Monday, December 28, 2009

What If Your Spouse Doesn't Want to do Collaborative Law

A situation that comes up occasionally is that one spouse will decide that a Collaborative divorce is the best approach, but the other spouse doesn't agree. Unfortunately, it is impossible to force someone to use Collaborative Law if they don't want to use it. It can be very frustrating for a husband or wife to research the subject and come to the conclusion that Collaborative Law would be best for both parties and then find out that their spouse disagrees. In some cases, maybe you are just stuck in litigation. In some other cases, you may be able to have a mature discussion and persuade your spouse to join you in collaborating. If you want to try to do that, here are some ideas to consider.

1. Try to find out the reason or reasons for the objection to Collaborative Law. Once you understand that, you may be able to come up with reasons to overcome the concerns.

2. Be sensitive to the need to avoid the appearance of pressuring your spouse. Sometimes that alone will make your position unacceptable to your spouse. A spouse may believe that if you want something, it must be bad for them. Try to promote your suggestion in a way that appeals to your spouse.

3. Try to explain the benefits of the process from your spouse's point of view. Some of the following may appeal to your spouse:
  • Avoiding public exposure by meeting and discussing matters in private.
  • Having control over the outcome.
  • Keeping financial records private.
  • Ensuring that the negotiations are held on a level playing field. Expert guidance is available to help eliminate the advantage of more knowledge or experience with some issues.
  • Avoiding the duplicate expenses of having competing experts for property appraisals or business valuations.
  • Encouraging creative new solutions, instead of the statutory guidelines or minimums.
  • Focusing on planning for the future.
If those reasons don't seem to appeal to your spouse, talk with your Collaborative attorney or other professional and come up with some other approaches to present. The Collaborative process can't be forced on someone, but it's really worth a strong, intelligent effort to show the benefits to your spouse so you can both win.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Should Professional Athletes Use Collaborative Law?

Many athletes seem to think that they become almost bullet proof and that once they reach a certain level of athletic achievement, they can control virtually all aspects of their lives. They seem to believe that the money, notoriety and power that come with success on a big stage will enable them to avoid the problems that the general public experiences in everyday life. That is often true. Sometimes they can make problems go away with just a little money. On the other hand, occasionally, celebrities discover that they are caught in a quicksand that seems inexorably to suck them in with a tighter and tighter grip. Eventually, they face a fight to survive.

Traditionally, professional athletes relied on money, connections and/or a forgiving public to get through a crisis. Sometimes that doesn't work anymore, especially in personal and family matters, as several politicians and ministers have discovered in recent years. Depending on what transgressions may have occurred, athletes may face the end of a marriage, or other consequences. As great a loss as that may be, it can get worse. Celebrity athletes can also face embarrassment brought on by an ugly divorce, which can end up costing tens of millions of dollars, or more.

When a crisis arises, the first response, after the initial denial, is to try to keep everything under wraps so the disputes and allegations are not exposed to the public. If it looks like the issues won't go away, the parties should consider utilizing Collaborative Law as the means of resolving the matter in a way that protects the interests of both parties.

Why is Collaborative Law preferable in sensitive cases? Here are some reasons:

1. It's a private process. High profile people, athletes, entertainers or otherwise, need good publicity, but can really be hurt by a messy divorce or custody fight. Collaborative Law provides a safe, private environment where issues can be addressed and solutions can be created without disclosing details to the public. Privacy is one of the fundamental elements of Collaborative Law.

2. The process encourages creativity. In fashioning solutions for various issues with unusual characteristics, the parties are not bound by the standard solutions that courts use. Instead, for example, they can agree to financial terms which may adjust depending on the athlete's income or contract status. They can also allow the parties the freedom to create unique schedules for sharing the children, taking into account seasons, travel and other variables.

3. The parties stay in control. In litigation, if the parties can't agree, they give up their control over the outcome and let a judge make a decision which is binding. In Collaborative Law cases, the parties make all the decisions jointly, sometimes with assistance of neutral experts. The negotiating process changes dramatically in a Collaborative case because both parties, both attorneys and the other professionals in the case all have a vested interest in not giving up and letting a judge decide. They work hard to keep coming up with new and different approaches. Someone with substantial assets, or the spouse of that person, may not be very comfortable letting a stranger make personal and life-changing decisions about them. In Collaborative Law, both parties keep their power to decide the outcome and both parties participate fully in the decision-making process.

4. Both parties focus on the needs and interests of the parties. Collaborative Law encourages a more intelligent approach to problem solving. Instead of taking arbitrary positions, such as demanding a 50-50 or 60-40 split of the property, the Collaborative approach starts with both parties evaluating their own situations and deciding what their underlying needs, interests and goals are. It's a more comprehensive approach than how traditional litigation negotiations are done and the result is a plan that is geared toward the important issues for each party.

5. Experts are used as neutrals throughout the process. In Texas Collaborative Law cases, we usually bring in a therapist and a financial advisor to help with the parties. In a case with special aspects, such as a celebrity athlete being involved, other specialized neutral experts can easily be incorporated for specific needs, such as tax planning, children's issues, retirement planning, investment management, etc. In litigation, if those experts are used, each side normally hires their own expert and there's usually a battle of the experts at trial, at substantial expense to the parties.

Let's hope that the next time a professional athlete faces a divorce after some personal failure, that the athlete and his or her spouse are aware of Collaborative Law and choose to use it as the problem-solving process for ending their marriage. There have been too many high profile ugly celebrity divorces. It's time to take divorce "to the next level", to borrow a term popular with athletes and coaches, and to work Collaboratively.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How to Prepare for a Collaborative Law Case

