Monday, September 15, 2014

Advantages of Using an Experienced Collaborative Law Attorney

There are getting to be a number of trained Collaborative Law attorneys in Texas and other places.  That's good because it gives clients more to choose from.  On the flip-side, it's sometimes hard for a party to figure out who to hire to help them through the process.

In a previous post, I wrote about how to choose an experienced Collaborative attorney.  Here are some reasons why you should want to hire an attorney with good Collaborative experience.

  • Experienced attorneys start to recognize and understand different personality types.  This helps them in dealing with the parties in a case.  
  • Attorneys with extensive Collaborative experience naturally have experience and confidence in the other team members.  Over time, Collaborative attorneys tend to work with the same attorneys and other professionals in different cases -- not in every case, but often.  That helps the professionals trust each other and work together effectively.
  • With experience, attorneys become able to recognize problems early on.  They can then work with the other professionals to stop problems before them get too big.
  • After a while, experienced attorneys begin to learn effective ways to resolve stand-offs.  Occasionally, parties will start to get stuck in negotiating and they would have a hard time working out a solution without the attorneys and other professionals.  Experienced Collaborative attorneys have often seen such problems before and usually can help the parties work their way out of the difficulty. 
  • Experienced Collaborative attorneys are more understanding of their own clients.  The attorneys are often more sensitive to the feelings and concerns and can more readily help their clients when they start to get down or upset. 
If you are considering trying a Collaborative divorce, you should carefully examine the experience and training of the attorneys who practice Collaborative Law.  Getting one who is very experienced will pay off in the long run.

Monday, September 1, 2014

How to Tell Whether an Attorney is Experienced in Collaborative Law

As more people decide to give Collaborative a try in resolving their family law issues, clients are faced with having to choose among a number of attorneys who say they practice Collaborative Law.  Naturally, some attorneys have more Collaborative experience than other attorneys.

For the record, there is no "certification" for Collaborative Law in Texas.  If you see a claim that someone is "certified" in Collaborative Law in Texas, that attorney or other professional does not know what they are talking about.  You should look elsewhere for your representation.

In a later post, I will explain the advantages of using an experienced Collaborative attorney.  For now, I want to explain how to tell whether the attorney has good Collaborative experience.

Here are some things to look for:

1. Active work in Collaborative Law for a number of years. Someone who just got trained in the last year or two may be a good Collaborator, but would probably be better with experience. There's no substitute for having handled a lot of cases. This also shows a commitment to using the process.

2. Extensive training.  All Collaborative lawyers should have an initial two-day training to get the basics down.  Afterwards, attorneys should get training about every year.  There is no legal requirement for that, but training matters and getting advanced training helps with skills.

3. Speaking at public or training events.  This is another clue about who is keeping up to date and who knows about the field.  You can usually find this on web sites.

4. Leadership.  Someone who has acted as a leader in Collaborative Law groups and activities shows commitment to the use and expansion of the process.

5. Being a though leader.  Someone who writes about Collaborative Law usually understands the process, the problems, strategies and solutions.  Prospective clients also can read what has been written and decide if they like the attitude and approaches of the writer.

Looking for these signs will help you identify whether an attorney is an experienced Collaborative attorney.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Being Realistic --Don't Get Greedy!

There's a lot of pressure when it comes time to resolve a divorce.  Mostly, it's self-imposed, but it is real nevertheless.  A big concern is for both parties to be as financially secure as possible even though you increase expenses by splitting one household into two.  Often the party with less earning power is very fearful about the future.

As a result, sometimes one party to a divorce starts pushing hard to get as much cash or other assets as possible.  Aside from the fact that such an approach is straying from the focus on the goals that was discussed at the first meeting, the parties can easily get into conflict over the money.  That can make it harder to get to an agreement over the broader issues.

To avoid those problems, the parties should always be realistic. Here are some things to keep in mind.

1.  Don't over-reach.  In the Collaborative process, we emphasize that we are not bound by standard guidelines or presumptions.  We start with the goals of the parties and try to find solutions consistent with the goals.  However, that's not a license to insist on unreasonably large shares of the assets.  That could make an overall agreement much less likely if someone appears unreasonable or greedy.

