We specialize in two approaches designed to meet clients’ needs as they navigate changes, resolve conflicts, and move forward into the next phase of life.
The most experienced Collaborative firm in Montana, we help families problem solve and negotiate mutually beneficial agreements without court intervention. We specialize in empowering clients to reduce stress and trauma while generating solutions that meet the needs of all individuals involved.What is Collaborative Law?
The most important choice you will make regarding legal conflict is selecting the right legal process. Collaborative law is a way for parties to resolve disputes respectfully without going to court.
Collaborative Law is a process in which parties negotiate an acceptable agreement with the assistance of trained professionals. Each entity hires a specially trained collaborative attorney who advises and assists them in negotiating a settlement agreement. The parties meet separately with their counsel and attend meetings with all four participants present in order to resolve all issues of the dispute. The collaborative process may also involve other professionals, such as a facilitator, a child custody specialist or a financial planner.
Parties both agree to engage in the confidential collaborative process. In collaborative cases, the parties are prohibited from bringing case issues before a judge. If the matter is not settled, the attorneys cannot continue to represent the clients in contested litigation. This preserves the integrity and commitment of all participants to the collaborative process.
Parties voluntarily disclose all information that is pertinent to the resolution of the divorce. This is a fundamental principle that is critical to the long-term success of collaborative agreements.
Parties use good faith efforts to negotiate final resolution of their matter. The terms of the agreement are the result of both parties’ input, contemplate the short-term and long-term needs of the clients, and are mutually acceptable.
Parties may enlist the assistance and advice of mental health and financial professionals to help resolve disputes. These neutral professionals provide critical information and problem-solving skills to help parties design custom solutions for their family. Other experts may be retained as needed.
All parents want to protect their children from harm. Sadly, children are often the ones who suffer the most during legal disputes among families.The stress, conflict and uncertainty that are present can be major risk factors for childhood development. Yet, as much as parents say they want what is best for their children, they often have difficulty working together for the sake of their children.
Sometimes in traditional litigation, children are used as leverage for one party against the other, ultimately escalating the conflict and harming the child. The effects of this kind of conflict are very difficult on children and can last for years. In the collaborative process, the children’s needs are primary. Children cannot be pulled to testify before a judge, and will be treated in an age-appropriate way that respects their needs for stability and safety.
Additionally, collaborative parents can easily consult a child specialist regarding their concerns about the children. There are several mental health professionals in our area who are familiar with child development, the effects on children, and coping techniques for children. Parents can learn how to talk to their children about the dispute, how to responsibly guide their children through the process, and how to develop a parenting plan that works for the children’s best interests.
Finally, collaborative law rests on creating meaningful and durable solutions. This is particularly appropriate in families with children who will have to continue in a parenting relationship for the rest of their lives. When both parties engage in the decision-making process, rather than having a judgement handed down on them by the judge, they are far more likely to work within the framework of their agreements and keep themselves, and their children, out of the lawyer’s office and out of court.
Click this link to read more on the benefits of the collaborative process on children.
Collaborative attorneys and financial planners are trained in finding mutually beneficial solutions for your finances. Financial specialists offer neutral financial analysis services during the collaborative divorce process. They are specifically trained in structuring property settlement agreements in ways that minimize financial loss and waste and maximize a party’s financial health long-term.
The collaborative process is also particularly helpful to parties who have complex or mature marital estates. Collaborative professionals have the time and resources to appropriately manage challenging issues like business valuation, licenses and advanced degrees, income tax issues including real estate sales, capital gains, distribution of tax consequences, spousal and child support, retirement savings and projections, and complex financial documents and products.
Another consideration is the cost of the process. While a collaborative process is not necessarily less expensive than traditional litigation, there are some important considerations that distinguish the two.
First, your money works for you in a collaborative divorce. In a collaborative divorce, the parties spend time coming up with durable agreements that are the result of a fully informed, reality-tested dispute resolution process. Because the parties both engage in the process, the agreements are more sound, more likely to be adhered to, and are far less likely to be contested later on.