I recently read a post on a business news blog that discussed how to deal with the distractions presented by the Internet. The article described the common problem of starting out researching one topic and then drifting from topic to topic, but I digress. The writer had some interesting suggestions on how to stay focused on what you are looking for, and I thought the ideas, simple as they are, were equally applicable to Collaborative Law cases. So, with a nod to the Harvard Business Blog, here are some common sense things anyone and everyone should do to prepare for, and work through, the Collaborative process.
1. Sleep well: We all know that we operate better physically and emotionally when we are well rested. If you are having trouble sleeping, get some help so you can be alert when you need to be.
2. Eat well: A lot of people lose weight going through a divorce, but they often do it by not eating because they have lost their appetite. While that is often normal, you know that you cannot operate at top efficiency if you are hungry or if you are not eating properly.
3. Minimize stress and anger: One reason we bring in a neutral mental health professional is to help both parties deal with the stress and the variety of emotions they experience. We recognize that Collaborative Law is a difficult process and you should keep in mind that it usually doesn't always go smoothly or easily. Everyone starts out wanting to be nice, but people can get tired and frustrated as we go through the process.
4. Watch out for time wasters: We try to have an agenda for each joint meeting and we try to stick to it. Some of the worst problems that arise in Collaborative cases occur when the participants get off the agenda and start on topics that were not planned for in advance. Staying on the agenda means that everyone can be prepared for the discussions and actions that need to take place. It also means that the meetings can end on time.
5. Work smarter, not longer: There are good reasons why we normally schedule meetings to be 1.5 to 2 hours long. The parties sometimes ask to extend meetings so we can finish up the process sooner. We have occasionally worked longer than 2 hours in a session and my experience is that those meetings often become counterproductive because everyone becomes tired. Once people start to get tired, they either shut down or (more often) become argumentative and angry. We not only lose momentum, but we sometimes lose the progress we had been making. We are better off coming to meetings with an organized agenda that we are all prepared for.
We have to keep in mind that Collaborative Law is not a one-meeting, quick process. There will be a series of meetings and everyone will get tired during the process. The more prepared and relaxed we are going into the process, the easier the process should be for us. As you can see, there's no magic here, but you will benefit by trying these easy steps.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Stop Re-living Someone Else's Past!

Tracy Stewart is a CPA in College Station and a very active neutral financial expert in Collaborative cases. She is also a very good writer and produces an excellent blog, the Texas Divorce Finance Blog. She mixes common sense, good financial advice and very appropriate suggestions for Collaborative cases. She recently posted about a common problem that many people face. No matter how many times attorneys and other professionals tell clients not to listen to what their well-meaning family, friends and even strangers want to tell them about how to act in a divorce, the easiest course of action usually seems to be to ignore the professionals' advice and do what the amateurs suggested.

I do my best to make it clear that such a course of action is almost always a bad decision, but Tracy really makes the case in a way that can't be misunderstood. Here's her excellent post:

"Not infrequently, I hear people tell me about the divorce advice they are absorbing. This advice comes from people they trust and believe.

"My friend, who’s been through a divorce, told me I need to hire the meanest attorney I can find so I can crush my nasty husband/wife.

"My friend, who’s been through a divorce, told me to withdraw all the money from our savings account before my wife/husband does it first.

"Do not allow these people relive their divorces through your life and at your emotional and financial expense. If you must engage in such conversations with them, keep it restrained to a pat on the head/hand/shoulder and murmur, 'There, there. It must have been an awful ordeal for you'. But do not get take their advice. Their divorce is not your divorce and vice versa.

"Normally, they are not divorce professionals. (Even if they are, they are not objective.) They don’t have a thorough understanding of marital dissolution law, divorce finances and the relationship nuances of your crumbling relationship.

"Not infrequently, I see people go through senseless emotional turmoil, wasted time and ill spent money in their efforts to follow their friend’s sage advice. Of course, you can have girlfriends or buddies with whom to drown your sorrows or cry over coffee. But do not take their advice. Seek professional advice.

"Remember: You are not divorcing your friend’s ex-spouse."

Advice from friends and family is an abundant commodity during a divorce. Sometimes it's good, and it's given with the intention of helping you, but following the advice can conflict with the strategies that your professionals are using for your case. You should keep in mind that your shadow advisers are not in charge of the case, they don't have the legal or technical knowledge that your professionals have and they don't know how their suggestions fit in, or conflict with, your overall case strategy. It's fine to pass along to your attorney or other professional the golden nuggets of information you hear, but let the professional decide whether to implement the suggestions. Your focus must be on taking care of your case rather than validating someone else's leftover strategies from their divorce.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Uniform Collaborative Law Act

As the Family Law Prof Blog recently pointed out, one more major step has been taken to anchor Collaborative Law into our legal system. The Uniform Law Commission voted on July 15, 2009 to adopt the Uniform Collaborative Law Act. The U.L.C. is a national organization that studies selected legal issues, drafts proposed statutes, debates the proposals and then adopts or turns down the proposed acts. After a little fine tuning, the adopted act is sent to the American Bar Association which is asked to endorse it. If that happens, the act is latter submitted to the state legislatures for them to consider adopting it in each state.

In Texas, the proposed new uniform law will make very little difference. We were the first state to pass a statute that defined Collaborative Law and explained how it would work. A few other states have passed similar statutes. Coincidentally, Harry Tindall of Houston was one of the leaders in getting the Uniform Law Commission to approve the new act, just as he was the leader of the effort to get the original Texas statute passed by the legislature. We all owe a lot to Harry for his leadership and hard work.

The real importance of the the new uniform act is that there is now a common approach to the process which should be presented to all the states that don't yet have a Collaborative Law statute. This adds a little more legitimacy for the process and boosts the chances of other states formally acknowledging the process. Hopefully, another result will be more public awareness and more people taking advantage of the opportunity to take a more civilized and effective approach to settling disputes.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Updating the Three R's

I have just run across a very interesting and thought-provoking blog called the JustDivorceBlog, which is written by Marie Fahnert of Chicago. I highly recommend that you spend some time reading her posts. You will come away with a fresh perspective and some new ideas about life, which is actually very helpful for someone involved in a divorce. I actually think the blog would be interesting reading for anyone, so give it a chance. Anyway, here's a post she had recently that I really liked. It can provide great guidance for anyone in a stressful situation.

"Dalai Lama's (divorce) lesson:

"Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk.
When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.
Follow the three R’s:
- Respect for self.
- Respect for others.
- Responsibility for all your actions.

—14th Dalai Lama of Tibet
via On Her Way...........................................

"My Note: I can't stress enough how important the 'three R's' are reaching a successful outcome in your divorce. However, it is sometimes difficult to follow the rules during times of stress. When you find it difficult to follow the 'three R's' you might consider yoga, meditation or, if need be, a counselor. The rewards of following these rules will certainly be worth the effort. "

Although we often think that Collaborative divorce is nicer and more civilized, it is still very easy to fall back into old habits of blaming or attacking your spouse. Your feelings can get just as hurt in a Collaborative case as in a litigated divorce, if you let them. You do have the power to choose your response to aggravations and difficult times, but few people have the presence to stop themselves from engaging in an automatic reaction to a situation.

If you keep in mind what the Dalai Lama said, and show respect for yourself and for others, and take responsibility for your actions (don't blame others or circumstances), you will have a much easier time in your divorce. That will be appreciated even in a Collaborative divorce. And you will probably get a better result.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Have a Happy Father's Day!