2.  Listen to your attorney and the other professionals.  We and they are on your side.  We are all working together to help everyone reach an agreement.  We try to expand the pie and create win-win situations, but we need you to follow our advice.  Even when we disagree with you, we are all trying to help both parties.

3.  Both parties need to feel good about the  result.  If one side asks for so much that the other side feels mistreated or cheated, the deal will fall apart.  Even while you are taking care of your needs, it is important to think of how your spouse will feel about your proposal.  No one forces a settlement on the other side -- there must be voluntary agreement.

4.  Keep in mind that both parties will have to adjust their standard of living.  In most cases, the parties try to stretch the same amount funds to cover two households, instead of one.  There will be changes for both parties and there won't be as much money available per person as there used to be.

5.  Don't get too complicated.  While there may be many issues on the table, don't try to create such an elaborate plan that it will fail.  Be realistic!  Keep things simple. 

In sum, don't focus exclusively  on yourself.  Think about your spouse and how he or she will react to the solutions you propose.  Be willing to compromise and try to find some points that you can agree to that will benefit your ex.  Goodwill goes a long ways!

Friday, August 1, 2014

How Collaborative Law and Litigation are Alike

Most of my writing about Collaborative Law discusses how it is different from Litigation.  For a change, I will explain some of their limited similarities.

1.  Both processes use the same basic time periods. 
  • One of the parties must have lived in Texas for at least 6 months and the county they file in for the last 90 days.  
  • There's also a 60-day waiting period, from the date the case is filed until a divorce can be granted by the Court.
2.  The parties need to gather and share information about the assets, liabilities and children.  In litigation it is normally in writing and formal.  In Collaborative, we usually involve the neutral professionals  in obtaining, reviewing and organizing the information.  In Litigation cases, the attorney usually takes charge of it.

3.  The attorneys create a detailed court order with the agreement.  They want it clear and enforceable.

4.  Documents take time to  prepare.  The Decree of Divorce, sometimes the Agreement Incident to Divorce and any Qualified Domestic Relations Orders always seem to take a long time.

5.  The parties must get the Court to approve the agreement.  There must be a formal, signed court order.

Sometimes people get in a hurry in Collaborative cases.  Hopefully, they will keep in mind that some things just can't be ignored or sped up.  Collaborative cases usually are faster than Litigated ones, but we still have hoops to jump through.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Protecting Your Privacy

One of the biggest advantages of using Collaborative Law to resolve family law issues, such as divorce, is the protection of privacy.

Privacy is very valuable to a number of people.  This includes:
  • Professionals, such as doctors, attorneys, CPAs and others
  • Business people, especially ones involved in owning and running businesses
  • Politicians and office holders
  • Athletes
  • Educators
  • Wealthy people with substantial assets
  • A lot of other people who don't want their personal and financial affairs out in the public's view.
How does Collaborative Law protect privacy?  Here are some ways:
  • The process involves a series of private meetings, rather than court appearances
  • The meetings take place in private, even neutral, locations
  • The meetings and discussions are confidential
  • There is minimal involvement with the Court
  • The terms of the final agreement can be kept private by using an Agreement Incident to Divorce which is not filed with the court papers
  •  Discrete professionals help the parties come to agreements
  • There is no battle of pleadings splashing allegations in the public view
  • There is no testimony in court, other than at the prove-up at the end
If you are facing a divorce or other legal action, you should find a trained Collaborative lawyer and investigate whether your case would be appropriate for Collaborative Law.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Need a Creative Solution?

Some people have very simple divorces which require no imagination.  They are able to utilize the standard guideline child support and visitation.  They split everything 50-50 and everyone is satisfied and ready to move on.

Other people don't fit into standard.  They need something different, up or down, for child support.  They may not like how the standard visitation schedule works in their case.  There may be some special financial concerns that require creativity.

If the "non-standard" people go to court, they will probably get a standard solution imposed on them.  Even if the other side will be a little flexible, that usually does not provide much relief because every court uses the "standard" solutions as the default position.