Second, transparency is key in a collaborative divorce. Neither party will waste valuable time and resources trying to secure information that can be concealed or altered. It can be very difficult, and very expensive, to try to find information that has been purposefully hidden. The collaborative process wholly avoids this costly issue and allows the parties the freedom and knowledge to create solutions that are specifically tailored to their needs.
Click this link to understand how the collaborative process can help protect your finances.
The collaborative process requires that those involved be committed to working with and not against the other party in order to achieve results. The collaborative process is an interests-based approach to resolving issues, and therefore opens a host of solutions and benefits that are not available in traditional litigation.
Collaborative law is also client-centered. The wants, interests and needs of the collaborative client are paramount. The law provides only a general structure or framework that can clients use as a guideline. It does not dominate the parties’ dispute resolution process.
The collaborative process acknowledges and respects the turbulent and often painful emotions of family disputes. However, these emotions make good servants, but horrible masters. Too often in a traditional dispute, conflict is encouraged at the hands of these emotions, and the process escalates. In the win/lose paradigm of litigation, tension and conflict are a constant, and the client suffers. Conversely, collaborative professionals are trained in helping clients see past these emotions to actually resolve, not escalate, the issue. The parties are respected, supported, heard and valued in the process which is critical to overall well-being and final case resolution.
In providing the full spectrum of litigation services in both family and general law matters, we work hard to analyze, assess, and advance our clients’ interests. We represent clients in trials, hearings, arbitrations, and mediation before administrative agencies, as well as in state and local courts.
While most family law matters are centered around the dissolution of family, adoption matters involve the creation of family. As a result, adoption-related services are among the most rewarding for Element.
While the adoption process in Montana is relatively straightforward, there are certain legal and administrative complexities that are best handled by an experienced attorney. Our team will help alleviate the delays, frustration, and expenses associated with the adoption process.
Whether you are a parent struggling to find the right family for your child, a couple looking to welcome a new member into your home, or a relative hoping to assume responsibility for a minor in your family, we will work for you to ensure no detail is overlooked. We will take the time to explain all of the adoption issues to you, assist in the preparation of required documentation, and represent you at the adoption hearings.
Our team is skilled at advocating for your alimony needs or helping you and your former partner negotiate a mutually satisfying alimony agreement. There are several factors to consider in determining an appropriate amount and duration for spousal support.
Circumstances in which alimony may be appropriate include the following: one spouse lacks sufficient property to provide for his/her reasonable needs, and is unable to be self-supporting through appropriate employment; or, one party is the custodian of a child whose condition or circumstances require that he or she should not be required to seek employment outside the home.
Element Law Group routinely handles child custody cases and can help to determine the best custody arrangement for you and your children. Whether you are modifying a current plan, do not have a plan, or are navigating child-custody issues as a part of your divorce, we are able to guide you through the terrain.
The fundamental basis for all child custody decisions must be the best interests of the children. It is imperative to consider the following factors when determining what is in a child’s best interest:
The wishes of the child or parent.
The wishes of the child.
The relationships the child has with parents, siblings and anyone else who significantly affects the child’s best interests.
How the child has adjusted to home, school, and community.
The mental and physical health of all individuals involved.
The presence of physical abuse, or chemical dependency, if any.
Continuity and stability of care.
The developmental needs of the child.
Whether a parent has failed to financially support the child or pay birth-related costs when the parent is able to pay.
At Element, we are experts in assessing, guiding, and eliciting the best possible results in cases involving child support. Generally, child support is paid by the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent to contribute to the cost of upbringing of the children. The custodial parent is the parent with whom the child resides the majority of the time. If the child resides an equal amount of time with each parent, the parent with the lower income may still be entitled to child support.
The amount of child support to be paid is set according to a formula prescribed by the Montana Child Support Guidelines. The amount of support ordered is dependent on the some of these factors: each party’s net disposable income; the approximate time the high earner has physical custody of the children; the number of other children supported; costs of child care; health care expenses; and whether there are extraordinary expenses associated with the children. Travel expenses and costs relating to education and other special needs may also be considered.
