Sunday, March 1, 2020

The Need for Patience

Many people take quite a long time deciding whether or not to get divorced. That's normal and probably a good thing. It is such an important decision that we shouldn't jump into it lightly.

However, once they make the commitment to divorce, many of these people become anxious to get it over with.

As unwelcome as the news is, sometimes people just have to be patient. The Collaborative Divorce process takes time and it may take time for the other party to become comfortable with the prospect of divorce, which may have been unexpected. 

So, we often have one person who was slow to decide initially who is now in a hurry, while the spouse is unprepared and slow to adjust to a new reality of divorce. The different speeds of people can create conflict.

Here are some suggestions for dealing with that friction between the parties.

1.  Most importantly, the "speedier" person needs to be able to honestly explain why speed is important.  There may be good reasons which everyone can understand.

  • The person may be moving or starting a new job.
  • The person may be in a new relationship. That's often not a popular explanation until the second party is emotionally in the same place. Patiently waiting to discuss that is usually a virtue.
  • The person may want to end the financial drain of a divorce. Divorces aren't cheap. Even a Collaborative Divorce is somewhat expensive. It's probably in everyone's best interest to not drag out the divorce with continuing meetings (which is similar to the desire to stop court hearings in litigation).
  • The person may be ready to start over fresh.
  • Any divorce is emotionally stressful (although Collaborative Divorces are usually less stressful than litigated ones). It makes sense that getting out of the stressful situation may be a priority.
  • At some point, almost everyone is ready to get out of a difficult or uncomfortable situation just to get out of limbo.  The uncertainty of a continuing divorce can be draining.
2.  Both parties need to recognize that a divorce process, even Collaborative Divorce, takes time. It cannot and generally should not be a speedy process because people need to be thoughtful about such important issues for their lives.

3.  Each party should accept that their spouse may need time to adjust or prepare. Be kind and be patient and you will be rewarded.

4.  Be sure there is time for each party to be heard. Sometimes just having an opportunity to speak up and explain things can be very beneficial. In Collaborative Divorces, we work on improving communication between and parties. A big part of that is learning to be a good listener.

5.  Finally, both parties need to recognize that their assumptions about how fast the process should work may be wrong. Each case is different and each person is different, so timing will vary from case to case.

Having experienced Collaborative professionals involved in the case should ease some of the stress, including the speed stress. You should have a good discussion with your attorney about your needs, your assumptions and your spouse's position on the speed of the case.  Together you should figure out how to balance the desires for a quicker or slower process so that neither party is over-stressed.

The overall best advice on the topic:  Be Patient!

Saturday, February 1, 2020

How to Choose a Good Collaborative Attorney for You

Once you have researched or gotten some suggestions for a possible Collaborative attorney for your divorce (or other legal issue), you need to meet with the candidate or candidates and decide which is the right one for you.

When you make an appointment to meet with the attorneys, you should plan ahead  what you want to discuss and what you are looking for. Here are some suggestions.

1.  Ask about their experience.  How long have they been doing Collaborative cases?
  • When did they start doing Collaborative cases?
  • Why do they like Collaborative Law?
  • How many Collaborative cases have they had?
  • How much training have they attended?
  • How they spoken at seminars or Collaborative meetings?
  • Are they active in Collaborative Law organizations?
  • Have they handled cases like yours in the Collaborative process?
If they have not handled many cases or been to much training, they may try to talk you out of using Collaborative Law. That's usually a sign that they are not sincere about using Collaborative Law. Try someone else.

2.  Ask about their view on Collaborative Law.  If they claim to use Collaborative but don't believe your case would be appropriate, get a second opinion. Unfortunately, some attorneys say they do Collaborative Law, but haven't been trained. Those attorneys try to draw in business and then switch clients to litigation. If an attorney says Collaborative Law is his or her first preference, that is probably a good choice.

3.  Talk about the cost for attorneys and the process.  Collaborative cases can actually save you some money, compared to costs for litigation with big fights. Having a child specialist do the preliminary work with the parents on a parenting plan is much cheaper and a better result than having two attorneys working on it simultaneously. Likewise, delegating the preliminary financial work to a single financial professional produces a better product at a smaller cost than a litigation  approach with formal discovery.

4.  Keep in mind that neither process is "cheap".  If you have significant issues, there is no bargain rate possible in any legal process.  Still, you can reduce the costs somewhat by working together as a Collaborative team.

5.  Your most important consideration:  Chemistry.
  • Make sure you feel comfortable with your attorney.
  • You need someone who listens to you well.
  • The attorney should be able to communicate well and explain things to you.
Pay attention to your gut feeling about working with the attorney.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

How to Find Information on Collaborative Attorneys

Getting Started
If you are facing divorce and either you or your spouse became interested in the Collaborative divorce process, one of your first tasks is to find a Collaborative attorney to represent and assist you.