One interesting aspect of the blogosphere is the opportunity to read about different laws in different states. A consistently well-written blog is the Ohio Family Law Blog written by Robert L. Mues. He has a timely post about the history of Father's Day and then describes how different counties in Ohio have different rules for fathers having possession of their children on Father's Day. I'm always interested in history, so here's what he wrote about the history of Father's Day:

"The third Sunday of June has become known as Father’s Day just as the second Sunday of May has become known as Mother’s Day. On that 'special' day in June, Fathers in the United States are feted with cards, gifts (often ties and wallets), meals especially prepared for them or 'dinner out' at their favorite restaurants, as well other special treats such as the preparation of a favorite dish or dessert prepared at home.

"From my readings at various websites, the origin of Father’s Day is not entirely clear. Some say it began with a church service to honor Fathers in Fairmont, West Virginia, on July 5, 1908. Others believe that Ms. Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane, Washington, came up with the idea or plan to honor Fathers in 1909 while she listened to an earlier church service wherein Mothers were honored and praised. Ms. Dodd’s Father, a veteran of the Civil War and a 'single parent', had successfully raised six (6) children following the premature death of his Wife.

"Although the movement to honor Fathers began over one hundred (100) years ago, it took many years for this country to make this occasion an official holiday. While citizens supported the concept of Mother’s Day with pride and enthusiasm, the idea of Father’s Day was at first met with laughter and satire. While President Woodrow Wilson 'approved' the concept of an annual Father’s Day in 1916, it was not until 1924 when President Calvin Coolidge declared the day to be a national event. Thereafter, Father’s Day was celebrated but was not made a federal holiday until 1966 when President Lyndon B. Johnson issued a proclamation declaring it to be so. Later, in 1972, President Richard Nixon established Father’s Day as a permanent holiday to be celebrated on the third Sunday of June of each year."

Some readers may be a little familiar with that history, but it's not widely known. From a Collaborative Law perspective, what is really useful from the post is the description of the variations in how Father's Day is handled in different counties. Texas has a uniform state standard possession schedule which covers Father's Day, Mother's Day and most other major holidays. While the Texas standard possession schedule often works out well for both parties, it should be noted that our schedule is not followed by other states and doesn't have to be followed in Collaborative Law cases in Texas.

What Texas and other states do in possession orders, child support and even property division can be considered by the parties in a Collaborative case, but the Texas parties should always remember that Collaborative Law gives them the freedom to make their own rules to meet their own needs and circumstances. Be informed and be creative!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Preconditions to Using Collaborative Law

Let me be clear that I have a bias favoring the use of Collaborative Law in settling family law disputes. When there is a hesitation by the other side in a case, I get concerned.

On occasion, as I have talked with Collaborative lawyers about starting a new case as a Collaborative divorce, the other attorney has suggested that s/he wasn't sure the case would be a good one for Collaborative Law, but we could try it if my client would first: give up custody of the kids, move out of the house or give the spouse a sum of money. Since each of those was the biggest issue in each respective case, my clients didn't see the value in conceding that issue and then using Collaborative for whatever was left. In those cases, I couldn't talk the other attorney into dropping the precondition and the other attorney didn't seem to see anything wrong with that approach.

Custody, use of the house and getting access to money are common issues that are dealt with over and over in Collaborative Law. They can be tough issues in any kind of approach. Judges and juries often have trouble making decisions on those topics and they can be tough issues even in the Collaborative Law approach. Nevertheless, I wouldn't hesitate to use Collaborative to work out agreements on those issues. For all the reasons why we are committed to Collaborative, it is usually a superior way to resolve these legal issues.

From my perspective, the real reason why some attorneys insist on preconditions to using Collaborative Law is that they just aren't fully comfortable with the process and aren't convinced it can work with difficult issues. In other words, it's a lack of commitment to the process. Sometimes, attorneys are so integrated into positional bargaining that they can't let go of the security of grabbing a position and holding on. When we are "brought up" doing positional negotiating, interest-based negotiations may seem a little scary. Attorneys may feel out of control when they don't have clear cut positions they can claim and hold in negotiations.

So, what's a person to do?

If you go to see a Collaborative lawyer and that lawyer starts telling you that the case really isn't appropriate for Collaborative Law, I suggest that you challenge the attorney to explain why. And I suggest that you get another opinion from another Collaborative lawyer.

Unfortunately, some attorneys claim to be a trained Collaborative lawyer when they really aren't or when they don't really practice Collaborative Law, and those attorneys use the ads or web site sections to bring in potential clients whom they then tell that Collaborative Law is not appropriate for their case. Any time you are told that Collaborative Law won't work in your case, you should get a second opinion from another Collaborative lawyer.

Sometimes, after discussing the proposal to use Collaborative Law with the attorney, it's the client who wants to impose a precondition before agreeing to use Collaborative Law. In that instance, it's clear that the attorney just hasn't explained the process very well or the client perceives that the attorney isn't real comfortable with the process. If the attorney isn't sold on Collaborative Law, the client probably won't be either. Again, a second opinion would be advisable.

The bottom line is that agreeing to use Collaborative Law only if a precondition is met is unacceptable. If you want to use the process, keep searching until you find a truly committed and experienced Collaborative lawyer who will help you.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Negotiating Effectively: Why You Shouldn't Hurry

One of the most common reasons some people sign up for a Collaborative divorce (or other family law matter), is that they expect it to be a fast process. Relatively speaking, that's an accurate expectation. Compared to how long a traditional divorce takes, a Collaborative divorce is normally much faster, although it isn't always. Most can be finished in three to four months, some sooner and some later. In contrast, a litigated divorce in Tarrant County which is resolved at trial or shortly before trial (when mediation often occurs) will usually take at least a year to finish, and it's not unusual for a divorce to take longer.

Unfortunately, many people going through a Collaborative divorce start feeling the process is slow and bogged down if it doesn't settle in two to three months or if it just requires several meetings. As a result, they start looking for shortcuts and ways to move the process along faster. When one side gets very anxious to settle the case and get it over with, they will usually experience one or more of the following problems:

1. The anxious party tends to give away too much. It is quite easy for the party who isn't ready to divorce, or who just isn't in a hurry, to start to drag their feet and slow down the process. That increases the anxiety level of the spouse in a hurry, which normally leads the hurried spouse to sweeten the pot and offer a better settlement to the other spouse. Over and over, I have seen one spouse maintain a position on settlement terms and refuse to budge, leading to the other spouse moving closer and closer to what the first spouse demanded. Sometimes, the anxiety is self-imposed and sometimes it comes from an exterior source. Whatever the reason, the person making the concessions is often making a mistake and offering more than would be necessary without the anxiety.

