This is the third in a series of stories about how Collaborative Law actually works in a divorce case. These cases are not real cases. The facts and stories are expanded and modified from real issues faced by families going through a Collaborative divorce.
The Teenage Kids + Wife Starting Over Case
Facts: Husband and wife have been married for 25 years. They have two teenage children, a boy and a girl, ages 14 and 16. Husband is a doctor and wife has been a stay-at-home mom; she left her teaching career when the children were born. The couple has a house, several retirement plans, a variety of investments, an interest in the doctor's medical practice group and no debt, other than the mortgage.
Issues: How husband can keep a relationship with the kids, how to compensate for the value of husband's medical practice, what to do with the house and how to help wife get ready to re-join the work force.
Steps Followed: Each party has their own Collaborative attorney. The attorneys bring in a neutral mental health professional (MHP) and a neutral financial professional (FP). They also retain a neutral business appraiser for the husband's practice and a neutral real estate appraiser for their residence. If the issues about husband's relationships with the children are very difficult, the attorneys might bring in a child specialist to help with coming up with a plan for the husband and children.
1st Meeting: At the first joint meeting, the parties tell what their goals, needs and interests are so that everyone will know what each party wants to end up with.
Kid Issues: The MHP works with everyone in the joint meetings and works with the parties, without attorneys present, to come up with a parenting plan to bring to a joint meeting. Or, the child specialist could take the lead on the parenting plan. The parenting plan covers the sharing of responsibilities for the children as well as sharing time with them. The therapist also runs the joint meetings and makes sure that both parties are comfortable and feel safe in the discussions. The MHP or child specialist has also answered questions and educated the parents about what to expect post-divorce with the children.
Financial Issues: The FP gathers financial records from the parties and creates a spreadsheet to use in dividing the assets. The attorneys coordinate the appraisals. The Financial Professional helps each party put together a budget and plan their financial futures. The FP leads the joint meetings dealing with finances and together the parties and professionals come up with a plan to divide the assets in a beneficial way, not just each taking half of everything. The FP also focuses on a way for both parties to meet their financial needs into the future. Alimony will probably be a major component in providing support for the wife as she transitions back into the work force, and it will produce tax benefits for husband. The financial professional also helps the parties plan for the tax consequences of the financial agreements.
Result: A comprehensive agreement is drawn up that provides for the children and allows both parents to have time with the kids that takes into account the fact that the children have become busy and independent and probably don't want to spend much time with either parent. The property is divided and alimony is given to wife to enable her to get the training she needs to get back into the labor force while still supervising teenage children. Wife may keep the house, if it is affordable. Otherwise, cash is found to get her into another less-expensive residence.
Comment: The case would probably have taken about 6-8 joint meetings because there are many difficult issues for both parties. If it had gone to litigation, it probably would have taken a year to a year and a half to get through a trial (or a mediation just before the trial date).
To find out whether Collaborative Law would possibly work for you, talk with an attorney who has been specially trained in Collaborative Law. If any attorney tries to talk you out of using Collaborative, you should always get a second opinion from a trained Collaborative attorney.