The "non-standard" people include a variety of parties who need special consideration for various reasons.
  • There may be special circumstances, including financial issues, emotional problems and other things.
  • Children in the case may need special visitation provisions for a variety of reasons, or a parent may need special visitation because of work, travel or other reasons.
  • Extra support may be needed for medical reasons
  • A party may need, but not qualify for, alimony
  • Special schooling may be needed, and paid for.
So, how does Collaborative Law provide a more creative solution?
  • We use neutral Mental Health Professionals and Financial Professionals who can help the parties brainstorm to find new options
  • We sometimes will use a neutral Child Specialist to deal with difficult situations
  • The Financial Professional can help us realistically assess future needs and future financial capabilities
  • We can get neutral business and real estate appraisers
  • We sometimes work with a mortgage specialist who is good at finding ways to reduce payments or get some cash out of a house
  • If needed, we can use personal coaches or counselors for one or both parties
  • The biggest reason is that we are not bound go standard solutions or guidelines.
Do you need more than you could realistically get in court or different solutions? If so, you should talk with a trained Collaborative Lawyer to find out if Collaborative Law would be a good fit for your case.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Flexible Timing

In addition to other advantages of Collaborative Law, one that is not discussed as much is the ability to have flexibility with the timing.

Collaborative divorces are bound by the basic time limits in the Family Code.  In order to file for divorce, one of the parties must have lived in the county of filing for the last 90 days and the State of Texas for at least 6 months.  In addition, there is a 60-day waiting period, beginning on the filing date, before the divorce can be finalized; that is not an automatic end date, just the minimum time the papers have to be on file before the divorce can be granted.

How is Collaborative Law more flexible? It goes back to who controls the case.

The case can move very quickly, once the 60-day waiting period is up, if both parties are ready and both want to move quickly.  The parties decide how quickly they want to move.They don't have to wait on court hearings.

On the other hand, the case can move very slowly for any number of reasons, if the parties want it.
  • There may be health issues that require waiting.  
  • It may take a while to get the finances figured out. 
  • The parties may need to wait for one or both to get a job.  
  • More education or training may be needed.  
  • There may be some kid issues that take time to resolve.
If both parties are ready and want to speed up, they can in Collaborative Law.  If one or both parties need to slow down, that can also be arranged.  If the parties were in Litigation, they would not control the timing.  Very often a scheduling order is done fairly early in the process, and that will override the wishes of the parties.

If you have special timing needs, visit with a Collaborative Lawyer and find out if your case would benefit from using the Collaborative process.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

A Kinder Way to Divorce

Contrary to popular images, not everyone going through a divorce wants to make a big fight of it.  Actually, there are many people who want a low-key, "nice" divorce, without a lot of fighting.  The ideal situation is when both parties want a peaceful divorce.  That actually occurs more often than you might expect.

Of course, there are still plenty of people who want to duke it out in court.  I know lots of combative attorneys I can refer them to.  Unfortunately, the "fighters" don't realize, until too late, that having a big divorce battle usually means greatly increased costs and a long, drawn-out proceeding.  At least the attorneys come out in good shape, unless the clients run out of money.

For those who want a less-destructive way of getting divorced, there's another way to divorce:  Collaborative Law.  Here's why:

1.  We use a neutral mental health professional (MHP) in Texas in most cases. The MHP is mainly a communication coach who helps the husband and wife learn to communicate better.  That includes learning to listen effectively, choosing words carefully and being respectful to each other, among other things.  The MHP runs most of the meetings we have and I have seen a number of situations where the MHP saved the day by noticing a problem and helping the parties be more effective and less offensive toward each other.

2.  We also use a neutral financial professional (FP) to gather, organize and help interpret financial information for the parties.  The FP leads the discussions on the finances and helps both parties make informed decisions that help them meet their goals. Both parties are more comfortable being able to rely on a knowledgeable and neutral expert to explain the situation and help them evaluate options for settlement.

3.  The attorneys work together, while still representing separate clients, to make sure final agreements can be made.  We avoid ugly court hearings, testimony and cross examination in court and depositions.  The attorneys don't stir the pot with incendiary pleadings and arguments. We are all working for peaceful solutions that match the clients' needs.

If would be nice if everyone acted like reasonable adults during divorces, but that will never happen.  If you are interested in that type atmosphere, you should consider trying Collaborative Law.  You  should find a trained Collaborative Lawyer and discuss whether it would be appropriate in your case.  Good luck!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

What Happens at the 1st Joint Meeting?