Where to Find Names
Typically, your introduction comes from researching the Internet, receiving a referral from a friend or trusted professional or from a list of suggested names of nearby Collaborative attorneys. That can come from your spouse who may have met with a Collaborative attorney or from an attorney suggesting the names.

Get Local Information
It is getting easier to find information online about the process and about Collaborative lawyers in your area.  Make sure your searches are limited to your area. California and Texas Collaborative practitioners have some differences in how they handle cases. Be sure when you do online searches that you add in your state and city or county so you can get information and referrals that fit your situation.

What if You Get a List of Names
If your spouse goes first to see a Collaborative attorney, he or she may leave with a list of trained and active Collaborative attorneys who could be good attorneys for you to choose from.
  • That's a good thing. It does not mean that the attorneys would work against you because they are friends with the first attorney. 
  • The list is probably good attorneys who have a history of working well with the first attorney. That's good for you because it improves your chances of getting your case peacefully settled.
  • Many times, lawyers are members of a "practice group" of attorneys and other professionals who are well trained, experienced and dedicated to helping clients divorce peacefully while protecting their rights.
Can You Use Someone Not on a List?
Of course, but you want to make sure they are trained and they would be a good fit for you.

The Next Step
When you have some attorneys' names, do some research online and learn something about each one. Then you need to meet them.

For tips on choosing a good Collaborative lawyer, please see my next blog post for February 1, 2020.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Are You Ready for Divorce?

Everyone has to decide on his or her own whether they are ready for divorce -- unless their spouse takes the first step and files. In that case, there must be a response.

But, let's talk about the situation where you are trying to decide whether to file for divorce.  How do you really decide?

First, you should think it through and not just react on impulse.  There are good reasons to file, in some cases. But there are also bad reasons to file.You need to keep things in perspective. Maybe you're mad or disappointed about something. You have to decide if it is the last straw or if it's something that's not such a big deal on second thought. Unless it's a safety issue, let a little time pass before you commit to filing. Think it over.

Second, talk with a counselor. You may need an outside perspective. A good counselor can help you think about things in different ways and put them in context. Maybe you have been in denial and you should file. Maybe an event was not so terrible once things calmed down. A counselor may be able to help you figure out other ways, short of divorce, to deal with the situation.

Third, consider talking with trusted friends or family members.  Another point of view from someone who knows and cares about you can be very helpful.  They may help you solidify your resolution to act or not act. Sharing the emotional load will also help with your stress level.

Here are some Cons to consider when trying to decide whether to divorce:

1.  Divorce will disrupt family relationships. That may seem obvious, but keep in mind that relations with many other people will be affected and you may lose out on friendships with members of your spouse's family.  If there are children involved, their lives will be changed in many ways. Transitions are often difficult after divorce.

2.  Financial difficulties are common. It's difficult to run two households on the funds that had been used to pay the bills for just one. It has to be done, but there are normally cutbacks. You may have a hard time until the finances are figured out.

3.  You need to be emotionally ready.  Try to think and plan for the changes ahead. You will probably be lonely, mad and worried at different times. You will have a lot of adjustments to make.

Here are some Pros for filing.

1.  You may be  leaving an unpleasant or unsafe relationship. It may be hard to take the step, but it will be worth it in most cases. You need to protect yourself and your children.

2.  You may have just drifted apart. You may be leaving a relationship where you don't hate or dislike each other. With a divorce, you will both be better off and have a chance for a better relationship.

3.  If your spouse has started a new relationship, you need to move on, too.  You have to face facts. There's very little chance of reconciliation when a new significant other is in place.

What's the best thing you can do to help decide whether to file for divorce? 

Go see an experienced family law attorney.  Together, you should be able to come to a decision.

By the way, a good attorney will sometimes advise you to wait a while before filing. 

So, think it over. Talk it over. Take some time, if you can. Consider the advantages and disadvantages to you. Then make your decision and stay with it. If you want to stay together, you should get counseling since you have been this close to divorce.

Good Luck!

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Proceed With Caution

Sometimes people going through a Collaborative divorce will start to discuss things and negotiate directly with their spouse outside of Collaborative meetings.

Usually, if the topic is something like what time to pick up or return the kids on a special occasion, that's appropriate and it may be necessary.

On the other hand, some people may begin pushing their spouse to negotiate directly, without the attorneys or other professionals, and that can cause problems.  Realistically, the parties are in the Collaborative process because they can't just sit at a kitchen table and work things out.

In spite of past differences, people sometimes drift into direct negotiations. It could be to save money, save time or because things are just going very well at the moment. Other times, it may be a result of a conscious or unconscious desire to control or dominate the partner.