Unfortunately, many couples will face the challenge of a divorce and its emotional, physical, and financial effects. While divorce can be a painful and diffcult process, it can also be needlessly complicated and worsened by certain aspects of the legal process. This can be especially devastating when there are children involved. It is important at the outset to consider the type of divorce experience you and your spouse desire, and to choose an attorney whose goals and methods match yours.
At Element, we synthesize our competence, creativity, and compassion in handling divorce cases. Throughout the divorce proceedings, we will listen attentively to your needs. We will assess all of the assets and debt of the marriage and work closely with you to secure a proper financial outcome. We are particularly mindful of the needs of children during and after divorce, and will strongly advocate for parenting arrangements that represent the children’s best interests.
Both parties agree on terms pertaining to parenting, including child custody and education. At Element we are deeply invested in promoting the best possible outcomes for children, and work closely and with clients to establish parenting plans that will meet the needs of all family members.
This is a recitation of terms mutually agreed upon by parties prior to a dissolution. It is considered to be a binding contract; once it is approved by a judge, it can only be modied under certain circumstances. It contains provisions for division of property and debts, maintenance, and child support.
Montana has guidelines to determine child support based upon the total income of both parents. Daycare, insurance, and medical costs are included in the computation. The guidelines allocate the amounts to be paid by each parent, taking into account financial resources of the parents and children, the children’s needs, and the standard of living the children would have enjoyed had the parents stayed married. Child support continues until a child is emancipated or graduates from high school, but no later than the child’s 19th birthday, unless the parties agree, or the court orders otherwise. Some parents agree to continue child support through college. Child support may be raised or lowered in the event of a change in financial circumstances or needs. Some parents agree to review support periodically. In some instances, child support may be determined in an administrative proceeding. Montana law requires that all divorce decrees address health insurance coverage for the children. Child support must be paid automatically from a parent’s wages, unless good cause exists to waive automatic deductions.
Family circumstances can change, and sometimes a child is unable to be cared for in the manner that he or she deserves. It may be necessary to remove the child from a situation that could promote lasting lasting physical or psychological harm. We are equipped to guide family members through the process of establishing new legal guardianship status, and we are deeply committed to helping families ensure an optimally healthy home environment for the children involved in such cases.
A premarital agreement allows a couple to come together and decide how to divide their current and future assets should the marriage end in some way. Without a prenuptial agreement, both parties are exposed to financial and emotional risk. Changes in the law over time also create uncertainty about how the marital estate will be divided in the future.
For these reasons, our team encourages potential spouses to discuss obtaining a premarital agreement and seek legal advice. In addition, you may want to seriously consider a premarital agreement in the event one of the following is true for you:
You have children and/or grandchildren from a previous marriage.
One of you is much wealthier than the other.
One of you will be supporting the other through college.
You plan on receiving or giving an inheritance of money or property.
You have loved ones who need to be taken care of, such as elderly parents.
You have or are pursuing a degree or license in a potentially lucrative profession such as medicine.
Montana law provides that property is to be divided equitably between the parties upon the dissolution of a marriage. However, equitable does not mean equal, or 50/50. Several factors are relevant, including the length of the marriage, skills and relative abilities of the parties, needs and opportunities to acquire future assets, and whether the property was gifted, inherited, or premarital. At Element, have ample experience analyzing these nuances and promoting fair and equitable property division among divorcing partners.
Any legal service your family needsLearn More
We are not only committed to providing the above-mentioned legal services for families in transition; we are also invested in assisting individual family members as they encounter life’s inevitable challenges and responsibilities. These may include DUIs, bankruptcy, estate planning, criminal charges, and landlord & tenant conflicts, among other circumstances.
Our team’s efficient and accessible approach will minimize stress and generate the most positive outcomes for clients engaged in these and other situations.
The central tenet of Collaborative law is respect. Respect enables and encourages parties to show compassion, understanding, and cooperation. Collaborative professionals are trained in non-confrontational negotiation, helping keep discussions productive. The goal of the Collaborative process is to build a settlement on areas of agreement, not to perpetuate disagreement.