2. Hurrying reduces the amount of time to conduct due diligence. When on or both of the parties want to move quickly through the process, the attorneys and other professionals may not have the time to fully explore the facts of the case. Even when the parties both think they know all the issues and both think they understand the information relating to the issues, they may be wrong. It is very common for the parties to not understand various technical issues about assets and debts. For example, they often have mistaken ideas about what to do with retirement funds. The attorneys and the financial neutral need time to gather records and analyze them. Similarly, a child specialist may need some time to explore the issues about sharing time with the children. A superficial review of either property or kid issues can lead to serious problems later on.

3. Another problem is that the parties tend to lose sight of their interests and focus on positions. Often, when the parties get in a hurry, they become very willing to skip over setting and explaining their goals. Even when they have identified their goals, needs and interests, they sometimes stop thinking and talking about them when there is pressure to move quickly through the process. When that happens, they inevitably fall back into positional bargaining, relying on traditional, arbitrary guidelines or percentages, instead of analyzing how to best meet each other's needs.

4. Hurrying usually is associated with reduced listening to the other side. Listening to each other is one of the key values of Collaborative Law. Sometimes just seeing improved communication skills provides a great deal of satisfaction. When a party, who has not been listened to during a marriage, experiences discussions where the spouse begins to listen and speak more respectfully during the Collaborative Process, that party will feel much better about any agreement and it will be easier to reach an agreement. Hurrying devalues listening. The objective becomes primarily to reach an agreement, and true listening bogs down the process. The result is that the parties fall back into old communication patterns, and that usually doesn't emphasize good listening. In other words, the parties stop listening to each other and just try to negotiate the same ways they used to argue. That leads to skipping steps in the Collaborative process and sometimes overlooking options, idea and analysis of facts.

5. The other side may get upset by feeling pressure to finish early, making agreement less likely. Many people, when negotiating, will become very resistant if they feel like they are being pressured into something they don't fully understand or which they may not fully agree with. Some people just automatically start opposing something when they feel a lot of pressure to decide quickly, especially if they are a little uncomfortable or if they don't trust the other party.

As frustrating as it may be for someone going through a divorce, it is usually necessary for one party or the other to slow down some during the process so they can advance at the same pace as their spouse (or the other party). Trying to rush the other party can cause delays or failure to reach an agreement.

And by the way, in a traditional litigated divorce, if one party wants to slow down the process and drag it out for any reason that's easy to do. Collaborative Law is not worse than litigation, in terms of speed. In reality, Collaborative Law generally is a faster means to reaching an agreement than is litigation.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

What if the Lawyer Tries to Talk You Out of Using Collaborative Law?

Answer: Check qualifications and experience and then get a second opinion.

It's true that not every case is appropriate for Collaborative Law, and the process may be overkill if virtually everything is already agreed at the outset, but when you visit with an attorney about representing you, the attorney should almost always explain at least a little about Collaborative Law. There is a range of options available to resolve legal disputes and Collaborative Law is often the best choice.

For some situations, Collaborative is not an appropriate option. If a party is mentally ill or has untreated drug or alcohol issues or has unrealistic expectations, the process may not work out well. If treatment has been received and the treatment plan is being followed, the professionals can make a judgment call about whether Collaborative may work. There may be legitimate reasons why Collaborative Law is not recommended. Even though I firmly believe in and encourage the use of Collaborative Law in virtually every case I consider, I have told clients that it might not work in their case, based on some of the concerns mentioned. In addition, if there is already an attorney on the other side of the case and that attorney is not a Collaborative attorney, then it is virtually impossible to use the Collaborative process.

Unfortunately, however, it appears that sometimes attorneys advertise that they believe in, and practice, Collaborative Law, when they really don't like it. Generally, those attorneys have not been to a two-day basic training. They may have attended one or two short talks about Collaborative Law, but they haven't had the extensive training needed to "get it". They realize that more and more clients are educating themselves about various divorce processes and have become aware of Collaborative Law. Some attorneys have just a superficial knowledge of Collaborative Law and use that to dissuade clients from using the process.

If you go see an attorney about a divorce, for example, and you ask about the possibility of using Collaborative Law, and then the attorney immediately starts telling you why you can't or shouldn't use the process, or why it wouldn't work in your case, you should do two things. First, ask the attorney to tell you about all the Collaborative Law training he or she has completed and about the number of cases he or she has completed in the Collaborative process*. Second, go get a second opinion from another Collaborative attorney to find out if the second attorney agrees.

*Good answers:
  • At least a two-day basic training, followed by at least one seminar or conference a year sponsored by the Collaborative Law Institute of Texas or by a local practice group.
  • At least 3 or 4 cases completed, or better yet, 20 to 30 or more. An attorney experienced in Collaborative Law can make good judgments about the suitability of cases for Collaborative Law.
Parties seeking legal representation in family law matters deserve qualified and fair legal advice about their options. If you have any doubts about the advice you have received, please ask the attorney about his/her education and experience in Collaborative Law and then get a second opinion to protect yourself.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

How to Find the Best Collaborative Lawyer in Tarrant County (or anywhere!)

For some of us, our competitive nature won't give up, even if we decide to participate in the Collaborative process. That nature shows itself when someone commits to doing a Collaborative divorce, and then begins to search for "the best Collaborative lawyer" in Tarrant County, or wherever they live. If that's what you're looking for, I have bad news and good news for you. The bad news is that it's hard to really tell who "the best" is. The good news is that almost all Collaborative lawyers are really good at what we do, and in addition, we can all get help by using mental health professionals and financial professionals. Let me elaborate.

First, the bad news: It's hard to tell which Collaborative attorneys will be the best. Just like in litigation, there's no overall objective ranking service to indicate who's the best. The truth is that an excellent Collaborative attorney may be a great match for you, but not work out well for your friend or neighbor or relative. The opposite is also true. An attorney who is great for someone else may not work out well for you. It really comes down to chemistry.