There are several reasons to Proceed with Caution: 

  • Things could go badly and damage to the negotiations can occur. The good relationship could quickly disappear.
  • Someone might be pushed into a bad decision without the advice of counsel.
  • One or both parties may be overlooking legal concerns or options that are available.
  • One or both parties may be acting on a mistaken idea of the law.
  • Money may be spent or assets disposed of which could disadvantage one or both of the parties.
Keep in mind that the Collaborative attorneys and other professionals have a more objective viewpoint than you and your spouse do. The attorneys and professionals also have knowledge of the law and usually the experience of having handled at least hundreds of cases.

For the best outcome, please be patient and stay in communication with your attorney before you start negotiating on your own.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Do You Really Need a Team of Professionals?

For some people, the leap from hiring a lawyer to hiring a team of professionals for a divorce is very difficult. In Collaborative divorces, it is common in North Texas and other areas for the Collaborative attorneys to select a neutral mental health professional (MHP) and a neutral financial professional (FP) to work with the parties.

The attorneys and other professionals divide up the work so that the best qualified people are in charge of gathering information and leading the discussions for their areas. The MHP leads in working on issues relating to children, if there are parenting issues. In addition the MHP leads joint meetings. The FP is in charge of gathering and organizing financial information for everyone.

Some people worry about the cost, others don't want a complicated process, while some feel more comfortable with a more traditional approach.

Cost. As you may know, attorney fees can be expensive. On the other hand, the MHP and FP typically charge roughly half the hourly rate of the attorneys.  In regular litigation, the attorney does all the work. In Collaborative, you have a specialist taking charge of the preliminary work for parenting and financial issues, but charging around half the rate of the attorneys who would have been doing the same work. Much of the MHP and FP's work is done directly with the parties and without attorneys being present. You get great results at a reduced cost.

Complicated.  Dividing responsibility so that the most qualified person oversees different areas and works directly with the parties is a less complicated process.  The preliminary work is done by specialists and then reviewed by all. The attorneys provide the legal overview to make sure an appropriate and enforceable order is the result.

Traditional approach.  The alternative is to file pleadings, go to court,  and negotiate with the courtroom looming in the background. You can let the judge apply a standard possession schedule and standard child support orders. The parties can exchange information through the traditional written Discovery process, which usually costs thousands of dollars before it is over. It all takes a lot of attorney time, which translates into cost.

If you happen to have a divorce where both sides are in agreement on everything, you don't need Collaborative Law. If you agree on getting a divorce, but disagree on the parenting issues or on the finances, you should consider a Collaborative divorce.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Will It Work?

Collaborative divorce sounds good in theory, but many people wonder whether it can work in their case.

What Happens if it Fails?
If the process fails, the parties have to hire new attorneys and essentially start over. That means additional cost.

Incentive to Keep Working
The cost, delays and inconvenience of switching attorneys all create a big incentive for the parties to keep working together and to try other approaches if they struggle to reach agreements.  It's a big part of why the Collaborative divorce process works.

Reasons for Failure
But, in initially deciding whether to use the Collaborative process or go to litigation, people sometimes feel overwhelmed by their bad situations. They sometimes think Collaborative would fail because of one of the following reasons:
  • You and your spouse may be really mad at each other and don't want to talk to each other.
  • You and your spouse don't trust each other.
  • You're afraid your spouse can out-negotiate you.
  • You don't know what to do or what to ask for in a settlement.
  • You and your spouse don't seem to be able to agree on anything.
How We Deal with Those Concerns
These are all very common obstacles that divorcing people face. Experienced Collaborative attorneys and other professionals are used to dealing with these problems.
  • We can get you and your spouse in a calmer state and able to talk respectfully.
  • We start off figuring out the goals and needs (our targets) for each party. We go deeper than the standard, "I want half of everything".
  • Then we break down the process into manageable steps: gathering information, developing options, negotiating with the aid of the professionals and reaching agreements.
  • Throughout the process, we have the deep involvement and leadership of the professionals needed for parenting plan decisions and property division issues.
  • The parties learn of new options for settlement that they often have not thought of.
  • We can take as much time as is needed to develop the information and options so that both parties are comfortable with an agreement that benefits both parties.
 Bottom Line
 The Collaborative Divorce process works about 85-95% of the time.  That's pretty successful.

If you have concerns about how it might work in your situation, please contact an experienced Collaborative attorney who can help you visualize how the process would be for your case.

Note-- Second Opinion:  If an attorney tries to talk you out of using the Collaborative process, do yourself a favor and get a second opinion from an experienced Collaborative attorney who has actually worked through a number of cases. Unfortunately, some people advertise for Collaborative cases and use that to draw in potential clients without having the experience or real interest in Collaborative Law.