Most of the first Joint Meetings in Collaborative cases follow the same pattern.  The purpose of the meeting is to make sure everyone starts out with the same understandings of the process, including the steps we follow and the obligations of each of the participants. 

At the 1st Joint Meeting, we don't do much case-specific work or make decisions on how to divide things up.  We wait until the proper time to do that.

Instead, we are building a foundation for the process to work in the case. It's essential, even though it can be a little boring! We all have to make the best of it.  The process gets more interesting later on.

Here's what generally happens:

  • Introductions.  We usually introduce each of the professionals and each party.  We agree to use first names with each other so the process can be less formal.
  •  Discuss the process. We usually go through the Roadmap to Resolution which outlines each step we follow in the process.  Normally, the neutral mental health professional goes over the Expectations of Conduct with the parties.  We want to be sure everyone really understands what we will be doing and how it works.
  • Sign the Participation Agreement.  This is a relatively long document that is the underlying contract between the parties.  It sets out in great detail the rights and responsibilities of the each participant, including the attorneys and neutral professionals.  It tells how the process works. The Agreement also has a section that commits the parties to maintain the status quo on the finances and property involved in the case, similar to the Injunction typically issued in a litigated divorce. 
        We want everyone to understand the process, and commit to following the rules.
  • Develop the goals for each party.   The parties work with their attorneys before the meeting and then explain the goals and needs they want to meet by the end of the process.  We set up targets so we can meet the specific needs of each party, instead of just asking for some arbitrary percentage of property or standard terms relating to the children.
  • Deal with immediate concerns.  If there are issues that need to be resolved temporarily or immediately, we work together to help the parties.  Typically, these may be interim arrangements relating to the children, finances or housing.
  • Schedule future meetings and homework.  We try to schedule at least a couple of Joint Meetings and some meetings with the parties to work with each of the neutral professionals before the next Joint Meeting.  Homework typically involves gathering financial records and information about the children.
If you need anything to be done at the first meeting that is not included above, please discuss that with your Collaborative attorney.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

What are Off-Line Meetings?

In Collaborative Law cases, you may hear the attorneys or other professionals refer to "off-line" meetings.  They are a refinement to the process that really helps the clients.

What are off-line meetings?  They are meetings between the clients and the neutral professionals, without the attorneys present.  The meetings can be with one or both of the parties.  If the parties meet individually with the professionals, normally each party will meet with the professionals, rather than just one party meeting with the professional.

Why have the off-line meetings?  They save time and money.  It is much more efficient for the parties to meet directly with the mental health professional (MHP) and financial professional (FP) to provide information and to get some guidance on what the issues are and how they are sometimes resolved.

Such meetings are also easier to schedule since they don't have to work around the calendars of two attorneys.

By not having the attorneys attend the meetings, the parties save a lot of attorneys' fees. Plus, the neutral professionals normally charge much less per hour than the attorneys do.

The MHP or child specialist can help the parties identify issues and do some preliminary work on formulating plans for support and possession schedules.

Similarly, it's better for the FP to directly tell the parties which documents are needed and then collect the documents from them.  The FP also prepares a spreadsheet with the information organized and reviews it with the parties before there's a joint meeting.

Bonus:  Both the FP and the MHP are very qualified at what they do and they help the clients produce great quality work that helps move the case toward final resolution.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Location, Location, Not Location!

The famous saying about real estate is that the most important factor for real estate is location, location, location.  It can also be a factor in choosing a lawyer, but in Collaborative cases, location of a lawyer may not make much difference.  Here's why.

1.  In choosing a lawyer for a Collaborative case, people usually start off wanting to hire someone who is convenient.  However, convenience is relative.  In Collaborative cases, meetings occur wherever the parties want them to be.  I have had cases with all the meetings at my office, other cases with all the meetings at the other attorney's office and other cases where we met at the mental health professional's office or the financial professional's office.  I even had one where we met out of town at the office of an attorney who was not involved in the case. In other cases, we alternated between the offices of the two attorneys.  We always discuss where we want to meet and the parties get to approve the location.

     In reality, my client rarely comes to my office after the initial visit or two.  Most of the rest of the communication is by phone or email.