There are several things you can do to find a Collaborative attorney who would work well with you.
  • Ask about their experience. Attorneys can tell you about the number of cases they have handled and they can tell you whether they have worked cases with issues similar to yours.
  • Find out how much training the attorney has had, and whether they have recently had training. Collaborative Law is such a new process that attorneys need a lot of training and need to refresh their Collaborative training at least once a year.
  • Another indicator to check on is whether the attorney has trained other attorneys in Collaborative Law or spoken to different groups about it.
  • Ask the attorney to explain how the Collaborative process works. The attorney should be able to clearly explain the process and discuss how your issues could be resolved with the process.
  • Make sure the attorney's communication style is comfortable for you. Everyone has their own communication needs and style. Divorce is a stressful enough time just by itself. Be sure that you feel good and feel listened to when you talk with your attorney.
  • Recommendations from friends, attorneys and other professionals can be helpful as a starting point -- just be careful to consider the comments above and evaluate each attorney.
  • You and your spouse do not need to hire an attorney just because that attorney is in the same practice group with the first attorney selected. All attorneys in Tarrant County represent clients from all over the county, so you can choose anyone you wish.

Now, the good news: we've got backup. In Tarrant County, there are many well trained Collaborative attorneys and almost all Collaborative divorces are worked as a team effort. We have learned over the years that the process works much better when we bring in a mental health specialist and a financial specialist at the beginning. The mental health professional meets with the parties before the first joint meeting and that helps the parties know what to expect. It also helps all the professionals learn about the issues that are important to both sides.

Also, don't worry if both the attorneys don't have the same level of experience in the Collaborative process. As long as both attorneys have at least a two-day basic training and some recent training, there should be no problem. Part of the Participation Agreement that both the parties and their attorneys sign at the outset says that neither party will take advantage of each other or hide information or fail to openly and honestly cooperate. (There's no such agreement in litigated cases.) That means that if an attorney made a mistake in the case, the other attorney would help the first attorney correct it. As long as at least one attorney is experienced, the Collaborative process should work out.

The bottom line: There is no need to find the single best Collaborative attorney, which is lucky because there's no way to determine who is the best. But there are number of things that parties can check out about prospective attorneys when deciding who to hire. In the end, chemistry may be the most important ingredient in choosing the right Collaborative attorney for you. Pay attention to your gut feeling and how well the attorney communicates with you. Trust your attorney, but also take advantage of the other professionals involved in your case. They all want you to be successful.

Friday, April 3, 2009

5 Ways Collaborative Law is Like the Space Program

We recently had another successful launch of a space shuttle, but you may not have noticed it. We are near the end of the shuttle phase of the U.S. space program, about to switch to other vehicles, and we don't tend to pay attention to take-offs and landings as much as we used to. It's probably not a good idea to take space travel for granted yet, but people have accepted it as a normal part of life. While there are still innovations to be expected in the future, we are pretty comfortable with how space travel happens now.

After the recent launch, I began thinking about similarities between Collaborative Law and the space program. That may seem like a very strange comparison, one that doesn't immediately jump to mind, but there are some legitimate common features. Here are some I noticed:

  • Both use old skills and equipment for new purposes in other fields. In the space program, a lot of the equipment was converted from wartime use to peaceful purposes, such as rockets and guidance systems. In Collaborative Law, we have begun to use neutral specialists from other fields to work with both parties to help them reach appropriate agreements.

  • In both fields, we converted former fighters into peaceful leaders. The original astronauts were trained fighter pilots in the military who converted into peaceful space pilots. Most Collaborative lawyers are former litigators who learned and practiced trial skills. Sometimes, attorneys have trouble converting their focus to a peaceful process, but it will happen with experience.

  • Both programs depend on a lot of cooperation and a blend of many different skills. The space program is a very complex system with many interrelated contributors around the world. Collaborative Law requires cooperation between two parties, their lawyers and usually some other neutral professionals. The process is effective because everyone works together and contributes some part to creating successful negotiations. Communication skills are improved by the use of mental health specialists. Financial and parenting decisions are improved though the use of neutral experts in each field.

  • The space program is a peaceful endeavor and peace is the essence of Collaborative Law. NASA is a civilian agency that oversees the U.S. space program and the focus has been on peaceful advances in science and transportation. One of the main attributes of Collaborative Law is that it is much more peaceful than the destructive processes inherent in family law litigation. Going to trial, cross examining the other parties and witnesses and focusing on events in the past are all elements of the litigation approach that places little value on kindness, civility and family relationships. Collaborative Law provides a safe, creative and effective way for both parties to achieve their most important goals without tearing each other up.

  • Some day, hopefully soon, neither space travel nor Collaborative Law will be a big deal. They will both be the norm. People will be able to travel to far away planets and it will become common. Probably sooner than that happens, we expect Collaborative Law will become the primary method of resolving disputes. Now, these are both considered somewhat visionary, but that will change before too long.

Stay tuned. Collaborative Law has been launched and is coming more and more into view!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Customizing Child Support

The Traditional Approach

Most, if not all, states now rely on formulas to calculate child support in a uniform manner for the child support cases filed within their state. In Texas, for example, our primary formula is 20% of net income resources for 1 child, 25% for 2 children, 30% for 3 children, etc. Some other states base their calculations on gross income. They may also use different percentages. Texas also has adjustments (different percentages) when there are children in different households and there are child support obligations in each household. There may also be variations from state to state about what deductions are permitted before the child support is calculated and about what resources are to be considered possible funds for child support.

Traditionally, one parent pays child support to the other parent each month, regardless of how much time the child spends with each parent.

In Texas Collaborative Law cases, we often explain how child support is calculated under Texas rules, and we can also look at other states' statutes, as well. BUT, we don't want the parties to feel like they need to follow the statutory formula of Texas or any other state. On the other hand, the parents should feel free to examine and consider the child support arrangements of any state.

New Ideas

To open up the discussion further, here are three other suggestions of approaches that parties might take in Collaborative cases, especially in cases where the parents end up with close to equal time with the child, a scenario that is becoming more and more common.

1. Split the difference. The parties each calculate how much child support he and she would pay under the Texas Family Code. Whichever parent has the greater income would pay to the other parent the difference between the two amounts of child support.

2. Pay half of the expenses. Some parties get along well enough that they can each pay half of specified expenses. Sometimes the list of expenses includes items the court would not, or could not, order, such as religious expenses or college expenses. Generally, parents can agree to share any expenses that they want to.

3. Pay a proportionate share. If there is a significant difference in income between the parents, they could agree for each to pay a proportionate share of specified expenses. For example if wife made $6,000.00 per month and husband made $3,000.00 per month, wife might pay 2/3 of the expenses and husband could pay 1/3 to match their comparative incomes.

There are obviously many other possible formulations for child support. The most important point here is that the parties should not feel bound or limited by traditional or statutory schemes for calculating child support. Spending time brainstorming at a joint meeting can lead to creative, flexible and satisfying child support arrangements.

