Monday, September 15, 2014

Advantages of Using an Experienced Collaborative Law Attorney

There are getting to be a number of trained Collaborative Law attorneys in Texas and other places.  That's good because it gives clients more to choose from.  On the flip-side, it's sometimes hard for a party to figure out who to hire to help them through the process.

In a previous post, I wrote about how to choose an experienced Collaborative attorney.  Here are some reasons why you should want to hire an attorney with good Collaborative experience.

  • Experienced attorneys start to recognize and understand different personality types.  This helps them in dealing with the parties in a case.  
  • Attorneys with extensive Collaborative experience naturally have experience and confidence in the other team members.  Over time, Collaborative attorneys tend to work with the same attorneys and other professionals in different cases -- not in every case, but often.  That helps the professionals trust each other and work together effectively.
  • With experience, attorneys become able to recognize problems early on.  They can then work with the other professionals to stop problems before them get too big.
  • After a while, experienced attorneys begin to learn effective ways to resolve stand-offs.  Occasionally, parties will start to get stuck in negotiating and they would have a hard time working out a solution without the attorneys and other professionals.  Experienced Collaborative attorneys have often seen such problems before and usually can help the parties work their way out of the difficulty. 
  • Experienced Collaborative attorneys are more understanding of their own clients.  The attorneys are often more sensitive to the feelings and concerns and can more readily help their clients when they start to get down or upset. 
If you are considering trying a Collaborative divorce, you should carefully examine the experience and training of the attorneys who practice Collaborative Law.  Getting one who is very experienced will pay off in the long run.

Monday, September 1, 2014

How to Tell Whether an Attorney is Experienced in Collaborative Law

As more people decide to give Collaborative a try in resolving their family law issues, clients are faced with having to choose among a number of attorneys who say they practice Collaborative Law.  Naturally, some attorneys have more Collaborative experience than other attorneys.

For the record, there is no "certification" for Collaborative Law in Texas.  If you see a claim that someone is "certified" in Collaborative Law in Texas, that attorney or other professional does not know what they are talking about.  You should look elsewhere for your representation.

In a later post, I will explain the advantages of using an experienced Collaborative attorney.  For now, I want to explain how to tell whether the attorney has good Collaborative experience. 

Here are some things to look for:

1. Active work in Collaborative Law for a number of years. Someone who just got trained in the last year or two may be a good Collaborator, but would probably be better with experience. There's no substitute for having handled a lot of cases. This also shows a commitment to using the process.

2. Extensive training.  All Collaborative lawyers should have an initial two-day training to get the basics down.  Afterwards, attorneys should get training about every year.  There is no legal requirement for that, but training matters and getting advanced training helps with skills.

3. Speaking at public or training events.  This is another clue about who is keeping up to date and who knows about the field.  You can usually find this on web sites.

4. Leadership.  Someone who has acted as a leader in Collaborative Law groups and activities shows commitment to the use and expansion of the process. 

5. Being a though leader.  Someone who writes about Collaborative Law usually understands the process, the problems, strategies and solutions.  Prospective clients also can read what has been written and decide if they like the attitude and approaches of the writer.

Looking for these signs will help you identify whether an attorney is an experienced Collaborative attorney.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Being Realistic --Don't Get Greedy!

There's a lot of pressure when it comes time to resolve a divorce.  Mostly, it's self-imposed, but it is real nevertheless.  A big concern is for both parties to be as financially secure as possible even though you increase expenses by splitting one household into two.  Often the party with less earning power is very fearful about the future.

As a result, sometimes one party to a divorce starts pushing hard to get as much cash or other assets as possible.  Aside from the fact that such an approach is straying from the focus on the goals that was discussed at the first meeting, the parties can easily get into conflict over the money.  That can make it harder to get to an agreement over the broader issues.

To avoid those problems, the parties should always be realistic. Here are some things to keep in mind.

1.  Don't over-reach.  In the Collaborative process, we emphasize that we are not bound by standard guidelines or presumptions.  We start with the goals of the parties and try to find solutions consistent with the goals.  However, that's not a license to insist on unreasonably large shares of the assets.  That could make an overall agreement much less likely if someone appears unreasonable or greedy.

2.  Listen to your attorney and the other professionals.  We and they are on your side.  We are all working together to help everyone reach an agreement.  We try to expand the pie and create win-win situations, but we need you to follow our advice.  Even when we disagree with you, we are all trying to help both parties.

3.  Both parties need to feel good about the  result.  If one side asks for so much that the other side feels mistreated or cheated, the deal will fall apart.  Even while you are taking care of your needs, it is important to think of how your spouse will feel about your proposal.  No one forces a settlement on the other side -- there must be voluntary agreement.

4.  Keep in mind that both parties will have to adjust their standard of living.  In most cases, the parties try to stretch the same amount funds to cover two households, instead of one.  There will be changes for both parties and there won't be as much money available per person as there used to be.

5.  Don't get too complicated.  While there may be many issues on the table, don't try to create such an elaborate plan that it will fail.  Be realistic!  Keep things simple. 

In sum, don't focus exclusively  on yourself.  Think about your spouse and how he or she will react to the solutions you propose.  Be willing to compromise and try to find some points that you can agree to that will benefit your ex.  Goodwill goes a long ways!