Each spouse hires a Collaborative lawyer. Everyone agrees in writing not to go to court. Next, each client meets privately with his/her lawyer. Additional experts, such as divorce coaches and child and financial specialists, may join the process. Parties include these professionals in order to focus on meaningful issues, get expert feedback, and develop strategies to solve problems. All meetings are intended to produce an honest exchange of information and clear understanding about needs and expectations, especially concerning the well being of children. Mutual problem solving by all parties leads to the final divorce agreement.
A typical divorce in Gallatin County can range from 12 months to 2.5 years or more depending on the complexity of the issues, the legal strategies used, and the level of conflict between the parties. Unfortunately, the process is slow, difficult and expensive. Collaborative divorces can be more direct and efficient by focusing on problem solving rather than blame and the win/lose paradigm of litigation. Time is not wasted in positional arguments, withholding of information, and the taxing exercise of filing pleadings before the court. There is no waiting on the multiple and continuous court dates that are necessary with a conventional divorce. In the Collaborative process, the parties control the timing and cost of their divorce, which often results in less time and expense overall.
A Collaborative team is the combination of professionals who work with spouses to resolve the dispute. It consists of the attorneys hired to represent the clients through the Collaborative process as well as any neutral professionals spouses chose to hire. This may include financial professionals, divorce coaches, real estate or business appraisers, child specialists, personal counselors, etc. The Collaborative team guides and supports the parties as problem solvers, not as adversaries. The goal is to provide families with the help they need to make the best decisions they can during the transition of divorce.
Divorce is both an ending and a beginning. You are restructuring your family. The conduct you model for your children has an affect on their security during and after this transition. Collaborative divorce helps clients learn new communication skills so they step into their new roles as co-parents with more confidence and less trauma. Collaborative practitioners are trained in helping parties overcome the inevitable conflict of divorce in a productive manner. This lays the foundation for healthier family relationships. When parents are able to work together, communicate well, and problem solve in non-hurtful ways, children win. As a more respectful, dignified process, Collaborative divorce supports your family’s goals for a brighter future.
“I honestly believe this was the best way for us to leave each other.”
“Collaborative Divorce offers at least a hope for transformation and a better future (even) though the family has changed forever.”
“It can save a lot of expense and aggravation in the process, especially if there are children involved. Unfortunately, many divorcing couples want to inflict pain when they start out—hence the hiring of a ‘shark’ to start aggressive litigation. The price tag (emotionally and financially) can be pretty steep.”
In her commitment to helping families redefine themselves and resolve conflicts out of court, Katie combines compassion with competence and empathy with expertise. She is the beating heart behind Element Law Group and is at the forefront of the collaborative law movement in Montana.
Katie has primarily focused on family law and alternative dispute resolution. She was one of the first attorneys in Montana to be certified by the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals as a collaborative lawyer.
Throughout her legal career, Katie has been recognized as a standout provider of legal services. Her family law experience includes divorce, child custody, child support, spousal support, domestic violence, post-separation issues, adoption, grandparent rights, guardian ad litem, same-sex partnerships and parenting, surrogacy, name changes, pre and post-nuptial agreements, and mediation. She additionally teaches continuing education courses on family law and lawyer ethics.
Katie realized her appreciation for helping families resolve disputes without court intervention while competing on the negotiations team throughout her studies at The University of Montana School of Law.
Katie enjoys an active lifestyle with her husband and two small children in Bozeman, Montana. She competes in half ironman triathlons in her free time and looks forward to visiting her family in Northern Michigan.
Awards & Honors
Education & Experience
Community & Professional Involvement
Caitlin Pabst is an attorney and the managing partner at Element Law Group, PLLC. Caitlin grew-up in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York, and later moved to Chicago, Illinois where she graduated from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana in 2011 with her B.S. in political science. Caitlin went on to earn her law degree from The John Marshall Law School of University of Illinois at Chicago in 2014. Caitlin moved to Montana in 2016 and then joined ELG in 2018. Caitlin’s practice primarily focuses on family law (i.e., divorce, legal separation, parenting disputes, domestic violence, paternity disputes, adoption, guardianship, etc.), collaborative law, estate planning and civil litigation.