The lesson to be learned: don't limit your options!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Getting What You Want -- First Ask for It

Today I saw the weekly newsletter that Francie Cooper, a local life coach, publishes. She also has a blog. The newsletter had an interesting article about the need to ask for something that you want. She says it's the first step in attaining your goals and meeting your needs. Asking for things is also a key part of the Collaborative process.

Asking for things occurs in two ways in a Collaborative case: first, in setting up their goals, the parties are identifying and asking for what they want; second, to get specific agreements, the parties themselves must ask for what terms they want. In contrast to litigation, the parties speak for themselves, rather than let the attorneys do the talking in negotiations.

Francie illustrated her article with two examples that also illuminate the Collaborative process. In one example, a woman wanted a specific kind of car at at specific price. In the other example, Francie's son figured out he needed more money for college than he had planned on. Each story had additional elements that also related to Collaborative Law.
  • In each case, the person started off with specific goals.
  • Each person followed up by gathering information and organizing it.
  • The information was presented to the other party in the negotiations in a persuasive manner, the person asked for what she or he ultimately wanted and there was a discussion which lead to agreements.

It sounds much like Collaborative Law and shows that the basic structure is sound.

One of the main differences between Collaborative Law and litigation is how Collaborative Law focuses on the goals of each. In litigation, where there's negotiation, it is usually positional bargaining instead of interest-based negotiation which is the basis of Collaborative Law. In litigation, in a property division discussion, most times the talk is about what percentage of the assets and liabilities each party will receive. Each side often stakes out an extreme starting position so that they can compromise and end up where they want to be. In other issues, there are more or less automatic decisions on some issues like setting child support and a visitation schedule. In each case, there's very little discussion.

Collaborative Law
By contrast, in Collaborative cases, the focus is on how to achieve various goals. Once the goals are established, the parties gather information and then go through a brainstorming process to generate options. After evaluating the options, each party asks for what they want to help meet their needs. Instead of automatic formulas to be applied, there is a genuine discussion that leads to an agreement. The parties must speak up for themselves and ask for what they want. There is a full discussion of the various options and the parties generally reach a conclusion that they are both satisfied with.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Is Collaborative Law Really Speedier Than Litigation?

Usually, it is, although it's hard to know. Comparing two litigated cases is hard to do because of so many different variables in each case: different judges, different emotional states of the parties, different facts, different histories of the parties, different motivations, and so on. Although people try to compare divorces all the time, the comparisons are not fair or accurate because of the differences in the cases. It's easy to find a few things the cases may have in common, but it's the differences than prevent the cases from being fair comparisons. For the same, and other, reasons, comparing a litigated case to a Collaborative case is inappropriate.

Having said that, I would still argue that Collaborative cases will usually be resolved sooner than the average litigated divorce that is contested. Collaborative Law cases would be counted as contested cases because the parties use the process to resolve issues that they have not been able to agree on.

Collaborative Law cases could take months and months to complete, if the parties want to take that long, but the "average" case will usually take no more than 4 or 5 months, and often, quite a bit less. In Tarrant County, and probably most large urban counties (except Harris, with the famed Rocket Dockets), it usually takes at least a year for a contested case to be resolved.

Nevertheless, a large number of Collaborators seem to end up feeling like their cases are taking forever to resolve. There are several reasons for that, even where the cases are resolved much more quickly than they would be in litigation.
  • The parties to the lawsuit usually have no point of reference. The attorneys can easily imagine the amount of time that would pass as they experience the various routine stages of a contested, litigated case: filing, setting a temporary hearing, doing discovery, getting a scheduling order for all the usual steps, attending mediation and preparing for, and participating in, final trial. Attorneys know how long various steps take in litigation and what would be happening if the case were in litigation. On the other hand, the parties usually only know what they are experiencing in their case, so they don't realize that they are actually moving along relatively quickly.

  • The face-to-face negotiations are sometimes much more stressful for the parties than litigation where the attorneys do most of the speaking and work. Although meetings are usually limited to a maximum of two hours at a time, the meetings can be tiring and emotionally draining, although they are not always so. Stressful events seem to take longer than enjoyable ones.

  • Sometimes, the parties get bogged down in small issues and get frustrated. Experienced attorneys and a mental health professional will do their best to recognize the pace and the frustration and will try to keep the process moving forward. But, it will happen occasionally.
  • Parties often get frustrated because they see just one solution to some problems and the professionals in the case insist that the parties discuss other possible solutions. Many people who agree to use the Collaborative approach have a hard time following the "Roadmap to Resolution" that is often used to create solutions that are acceptable to both parties. The Roadmap includes steps that involve creating or considering multiple possible solutions before choosing one for the settlement. Some people, having forgotten the Roadmap, get frustrated and start to feel that the process is moving at a snail's pace.
The parties using Collaborative Law should keep in mind that they are not in a race. A speedy resolution is usually not one of the goals they come up with at the outset. Most of time, the parties are more concerned with such things as creativity, customizing solutions, maintaining privacy, keeping control over the process and maintaining family relationships.
If you are in a Collaborative case and start to feel like the case is really dragging, talk to your attorney or the mental health professional (if one is being used) about your concerns. In all likelihood, they will tell you that the alternative is a much slower process in their experience. And they would be right!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Can You Use Collaborative Law When There's Been Adultery?

Yes. And it's interesting to see how differently adultery is addressed in litigated divorces and in Collaborative Law divorces.


For the people who are just angry and want to fight for the sake of revenge or to punish their spouse, adultery becomes a convenient scapegoat to help blame everything on the other party. Even where there was no adultery, in some litigated cases, the spouse who thinks he or she was wronged still sometimes makes adultery allegations a central part of his/her case, despite a lack of proof. Unfortunately, we can't do anything about people operating contrary to facts, logic and common sense.

Sometimes, a party to a divorce becomes so consumed in punishing a spouse for marital transgressions that the divorce overwhelms the parties emotionally and financially. In one case involving an estate of about $200,000, the wife believed that her husband had a girlfriend. He denied it, but still offered 60-65% of the assets because he made a lot more than his wife did and he didn't want to fight. His wife refused and continued to fight. She fought for over three years, spent about $100,000 in attorney's fees, and she still ended up with about 60% of the assets.

There are cases where adultery undeniably has occurred, but that fact rarely makes a major impact on the divorce judge's decision, unless you happen to find yourself in front of one of the rare judges who puts an emphasis on it. The odds are against you making any difference in the outcome just because there has been adultery.

