How to Stay Out of Court with Collaborative Family Law

Written by: Michael & Russell, PLLC

At Michael & Russell, we are passionate about keeping our clients and their family law matters out of a courtroom setting. In honor of October, which is Conflict Resolution Month, we want to take this opportunity to raise awareness for alternative dispute resolution processes in North Carolina such as Collaborative Family Law, which keep families out of court. It is part of our mission to provide clients with a healthy and respectful alternative to family law litigation. The Association for Conflict Resolution created Conflict Resolution Day which takes place on the third Thursday of October and the North Carolina Court System typically acknowledges the third week of October as Conflict Resolution Week.

North Carolina has long had a strong commitment to programs that promote dispute resolution. The North Carolina General Assembly created mediation and arbitration programs that have successfully operated in North Carolina’s district and superior courts for more than 25 years. According to the North Carolina Dispute Resolution Commission (NCDRC), of cases mediated in 2020-21, more than 57 percent of civil superior court cases and more than 68 percent of family financial cases were settled outside of court. North Carolina Chief Justice Paul Newby was quoted in 2021 stating:

“Our state constitution guarantees the courts shall be open and justice is to be administered without favor, denial, or delay. Our alternative resolution groups allow us to make these constitutional promises a reality. North Carolina has demonstrated a strong commitment to developing programs which promote dispute resolution in our courts.”

Data from the State’s Judicial Branch finds that thousands of disputes between individuals, family members, corporations, small businesses, governmental agencies, and others are brought before North Carolina civil and criminal courts each year. However, processes like Collaborative Law can help reduce the demands on the trial courts and improve efficiency. Many disputes are effectively addressed and resolved by the parties themselves with the help of a trained attorney and/or mediator, without the need to involve the police or the court system.

Collaborative Law

Our law firm is honored to be the first in the Wilmington area to focus on Collaborative Family Law. This type of proceeding takes place out of court and relies on a step-by-step process including individual attorney meetings, roundtable talks with all involved, familial and financial planning, and collaboration with professionals to develop a resolution that works for both parties. There are many benefits to using Collaborative Law for family law matters including divorce. It is often recognized as a healthier way to divorce as it prioritizes the needs of both parties as well as any children involved. The Collaborative Practice supports co-parenting relationships during and after divorce through the creation of parenting plans that work for both parents.

Collaborative Law was created in 1990 and first entered North Carolina in the mid-90s. It became officially recognized by the State in 2003 when the North Carolina General Assembly incorporated Collaborative Law into Chapter 50 of the North Carolina General Statutes. While Collaborative Law has been part of North Carolina’s General Statutes for about two decades, it has become one of the fastest-growing alternative dispute resolution processes around the world. Over the past 30 years, it has not only spread across the United States but also in other countries including Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom.

Michael & Russell co-owners Ashley Michael and Ashley-Nicole Russell are Collaborative-trained attorneys and members of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals. In addition, they are co-founding board members of the North Carolina Collaborative Attorney Network (NC-CAN) and Ashley is also a founding board member for Coastal Collaborative Colleagues.


Another type of out-of-court dispute resolution process offered at Michael & Russell is mediation. In this type of process, an attorney serves as a neutral third party and sits down with both parties to help them reach a resolution. Mediation is often a good option for individuals who are still able to communicate amicably with one another. In addition to family law and divorce, this process can be used for a variety of other legal disputes including matters involving misdemeanor crime, estates, vehicle accidents, business, employment, and contractual agreements.

According to the NCDRC, when mediation is successful:

  • Parties benefit because they have an opportunity to settle their dispute themselves, rather than having a judge or jury decide matters for them. If they can reach an agreement, they control the outcome and avoid the inherent risk of a trial and the possibility of an appeal. Parties may also be saved time, money, and the stress associated with protracted litigation and trial.
  • Courts benefit when cases are resolved and exit the system early, backlogs, delays, and paperwork are reduced. Judges can better allocate their time, turning their attention to civil cases that did not settle in mediation or to criminal matters.
  • Taxpayers benefit because they are saved the cost of protracted litigation and trials.

Ashley Michael and Ashley-Nicole Russell are professionally trained in mediation for family law and other types of legal matters in North Carolina. Ashley is a certified Mediator in Family Financial Matters with the North Carolina Dispute Resolution Commission and a Board Certified Specialist in Family Law by the North Carolina State Bar. Ashley-Nicole holds a Certificate in Dispute Resolution from the Dispute Resolution Institute of North Carolina Central University School of Law and has served on the Board of Directors for the Mediation Center of Eastern North Carolina.

Our Commitment to Conflict Resolution in North Carolina

Michael & Russell is proud to be the first Collaborative-focused law firm in the Wilmington area and we are committed to educating our clients on their out-of-court legal options for dispute resolution. When families, spouses, and/or individuals are able to make their own informed decisions on legal matters, they can feel empowered during the process.  Michael & Russell is honored to serve you and your family with compassion and empathy. Through our New Hanover County office, we are able to provide out-of-court alternative dispute resolution 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 conflict resolution, adoption, or family law needs. Click here to read about what you can expect during your initial consultation with our legal team.

*This blog was originally published here by Michael & Russell, PLLC.

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