Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Can You Switch to Collaborative Law After You Start a Divorce?

The simple answer is "Yes"!  

Even if you started by using DIY forms and trying to do your own divorce, you can switch to Collaborative Law by getting Collaborative attorneys for both parties.

A divorce or other family law case can always be changed over from litigation to Collaborative Law at any time before a final order is signed.  That's true whether someone is trying to use some prepared forms without using attorneys or whether both sides have their own attorneys.

What you would need is for both parties to have their own Collaborative Law attorney.  Plus, there would probably need to be some re-orientation for the parties to adjust how they approach the case.  Focusing on needs and interests, rather than using arbitrary percentages or standard schedules, will require some adjustment.

How to get started?  The first requirement is for each party to have a Collaborative attorney.  That means that one or both parties might have to change attorneys.  It is very important to have a trained and experienced Collaborative Law lawyer.

Warning:  Some attorneys will try to get people in to discuss Collaborative Law and then actively discourage using it.  In reality, those attorneys don't do Collaborative cases.  If you go see an attorney who tries to talk you out of using Collaborative Law even though you think you would like to use it, please do yourself a favor and get a second opinion.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Is Collaborative Law Worth the Cost?

For people facing divorce, a common question is whether Collaborative cases are "cheaper than litigation".  While there is no way to compare a specific Collaborative case to an abstract idea of a litigated case, we can say that Collaborative Law will avoid a lot of the expense involved in litigation.

Attorneys will often talk about how the Collaborative process can save money for clients.  In most cases and in most ways, I believe that is true.  However, many people take an unjustified conclusion from that discussion even though we can't say what the cost would be.  They start to believe that Collaborative Law is a cheap process.  That conclusion is unwarranted and unsupportable because it is so subjective.  What is cheap to one person may be outrageously expensive to another.

Since we can't really answer whether Collaborative cases are cheaper, here's a better question.

Is Collaborative Law worth the cost?

1.  Consider what's at stake.  Family relationships and decisions about how to raise your children -- you can't put a price tag on that.  Most people would make those issues their priority.  Having expert help in reaching creative and unique decisions to meet your circumstances would be welcome by most everyone.

With a long-term marriage and substantial assets or business interests, you want to be sure that your money is well-spent finding solutions.  Many people who have accumulated real estate, investments and business interests need expert guidance to unravel or divide up the assets.  It is unrealistic to think that what may have been accumulated over many years pursuant to an evolving investment plan can be quickly and cheaply divided in an appropriate, beneficial and agreeable manner.

2.  Think about being cost-effective in gathering information.  It's very easy in litigation to spend a lot of money going through standard discovery steps that generate attorneys' and experts' fees without getting much information that is really essential for the decision-making on the financial issues.  In litigation, each side often has his/her own set of experts and the process amounts to both sides setting up a battle of experts.  In most cases, it makes better sense to use a single neutral expert to guide the parties in gathering, organizing and understanding information. In addition, if appraisals need to be done, or tax advice is needed, a neutral expert can also be hired for each of those issues. It's still cheaper to use one expert for each need rather than having each side hire their own

3.  How important is it for you to make the decisions on your finances?  For people who have successfully managed their own affairs and created wealth through their hard work, knowledge and experience, it is difficult to give up control over their finances.  Would you rather make your own careful decisions on dividing things up or let a judge who doesn't know or care about your family make arbitrary decisions on how to divide the assets?

In most cases, in my view, Collaborative Law is worth the cost.  It is a flexible process that allows you to just focus on what is important and necessary, rather than having the parties follow standardized steps that often result in far more work than is justified.  In cases without children and without substantial assets, Collaborative Law may not be necessary, but even then, it is still a much more civilized way to go through the process, and that may be priceless!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

What Does a Collaborative Case Cost?

A question that everyone asks, or wants to ask, when considering Collaborative Law is "what does it cost?".  That's a natural and legitimate question.

The simple, but not-too-useful answer is:  somewhere between cheap and the cost of protracted litigation.  On top of that, cheap is not defined (it's relative, after all) and the sky (or maybe the extent of one's bank accounts or credit cards) is the limit  for protracted litigation cost.

Unfortunately, the answer is that we don't know in advance what a divorce case will cost.  Attorneys and other professionals normally charge by the hour and we can't tell in the future how many hours will be required.

Why can't we be more specific?  Because each case is different.   Some issues are usually harder to deal with than others.

Your case may involve one or more of the following issues and we rarely spend equal time on every issue.
      Post-divorce support
      Career training or retraining
      Health limitations
      Allocating investments between the parties
      Retirement planning
      Child care
      Ownership and management of a small business
      College expenses
      Unique visitation circumstances 
      Tax planning
      One parent moving away
      Mental health issues
      Keeping both parents involved with very active children
      A professional practice of one or both spouses
      Dealing with teenagers
      Dividing, sharing or allocating a family business

There are varying degrees of difficulty between issues and between cases.  We can't predict ahead of time how much time we will need to devote to each issue.  What will be clear is that your team of professionals will allocate their efforts in gathering information, identifying issues and creating solutions in the most efficient manner to deal with what's most important to you. 

You can get some specific information on what to expect in a Collaborative case by talking with a Collaborative attorney.  Be sure to explain what's important to you and what outcomes you would like to see.  That could give you useful information to help decide how to handle your case.