Collaborative Law

In a Collaborative case, the parties are focused on their goals and problem solving. In litigation, the focus is usually on what happened in the past, while Collaborative Law focuses on the future. Instead of rehashing past mistakes and bad behavior, Collaborators usually move on and try to find or create solutions. Many Collaborative cases have involved cases where adultery has occurred and both parties know about it. And those cases are almost always successfully resolved in the Collaborative process.

If a husband or wife is very angry and can't get over that to focus on his or her goals, then Collaborative may not be an appropriate option for that person. It does required some emotional maturity and getting past the anger stage of the breakup.

What can you do if you want to do a Collaborative divorce, but you are very angry?

  • Get some counseling for yourself to manage your anger and move forward emotionally.
  • Get counseling for you and your spouse. That can help both of you address common issues in a safe environment, prior to divorce negotiations.
  • Let some time pass. Everyone goes through several stages of grieving during a divorce, not always in the same order. Over time, perspectives and feelings change. At some point, you will be ready to work on the divorce without being consumed by anger and a desire for revenge.
  • Consult with a trained and experienced Collaborative lawyer who may be able to help you focus on goals that are more important than just retribution.

Don't be afraid to try Collaborative Law when there has been adultery or an affair in the marriage. There have been many successful agreements reached where the parties have been able to work together then and in the future.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Managing Finances in a Collaborative Divorce

There's a new Collaborative Law blog in Oregon, the Collaborative Divorce Northwest blog that is off to a good start. It looks like it will be an interesting blog to follow. They have a recent post that is worth reading on the difficulties many people have dealing with finances in a divorce. The article is by a financial planner who obviously has worked quite a bit in divorce cases. It looks like her experience is similar to that of our financial professionals who assist in Collaborative cases in Texas. That post got me to thinking about some of the financial hurdles people face in going through a divorce.

In a divorce context, people confront several problems in working out a post-divorce financial plan: lack of knowledge, lack of experience and fear of the unknown.

1. Lack of knowledge. It is very common for the spouses to divide up the responsibilities in the marriage by having one in charge of the finances and the other in charge of the household and children. In practice, there is usually very little discussion or joint planning in finances for most or a large number of families. As a result, one spouse is usually somewhat in the dark. That situation is made worse by the fact that finances are getting more complicated and even a college graduate may have trouble keeping up with finances without having everyday involvement. When a divorce comes up, the uninvolved party usually feels very vulnerable because s/he doesn't really know what's there or what should be there.

2. Lack of experience. To compound the lack of knowledge problem, the uninformed partner usually doesn't have much experience in managing the finances. Once the divorce is granted, each spouse will have to be responsible for running his or her own financial life. Even after learning what they have, a spouse who hasn't been paying bills or making investments or other financial decisions usually starts out very insecure in that role. The party needs to learn what to do and obtain some experience in managing things.

3. Fear of the unknown. Aside from all the personal and emotional issues involved in the split up of a family, there is a lot of fear and concern about what the financial future will bring. For the financially less-experienced spouse, it may be hard to look confidently very far into the future. Even for the more experienced spouse, the future may be daunting, especially in times of economic turbulence.

How Collaborative Law Helps

In more and more cases in Texas, we are using a team model which includes an attorney for each party and then a neutral financial professional (FP) and a neutral mental health professional, all of whom have special Collaborative Law training. The two neutral professionals work with both parties, rather than for just one party. The FP is well aware of the issues outlined above and is trained to help resolve them.

  • The lack of knowledge is overcome by the parties sharing their financial information and then having the FP analyze and review it with both parties. We often prepare a joint financial summary and exchange documents so that everyone can see everything. The FP will answer questions for both parties.

  • The lack of experience can be dealt with by having the FP educate and train one or both parties as needed about how to manage the finances in the future. Financial professionals often help the parties learn to budget and to keep track of their expenses. Parties can also learn how to streamline bill payment, how to save money in different ways and how to avoid unnecessary expenses. Most importantly, the FP is available to answer questions for the parties.

  • The fear of the unknown can be mitigated by learning about the financial resources available and in making plans for the future that are tied to the goals each party established at the beginning of the process. There will probably be some concerns about the future, but the worrying can be reduced by having information available and learning new skills to control finances in the future.

Although not all problems can be anticipated, solved or prevented, Collaborative Law provides a great opportunity to manage financial issues that are usually left unattended to in a litigated divorce. Knowledge, learning and planning, facilitated by a neutral, trained financial professional, can help minimize future financial problems for the parties.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Abe Lincoln's View of Litigation

"Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often a real loser -- in fees, expenses, and waste of time."

Well before Collaborative Law was even a concept, Abraham Lincoln had strong opinions about litigation. He still makes a lot of sense about 150 years later.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Can't Afford to Divorce

It seems that more people are staying together because they really can't afford to divorce. A recent newspaper article from Birmingham, Alabama discussed the situation there. Although there is talk of that here in Texas, there have been no local in-depth surveys or studies. Nevertheless, the economy undoubtedly is having an impact. There are reports in Tarrant County that the number of new divorce filings is down. Here are some of the reasons why this is happening.
  • Can't afford the cost of a divorce. Divorces are expensive for everyone. Of course, the cost is often related to amount of fighting going on, but even a minimal amount of legal work can be expensive.
  • Can't afford to support two households. Doubling the house payment and utilities can be overwhelming when most people tend to live up to their income limits regardless of how much or how little income they have.
  • Lost a job. There have been overwhelming numbers of workers who have suddenly lost their jobs recently. Certainly, a job becomes the top priority, and the loss of a job creates huge financial and emotional stress for an individual and a family.
  • Lost retirement. While housing values are falling and people are losing their jobs, almost everyone who has retirement funds has suffered a substantial loss. It's the kind of loss that sends retired people back to work and puts off retirement for others. When you start talking about dividing up some significantly reduced retirement accounts, there may not be much retirement left after divorce.
  • Can't sell the house. It used to be that retirement funds and house equity were often the biggest assets of couples. With retirement funds shrinking, there's just not much left for some people because house values have also gone down and it has become much harder to sell and house.
So what's a person to do if he/she wants a divorce?
  • Consider staying together. Get some counseling and work together on common goals. Don't expect overnight solutions, but the greatest value may be staying together if both parties commit to working on solving their problems.
  • Try Collaborative Law. The problems outlined above call for creative solutions. The standard approach of dividing everything down the middle may not be appropriate or leave the parties with enough to get by. Following the Collaborative problem-solving process, starting with analyzing each party's needs and goals, a couple can be guided to to some creative solutions to adapt to the financial reality. In Tarrant County, and most of Texas, we utilize a mental health professional and a financial professional to help the parties and that improves the outcomes for the parties.

