Welcome to Part 3 of my three (3) part series on the process of getting divorced.  In Part 3, I will discuss Collaborative Law and how it relates to divorce cases.  Collaborative Law/Collaborative divorce is a relatively unknown option to legal consumers.  Basically, it is a process by which people can effectively not involve the legal system in reaching their agreement.  This blog post will discuss Collaborative Law in general so as to allow readers to decide if this process is right for them.

COLLABORATIVE LAW (The Whole Foods version of Divorce)

     Collaborative Law is the revolutionary process by which parties get divorced.  Collaborative Law, which is different from Co-operative divorce, is a process by which both parties resolve their divorce by utilizing attorneys and neutral mental health and/or financial experts( What I mean by neutral is that the expert/professional works with both parties instead of for one party and against the other).  In this process, both sides are represented by attorneys who work together with financial and mental health professionals to ensure that the parties have a healthy transition (mentally and financially) from married life to non-married life.  The neutral experts can consist of family therapists, child therapists (for children’s issues), communications experts, financial advisors, accountants, and/or financial planners.  Truly, the point of divorcing through this process is to ensure that each and every issue is resolved in the most helpful and positive way possible.

Like the importance of choosing a mediator discussed above, this process two relies heavily on one very important aspect.  The parties must enter into a Collaborative Law Agreement.  This agreement requires the parties to do the following:  each party must individually retain an attorney, who has received training on collaborative law, the parties must attend pre-scheduled meetings together with the attorneys and any experts they have retained, the parties must have full financial disclosure (In theory, all divorces should have full financial disclosure, but that is not always the case), and, finally, should any party quit the collaborative process, both attorneys must quit and cease representing their client.  Clearly, this agreement is quite extensive.

Once the agreement is signed, then the process can begin.  First, the attorney’s meet with their respective clients to discuss the issues.  Then, the parties meet with the other retained experts, depending on their needs, to discuss the issues and provide any necessary documents.  Next, the parties, with their respective attorneys, attend multiple pre-scheduled meetings with the different experts to discuss any of the following issues:

  • Communication issues between the parties
  • The parties’ emotional issues
  • The impact the divorce will have on the children.
  • The impact different time-sharing schedules will have on the children
  • The emotional, financial, and academic needs of the parties’ children and/or the parties themselves.
  • What type of spousal and children support is necessary?
  • Etc.

Next, the attorneys work with each other and the experts to ensure that a marital settlement agreement is drafted with specificity on all issues.  Once the agreement, is agreed upon and entered into by the parties, the final paperwork is submitted to the Court and the parties are divorced.  That is the Collaborative process.  Truly, it is a very custom tailored, extensive, and healthy process in which two parties can do everything they can to have a healthy foundation for post-married life, which is why I have dubbed it, “The Whole Foods version of Divorce”.  It is a process in which I believe in and that I recommend to every prospective client.  However, in the spirit of full disclosure, it is not perfect and does have some cons that parties should be aware of.

     Cons:  First Con:  The first big con, like with Whole Foods, it’s expensive.  To be fair though, litigation is expensive.  In fact, in many cases litigation is more expensive than Collaborative Law.  Therefore, the real issue is in how Collaborative Law is expensive.  Collaborative Law is a lot of upfront cost.  First, the parties need to use marital funds in which to retain two (2) lawyers, one for each party.  Second, depending on the parties’ needs, multiple mental health and financial experts may need to be retained.  Therefore, two parties could very easily need to retain four (4) experts in order to effectively address all of the parties’ issues.  Whereas with litigation, there may not be a ton of upfront costs, but overtime the fees for legal services, court reporter fees, court costs, and the hiring of non-neutral experts could be extremely expensive over time.

Second con, the system only works when the parties have full disclosure between them.  That is not to say that the parties must start out fully disclosing all of their issues because effective Collaborative Law attorneys are able to effectively force this issue with their clients to make sure that there is full disclosure.  However, parties often, during divorce proceedings, develop a certain level of paranoia when it comes to certain issues, especially money or the parties are starting to find out how distrustful they are of each other.  These feelings can often cause parties to panic and make bad decisions steering them away from full disclosure and loosing track of the ultimate goal, to have solid footing for everybody post-divorce.  Therefore, full disclosure is an absolute must for this process to be effective.  However, this can be very difficult for some people, so people need to have the inner strength to deny any urges they may have to stray away from the process.

Final con, if the parties no longer wish to be involved in the collaborative process, their respective attorneys must agree to stop representing the parties, now and in the future.  This is done as an incentive to keep parties in the collaborative process because, if they no longer participate, then they must start all over in litigating their divorce.  This requires parties to retain new legal counsel, spend more time married together, and participate in the litigation process, which is not designed to ensure that all the parties are happy.  Therefore, entering into the Collaborative Law process is not a decision that should be made lightly.

     Piece of Advice:     When I advise clients about the Collaborative Law process I try and highlight the fact that, when the process is done properly, the Court can be completely removed from the situation.  I tell them that there is no shame in taking their case to trial, but why do it when you can spend less time and money be reaching a tailor-made agreement.  What option offers you more bang for your buck: entering into an agreement that you had a hand in making or having your issues decided by a Judge who you have never met before?  What option is better for your children?

     Immortal Words on Collaborative Law:  “This is how all divorces will be handled in the near future.”

To the readers, I hope this blog posting has been informative, and I hope that all three (3) parts of the series have helped you in deciding which process works for you and your family.  Again, it is important to be a smart and conscientious legal consumer, and to remember that all of these processes have their inherent pros and cons.

Despite their pros and cons, all three (3) of these processes are effective when you are represented by effective legal counsel.  Therefore, it is important to speak with experienced Marital and Family Law attorneys and who know how to help clients through their Marital and Family Law matters.  At the Eaton Family Law Firm, P.A. we strive to help Florida’s families, and that is why we are A FAMILY FIRM BECAUSE FAMILY MATTERS.

Sincerely,

 

Cash A. Eaton, Esquire