Friday, July 15, 2011

Why Is It Taking So Long? (Part 2)

In part one of this topic, we pointed out that Collaborative Law usually doesn't take as long as a significant, contested litigation case. In addition, there are some reasons why Collaborative cases require a number of meetings.

When you are the person attending the meetings, doing the homework and meeting with your attorney and the neutral mental health professional (MHP) and the neutral financial professional (FP), it can seem like a very slow process. You stay busy and it may seem like one meeting after another, with no end in sight.
In reality, there are good reasons for being methodical and following through with the process. Here are some of the reasons:

1. People need time to process information.
No matter how educated or experienced you and your spouse may be in financial and child-related issues, it will take each of you different lengths of time to process the information relating to the issues in the case. Not very many people are comfortable making instant decisions on important personal financial and family issues. There are usually many options and even more considerations for each party.

2. One spouse is usually farther ahead emotionally in the divorce process than the other spouse.
That means that the parties and professionals are often slowed down to wait on the less-farther-along spouse to get comfortable with changes in his/her life. It is not uncommon for one spouse to have checked out of the marriage months or years before filing, while the other spouse is clueless. The clueless one will need time to catch up, and that necessarily slows down the process because things have to be done by agreement.

3. It often takes a while to gather information.
While one spouse is often very familiar with the financial issues, for example, the other spouse may be very unfamiliar with them, so extra care is taken to educate the other spouse. In addition, the FP may want to review documents that take a while to obtain, such as retirement account plans and summaries, for example. Some issues relating to the children may need to be sought out, especially if there are special needs.

4. The parties need time to come up with creative solutions.
Some issues are complicated and sometimes there are multiple significant issues. The parties and professionals need to create appropriate solutions and sometimes that's just a slow process. In some situations, the parties decide they need more information or more expert advice, which adds to time commitment.

5. It is usually necessary to limit the meetings to no more than two hours each. The parties and professionals get tired and that can lead to conflict or one party shutting down. There's no reason for the parties to get into a marathon negotiation session. That's often the way mediations are conducted, and it's often a problem. When there is a complicated estate or significant assets, there's a lot to cover and the discussions shouldn't be superficial. In such a stressful environment, people can operate effectively for only about two hours at a time.

The amount of time it takes to do a Collaborative case should not be an issue if you keep in mind that litigation would almost always take longer and there are good reasons why Collaborative Law cases take longer than you might initially expect.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Tips for a Better Collaborative Experience

Although most people enter into the Collaborative divorce process with the intent to get a "better" or "more civilized" or "friendly" divorce, the good intentions often fade away in the heat of the moment. In Collaborative cases, emotions can still be high, fears still exist and relational problems that may have led to the separation still exist. Personal and inter-personal problems are not cured by the signing of the Participation Agreement at the start of the process. Sure, everyone promises to behave and be cooperative and not delve into blame for past problems, but it is easy to change course if one or both parties gets mad or anxious.

The attorneys and other professionals working on the case are trained to recognize any bad or inappropriate behavior and to help the parties get back on course. Still, it would be better if both parties could avoid the flare-ups. With that in mind, here are 5 tips to help people in Collaborative cases to do their best.

1. Don't negotiate with your spouse between sessions. This is a very common problem and it's a very bad idea. Sometimes the case is going well and the parties think they can quickly settle some issues without the professionals around. Sometimes the parties just want to save money and settle some issues without involving the professionals. In practice, it usually doesn't work out well. The same problems, attitudes or behaviors that made it impossible to work things out before the parties hired lawyers still exist and will reassert themselves without the management of the professionals in the case. Please don't start negotiating directly outside of Collaborative sessions.

2. Don't text your spouse in anger or when fueled by alcohol. This doesn't need to be explained. Beyond that, I would suggest that any texting be extremely limited. Remember, such messages can be saved and would look very bad in court if the process broke down. And, that's not an effective way to get your spouse to do what you are wanting. (In addition, see the comments in #1).

3. Don't leave messages on a phone when you are angry or intoxicated. (See the comments in #2 and #1.)

4. Don't focus on blame or fault. It doesn't have a significant role in a Collaborative case. It is much better to look forward and not backwards. You may think your spouse is at fault on major issues, and you may be right, but your spouse would also blame you for some problems, and might also be right. There's almost always fault on both sides of a divorce. The problem is that after the argument about who's more at fault, you haven't moved any closer to resolution. You have just wasted time and created ill will which will make it harder to get to an agreement.

So, what should you do?

5. Focus on big goals, not small issues. Don't stay focused on the ground, look up! Formulate broad, relevant, important goals for yourself. Don't limit yourself to a predetermined outcome. For example, your true goal for housing may be to have a safe, affordable, secure home in a good neighborhood. That might include the house you live in now, but there might be other ways to accomplish that goal -- get a new house, a duplex, an apartment, house sit, rent a house, live with a friend or relative, etc. If you limit your goal to keeping the house you live in now, you may miss an opportunity to have a better living arrangement. Collaborative Law gives you the possibility of creating a better future for yourself. Don't waste your time dealing primarily with little problems. Your attorney and the other professionals can help you formulate goals for your situation. Think Big!