Friday, April 15, 2011

Why Is It Taking So Long? (Part 1)

One of the most common frustrations expressed by people using the Collaborative Law model to go through a divorce is the speed (or perceived lack thereof) of the process. To me, it's a matter of perspective. When people are directly involved in regular joint meetings and meetings with their attorney and meetings with the neutral professionals, they can seem to be very busy. That is a ground-level view and it may truly seem like the process is creeping slowly along when there are 2 or 3 or 4 weeks between joint meetings. In reality, there's usually a fair amount of work getting done by various parties between the joint meetings, but it is very easy to overlook that.

Perhaps a more comforting approach is to look at the process from a figurative 30,0000-foot elevation. Looking down from high above, the Collaborative divorce process may appear to be moving much more quickly.

Comparing Collaborative to Litigation

Another way to compare the situation is to look at what would be happening if the the case were proceeding through the courts in Texas. In Tarrant County divorce courts, you can count on an average of a year, and often a year and a half, to complete a contested divorce, depending on which court you are in and how complicated your case is. Here's why:

1. Discovery can be very tedious. It is the process of gathering, organizing and sharing information between the two sides. In litigated cases, there are usually written requests for documents, written questions and some other requests for information. The parties usually have to produce documents for the last 3-5 years, at least. Many of the requested items are just minimally relevant, but everyone wants to cover all the bases and not overlook anything. The parties are usually given 30 days to produce the information, but that's usually extended because they can't get everything together that quickly.

  • After 60-90 days, the initial exchange of documents is usually completed, but one party or both usually don't think they've gotten everything, so they file motions to compel production and sometimes motions for sanctions. Those are set for court, hearings are had and there's a ruling, usually to produce the documents or answer questions.
  • In addition, experts have to be appointed to appraise businesses, real estate or pensions, and then you have to wait for their reports.
  • Afterwards, there will probably be depositions of the parties and any experts.
2. On contested children's issues, litigation is often a slow process as well. Here in Tarrant County, some courts will give a temporary custody hearing right away, while others want to do an investigation before having the hearing. Some will just start by each parent having the kids for alternating weeks, regardless of how the children have been living and regardless of parents' schedules. Often, the parents are sent to Access Facilitation to try to work out a time-sharing arrangement, and that's great when it works. If the case is truly contested, most courts will order a Social Study which usually takes 6 to 9 months to complete. In the meantime, the court will usually order the parties to attend a co-parenting class.

3. There are usually numerous court settings on contested cases. Different matters are often heard at separate times and sometimes new hearings are scheduled when the situations (facts) change. Hearings get postponed for various reasons, which can be very frustrating. In some cases, there's not an immediate decision from the judge. There are lots of opportunities for delay in the litigation system.

Conclusion: Even though a Collaborative case may feel like it's moving slowly, it's probably moving much, much faster than a contested litigation case would have been with the same issues.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Getting Help for a Later in Life Divorce

One of the best advantages of Collaborative Law is that we can bring in specialized help for the exact needs of our clients. Baby Boomers and others who face divorce after long marriages often need special help with the transition from married to single. Finances need to be managed and often one of the parties needs to change or start a career that will produce adequate income for a number of years. Sometimes, health and certain family members require extra attention. Be sure to thoroughly explain all your concerns at the outset to your attorney and the other professionals involved. Just so you know, here are some outside professionals who may be helpful.

5 Additional Professionals Who Should Be Considered

1. Divorce Financial Planner. In North Texas, we usually automatically bring in a Financial Professional from the beginning. If you are starting a Collaborative case, you should discuss this with your attorney. Although the recent recession may have affected some couples' situations, many starting a divorce after a long-term marriage must deal with substantial assets and complex business, retirement, and investment property interests. Taking a figurative saw and cutting everything in half is usually not the best solution, for many reasons. It's better to determine the best mix of assets for each spouse, considering the tax implications and the relative needs and abilities of the parties. An arbitrary approach of taking a percentage of everything may not benefit either party. It's a lot better to focus on the needs each party identifies.

2. Personal Coach. Every divorce is difficult for different reasons and sometimes parties need an unbiased “coach” who can help them stay on track and make good decisions.
Coaches don’t provide therapy. They work with you to identify, stay focused on and accomplish your goals. Many business people use coaches because they can be a great resource to bounce ideas off of and to help keep things in perspective. Coaches can help you deal with issues in a more rational and beneficial way.

3. Career Planner. After being married for a long time, it is pretty common for one of the spouses to have been a stay-at-home parent, which puts that spouse at a disadvantage in joining the job market and competing with younger workers for good-paying jobs. Sometimes previous work experience doesn’t seem as interesting as it may have been 20 or 30 years before, or there could be health issues that interfere, or the spouse may just not be up-to-date with technology in that field. It can be pretty overwhelming to suddenly have to find a job, so getting a professional evaluation first and then getting guidance as you follow through the process of finding a job can make all the difference for you. Be willing to take some tests and then get some training if you need to. A professional career planner can help you find a viable career direction, hone your skills and learn how to present yourself in the best possible light.

4. Counseling. Without anything implication that you are crazy, I can strongly urge you to get some counseling as you go through the divorce process. There are many emotional issues that you experience during a divorce. People usually go through a range of emotions, including denial, anger, depression, and acceptance, among other things. Counseling for one party is good, and for both parties can be very helpful.

5. Medical Evaluations. Unfortunately, as people age, they often experience some medical situations that can be permanent or temporary.
Sometimes it’s hard to face medical issues, but they are real and you and your family will do better in the long run if the facts are out on the table. Medical needs can make a large impact on the outcome of a divorce case in terms of property division, insurance, debts, spousal support and other issues, so you need to get the facts and incorporate them into your solutions.

What to Do

Discuss with your attorney what additional professionals might be able to help you and your case. Sometimes, you can work briefly with one or more of the professionals and get a lot of benefit. You may feel like you don't want to spend the money, but in most cases, the professionals can save or make money for you. You don't necessarily need to hire all the experts listed above, but keep an open mind because you could have a much better settlement agreement at the end if you get assistance throughout the process. With 20 to 30 or more years are at stake, you need to be very thoughtful and willing to be non-traditional.