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.

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