  • Borrow funds. If divorce is necessary and urgent, maybe the best course of action is to borrow the funds to pay for it. You can approach family members or maybe you have credit somewhere that you can use. Remember that you will have to pay back the borrowed funds, so spend your money wisely. Investigate whether you think it will be more to your financial advantage to take the litigation approach or to use Collaborative Law. Be sure to discuss your situation with a trained Collaborative lawyer before you decide.

  • Just wait. It's sort of the opposite of the Nike slogan. If you can't afford to divorce, if you can't borrow funds and if you can't figure out how a Collaborative divorce could save you money, then maybe you should wait.

Monday, January 5, 2009

What Does a Collaborative Lawyer Do? -- Part 1

In much of Texas, and especially in Fort Worth and Tarrant County, Collaborative cases are handled by lawyers who use the team approach. Collaborative lawyers are usually the entry point for parties who want to use the Collaborative process to settle their divorce or other family law matter. The lawyers explain the process to prospective clients. If the client is accepted for representation by a Collaborative lawyer, the lawyer usually will help the client provide enough information for the spouse to decide whether to proceed Collaboratively. If both parties end up with Collaborative attorneys, the attorneys normally will decide which neutral mental health professional to bring in to help the parties with communication issues. They also decide on a neutral financial advisor for the parties.

With all that help, some people might wonder if they really need a lawyer, and if they do use a lawyer, what role the lawyer would play in the case. Here are some of the ways Collaborative lawyers work with their clients.

1. Provide explanations of the law. The attorney will review and discuss applicable law with his or her client to make sure the client has any necessary information about Texas law. The parties are not limited to what the law provides, but sometimes the Family Code provides a good starting point. In addition, the attorney may be able to correct some mistaken information about Texas law and that can help the parties start with common ground. Sometimes it is also helpful to learn about the laws or other states and the federal government. That can help generate ideas for solutions.

2. Help you formulate your goals -- dig below the surface. The goals are extremely important to the Collaborative process. Identifying goals forces each party to think about the future and decide what will really be important to them. Goals provide a target and focus for the decision-making process that is followed in Collaborative Law. Sometimes an attorney must push a party to really explain why some action is beneficial and that helps the person clarify his or her thoughts about an issue so that the right things are pursued. The goals need to be high level, but somewhat specific objectives. Goals can be revised after the process is underway, but it really helps to make a strong effort at the outset to establish meaningful statements of goals.

3. Prepare you for meetings. Meetings are not spontaneous. They take place at scheduled times and places and follow a set agenda. The lawyers each tell their client about what is expected to happen. Knowing the subject matter in advance allows the parties to think through most of the issues they will be facing. Plans can be made for dealing with tough issues. Questions can be asked and answered privately. We follow a pretty regular format for resolving issues and the attorney can explain where we are in the process. Understanding what is going on helps create a safe and productive atmosphere for problem solving.

4. Review what happened at the meetings. After each joint meeting, the attorneys meet with their clients separately and review what went on at the meeting. The lawyers want feedback about how the meeting worked out for their clients. The attorneys can answer questions and explain how the process is working out, from the lawyers' perspective. Sensitive issues for both sides can be identified and strategies worked out for dealing with them. If something has been overlooked or not dealt with satisfactorily, the issue can been added to the next joint meeting agenda.

5. Work with the other professionals between meetings. It is sometimes necessary for all the professionals to have discussions between the joint meetings if there are any crises or significant questions that have arisen. They sometimes meet in person, talk by conference call or use email. They almost always meet before and after each joint meeting and will communicate as needed between the meetings. All of that discussion helps prevent surprises and make the meetings much more productive.

For attorneys in Collaborative cases, their roles are different from the way they operate in litigated cases, but the assistance is crucial in helping the parties reach an agreement. The next posting will add 5 more things attorneys do in Collaborative Law cases.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Introducing Parents' New Boyfriends or Girlfriends

One of the significant benefits of using Collaborative Law and including a child specialist is that the parties can make thoughtful and appropriate decisions about how to best introduce their children to new adults in the parents' lives. Sam Hasler's Indiana Divorce & Family Law Blog has had two recent posts on the topic of visitation, children and sleep overs. There are no uniform rules on having boyfriends or girlfriends of a parent spend the night after a divorce has been granted or stating when and how the children should be introduced to such a new friend.

My suggestion about dating while the divorce is pending is to wait until after the divorce is granted. I had posts on that topic in 2007 and 2008.

The Problem: Assuming that the divorce is now granted, there are still important issues to be dealt with regarding introducing new romantic interests to the children. Collaborative Law provides a forum to have thoughtful discussions about what would be best for the children. While a selfish parent might want the freedom to bring new boyfriends or girlfriends around the children without restriction, a more mature approach involves taking into account the age, emotional state and the maturity of the children in deciding when and how to introduce them to a new "special friend". This should not be just an opportunity to flout one's independence and attractiveness in front of an ex-spouse. Some parents might enjoy showing off their new dating partner in front of the kids and possibly the ex-spouse, but the parents should be looking more long term.

The Effect on Children: Having experienced their parents' divorce, kids may be a little unsettled for a while. They need stability, predictability and safety. They want to know that they can depend on their parents and that neither parent will be abandoning the children. Bringing around a new significant other in the first few months after the divorce can create worry on the part of the children. They may wonder if the parent will be leaving the kids again and going away with a possible new spouse. It can also cut into the time the children could have been spending with their parent.

Solutions: An important feature of Collaborative Law, as practiced in Fort Worth and Tarrant County, is that we usually bring in a neutral child specialist to work with the parties. Having an experienced professional looking out for the children's best interests really helps the parties reach appropriate agreements and avoid deadlocks.

The good news is that Collaborative Law enables the parties to directly address the issue and put a plan in place to protect the children, to the extent it is needed. For example, the parties may agree to not introduce, for 6 months or a year, the children to someone the parent is dating. Since the odds of the parent breaking up with a dating partner within 6 -- 12 months are pretty high, the kids are kept away from an unstable lifestyle at a time when they may be a little fragile. In a litigated divorce in Texas, there is virtually no chance that such an agreement would be imposed by a judge and there wouldn't be much incentive for the parties to agree on that on their own.

Conclusion: Collaborative Law clearly provides a better opportunity to protect the children and assist in a safe and smooth transition from the intact family to two families. Using a child specialist and crafting an agreement that covers all aspects of introducing new adults into the children's lives is a smart way to help ensure the safety and health of the children.