Friday, August 1, 2014

How Collaborative Law and Litigation are Alike

Most of my writing about Collaborative Law discusses how it is different from Litigation.  For a change, I will explain some of their limited similarities.

1.  Both processes use the same basic time periods. 
  • One of the parties must have lived in Texas for at least 6 months and the county they file in for the last 90 days.  
  • There's also a 60-day waiting period, from the date the case is filed until a divorce can be granted by the Court.
2.  The parties need to gather and share information about the assets, liabilities and children.  In litigation it is normally in writing and formal.  In Collaborative, we usually involve the neutral professionals  in obtaining, reviewing and organizing the information.  In Litigation cases, the attorney usually takes charge of it.

3.  The attorneys create a detailed court order with the agreement.  They want it clear and enforceable.

4.  Documents take time to  prepare.  The Decree of Divorce, sometimes the Agreement Incident to Divorce and any Qualified Domestic Relations Orders always seem to take a long time.

5.  The parties must get the Court to approve the agreement.  There must be a formal, signed court order.

Sometimes people get in a hurry in Collaborative cases.  Hopefully, they will keep in mind that some things just can't be ignored or sped up.  Collaborative cases usually are faster than Litigated ones, but we still have hoops to jump through.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Protecting Your Privacy

One of the biggest advantages of using Collaborative Law to resolve family law issues, such as divorce, is the protection of privacy. 

Privacy is very valuable to a number of people.  This includes:
  • Professionals, such as doctors, attorneys, CPAs and others
  • Business people, especially ones involved in owning and running businesses
  • Politicians and office holders
  • Athletes
  • Educators
  • Wealthy people with substantial assets
  • A lot of other people who don't want their personal and financial affairs out in the public's view.
How does Collaborative Law protect privacy?  Here are some ways:
  • The process involves a series of private meetings, rather than court appearances
  • The meetings take place in private, even neutral, locations
  • The meetings and discussions are confidential
  • There is minimal involvement with the Court
  • The terms of the final agreement can be kept private by using an Agreement Incident to Divorce which is not filed with the court papers
  •  Discrete professionals help the parties come to agreements
  • There is no battle of pleadings splashing allegations in the public view
  • There is no testimony in court, other than at the prove-up at the end
If you are facing a divorce or other legal action, you should find a trained Collaborative lawyer and investigate whether your case would be appropriate for Collaborative Law.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Need a Creative Solution?

Some people have very simple divorces which require no imagination.  They are able to utilize the standard guideline child support and visitation.  They split everything 50-50 and everyone is satisfied and ready to move on.

Other people don't fit into standard.  They need something different, up or down, for child support.  They may not like how the standard visitation schedule works in their case.  There may be some special financial concerns that require creativity.

If the "non-standard" people go to court, they will probably get a standard solution imposed on them.  Even if the other side will be a little flexible, that usually does not provide much relief because every court uses the "standard" solutions as the default position.

The "non-standard" people include a variety of parties who need special consideration for various reasons.
  • There may be special circumstances, including financial issues, emotional problems and other things.
  • Children in the case may need special visitation provisions for a variety of reasons, or a parent may need special visitation because of work, travel or other reasons.
  • Extra support may be needed for medical reasons
  • A party may need, but not qualify for, alimony
  • Special schooling may be needed, and paid for.
So, how does Collaborative Law provide a more creative solution?
  • We use neutral Mental Health Professionals and Financial Professionals who can help the parties brainstorm to find new options
  • We sometimes will use a neutral Child Specialist to deal with difficult situations
  • The Financial Professional can help us realistically assess future needs and future financial capabilities
  • We can get neutral business and real estate appraisers
  • We sometimes work with a mortgage specialist who is good at finding ways to reduce payments or get some cash out of a house
  • If needed, we can use personal coaches or counselors for one or both parties
  • The biggest reason is that we are not bound go standard solutions or guidelines.
Do you need more than you could realistically get in court or different solutions? If so, you should talk with a trained Collaborative Lawyer to find out if Collaborative Law would be a good fit for your case.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Flexible Timing

In addition to other advantages of Collaborative Law, one that is not discussed as much is the ability to have flexibility with the timing.

Collaborative divorces are bound by the basic time limits in the Family Code.  In order to file for divorce, one of the parties must have lived in the county of filing for the last 90 days and the State of Texas for at least 6 months.  In addition, there is a 60-day waiting period, beginning on the filing date, before the divorce can be finalized; that is not an automatic end date, just the minimum time the papers have to be on file before the divorce can be granted.

How is Collaborative Law more flexible? It goes back to who controls the case.

The case can move very quickly, once the 60-day waiting period is up, if both parties are ready and both want to move quickly.  The parties decide how quickly they want to move.They don't have to wait on court hearings.

On the other hand, the case can move very slowly for any number of reasons, if the parties want it.
  • There may be health issues that require waiting.  
  • It may take a while to get the finances figured out. 
  • The parties may need to wait for one or both to get a job.  
  • More education or training may be needed.  
  • There may be some kid issues that take time to resolve.
If both parties are ready and want to speed up, they can in Collaborative Law.  If one or both parties need to slow down, that can also be arranged.  If the parties were in Litigation, they would not control the timing.  Very often a scheduling order is done fairly early in the process, and that will override the wishes of the parties.

If you have special timing needs, visit with a Collaborative Lawyer and find out if your case would benefit from using the Collaborative process.