Caitlin is passionate about helping clients navigate and resolve their complex legal issues. She takes great care in how she approaches her cases, especially because the outcome of the case will have a direct and lasting impact on the family dynamic.
When not in the office or in Court, you can find Caitlin spending time hiking with her two black labs, Duke and Duchess, mountain biking, fly fishing, skiing, playing piano, or traveling to Chicago to visit with family and friends (or catch a Cubs game).
Caitlin is licensed in Montana and Illinois.
Erin brings her background as an experienced litigator to Element Law Group, PLLC, where she works in an "Of Counsel" capacity. Her practice focuses mainly on highly contentious family law matters and criminal defense work. She is extremely comfortable in a courtroom, but understands all cases are different and strives to provide each client with a strategy that fits their unique goals. Erin is a native Texan; she says "y'all" and "fixin' to" and "Hook'em". She received her B.A. in American Studies from the University of Texas in Austin in 2005. Erin went on to earn her J.D. from Southern Methodist University's Dedman School of Law in 2005. She began her career as a prosecutor in McLennan County, Texas (home of Chip and Joanna Gaines!). She prosecuted all levels of state crimes in her time as a prosecutor. In 2011, she started her own practice, Law Office of Erin Melseimer, PLLC, doing a combination of criminal defense, family law, and child protective services work as both an ad litem for parents and children. She also served as an Associate Judge of Collin County Probate Court #1 from 2017-2019 handling a variety of mental health matters. In anticipation of a move to Montana, Erin became licensed in Montana during the summer of 2019. She then relocated to Bozeman with her husband later that year. She has been working with Element Law Group, PLLC since January 2020. When Erin is not in the office, you can find her spending time with her husband, her one year old son, and their two French bulldogs. She loves a margarita on a patio, a float down the Madison, exploring the mountains, and visiting friends and family in Texas often.
Connor Smith is a family law attorney based in Helena, Montana. A biology graduate from Carroll College, Connor absconded to California for law school, where he earned his Juris Doctor from Chapman University, Fowler School of Law. At Chapman, Connor studied under professors who are now deceased or have been referred for disbarment. While in law school, Connor took classes on family law, domestic violence protection. He also re-opened a campus chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, and he remains a member-at-large in good standing. Despite his best efforts to the contrary, Connor earned his law degree and joined the Montana State Bar Association later that same year.
Connor specializes in assisting families navigate divorces with children. Connor also assists parents as they work through parenting disputes and child custody issues.
Connor is a CASA volunteer in Lewis and Clark County and is now offering his services as a Guardian Ad Litem to families of all stripes as they navigate their dissolutions and parenting matters.
When he is not in the office, Connor is either spending time with his wife and ten-month old son, or he is lost in the Helena National Forest somewhere.
A Montana native, Mark has worked in private practice in Montana since graduating from law school at the University of Montana in 2009.
Before joining Element Law Group, Mark worked at the Helena law firm of Luxan & Murfitt, PLLP, for over ten years, seven of those years as a partner. In that time he represented a diverse group of individual and corporate clients, in litigation and transactional capacities, advocating regarding a broad spectrum of subject areas, including corporate formation and governance of both business and nonprofit entities, employment law, professional liability and licensing issues, guardianships and conservatorships, real estate matters, and several other topics.
He has continued his established client work at Element Law Group, while broadening the geographic scope of his work to include the Bozeman area. Mark prefers to take a collaborative and creative approach to client issues, making sure that clients know their rights and obligations with regard to difficult issues, but also encouraging clients to consider unorthodox or practical ideas to overcome business or personal issues.
In his free time Mark enjoys spending time with his family and canoeing or skiing, depending on the season.
Adoption of the Uniform Collaborative Law,
Katie Mazeruk helped pass HB 272, Montana Lawyer,
Bills Supported by State Bar, June/July 2015 p.7
Collaborative Law Firm of the Year,
For the state of Montana, 2017
Preserving The Family, Divorcing the Spouse,
January 2016, p.38
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