or separation itself. It is very true that the disruption of a family unit through divorce or separation is extremely difficult for children; however, it is Ms. O’Keefe’s firm belief that the children do not have to suffer to such a great extent if their parents keep their focus on the best interests of the children. Children are extremely astute and perceptive. Even if the parents do not fight in front of them, children can feel the underlying rage and anxiety between their parents. Children tend to develop their own thoughts and opinions about what is happening around them and, often, blame themselves for the conflict. This can be avoided in the context of mediation and collaboration. Ms. O’Keefe always encourages her clients to consider these options, and if they choose to do so, will help her clients achieve as many of their goals as possible, but at the same time keep the needs of the children at the forefront.
Couples in the collaborative law context can also bring in other experts to help them obtain information and resolve their disputes. For example, many couples use the services of an accountant to help them sort through their financial matters. Others, if there are emotional or psychological problems involved in the case, involve a mental health professional to assist them with drafting a parenting plan that is the most helpful for the children.
It is quite common for couples that have divorced or separated through mediation or collaborative law to feel that the process was respectful to their needs and to each other. They also typically agree they are better able to work through difficulties with each other and their children as problems arise in the future – which they inevitably will.
Civil Matters and Alternative Dispute Resolution/Collaborative Law
Ms. O’Keefe takes the approach of risk management and avoidance with her civil clients. Most of Ms. O’Keefe’s civil work is “transactional,” which means that she acts as attorney and counselor at law for persons and entities on a short-term or on ongoing basis in her areas of practice. However, when conflicts arise, she is not quick to file a lawsuit, but believes in helping her clients thoroughly analyze the risks inherent in litigation before a lawsuit is filed. If a lawsuit is filed either on behalf of or against her client, Ms. O’Keefe assists the client in resolving the dispute in a manner that serves the interests and integrity of her client. Mediation, collaboration and arbitration are all perfectly viable alternatives for many civil disputes, and Ms. O’Keefe encourages and guides the client in exploring these methods for reaching settlement.
Sometimes, there are cases where litigation and trial are unavoidable. If so, Ms. O’Keefe will zealously advocate for the client’s position within the bounds of the law, and continuously advise the client on various strategies available to him or her and their chances of success. She guides her client through the maze of discovery, depositions, trial testimony and other trial procedures.
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Bobbie Corley O'Keefe