     I regularly represent clients from all over the county, from the Northeast to far Southwest, from far North to Mansfield and Arlington  and from far West Fort Worth (or Parker County) to far East or Southeast Tarrant County.  Occasionally, I will have a client from Downtown  Fort Worth or the central city of Fort Worth. I think that's the way most Tarrant County attorneys are.

2.  From my experience and observation, I have found experience and chemistry as more important factors in selection of attorneys. Clients want someone who has handled similar matters and knows what to do.Clients also want someone they feel comfortable with.

Conclusion:  Choose an attorney you know or like, but don't worry too much about the location.  That gets sorted out when the Collaborative case starts up.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

What to Expect: How Easy is Collaborative Law?

Some people think that if you choose to work out your divorce issues and you agree to not go to court, you have elected to use a nice, simple, easy process.  While the process is generally nicer than litigation and is intended to at preserve family relationships (assuming you want or need to), it is not necessarily simple or easy.

If you are considering using Collaborative Law, we want you to have realistic expectations.  The preparation and meetings are often difficult and time consuming.  Here are some things to keep in mind if you begin the Collaborative process.

1.  There will be a number of meetings.  People often try to cut back on the meetings, but I can assure you that the attorneys and other professionals do not set up unnecessary meetings.  Issues tend to be handled better if we work on them in joint meetings rather than by email or phone calls between attorneys.  We always try to limit the meetings, but please work with the professionals if we say we need another meeting.

2.  Express what you want. Don't expect your attorney to speak for you.  This is not the process where you attorney writes pleadings and makes arguments for you.  We want you to speak up for yourself.  Your attorney will help you prepare.

3.  Each of you must listen to the other side.  In court, it often feels like whoever speaks first or loudest is the one the judge will pay attention to.  In Collaborative, we want both of you to speak and be heard by the other.

4.  Be patient.  This may take a while.  Even though going to court would probably take 9 to 18 months to reach resolution, people in Collaborative sometimes have unrealistic expectations that the process can be resolved in 2 to 3 meeting over a couple of months.  Some minimalist cases can be done that quickly, but most will take 3 or 4 months and some will take more.

5.  You must be an active participant.  You have to gather information, plan, be creative and suggest solutions.  There will be meetings to attend and you may have to study different options.  There will be times to meet with your attorney and times to meet with the other professionals.  You must speak your mind and tell us what you like or don't like.

6.  Be willing to grow.  You may need to expand your horizons.  Don't settle for the what the law will give you.  Ask for more and ask for different solutions.  We are talking about a major life event, so look into the future.

7.  Expect some discomfort.  You will hear some things you don't like.  You will be confronted with difficult issues and will have to compromise where you may not want to.  Instead of giving up or giving in, you can learn to seek other alternatives and find new solutions that can work for everyone.  It's just not the situation where you choose from a menu of possibilities.  Sometimes you will need to create a new menu and that may be hard.  But, it will be worthwhile.

Having realistic expectations will ensure that the Collaborative process is successful and less stressful for you.  Good luck!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Discussing Why You Want to Use Collaborative Law

There's an important discussion that needs to take place, but which is often overlooked, at the start of a Collaborative Law case.  People choose to use the process for many different reasons, sometimes being influenced by more than one reason.

Here are some of the reasons why people choose to use Collaborative.  They are looking for:

  • A civil, less stressful, resolution of difficult issues.  Instead of "warfare" between spouses, they can choose to negotiate as adults to find acceptable ways to meet the needs of each party.  
  • An inexpensive process to resolve disputes.  
  • A fast process to resolve disputes.
  • A fair process.
  • A process where the parties can control the expenses.
  • Privacy.
  • A process where the parties make the decisions and control the outcome.
  •  A process where the parties control the timing, instead of leaving it to a court or arbitrary rules.
  • A process  that preserves important family relationships.
These are all reasons that different people have expressed in different cases.  They are all legitimate values, but you should know that:

  • Collaborative Law is not "cheap".  Cheap is a relative term.  In general, Collaborative Law can be less expensive than litigation because we don't do formal discovery or depositions, we don't use competing experts and we don't have numerous court appearances.  That's money that's saved.  On the other hand, there are two attorneys, usually a neutral mental health professional and a neutral financial professional and multiple meetings. We do gain some efficiency by having the other two professionals do a lot of the work on parenting issues and gathering financial information and creating budgets without having the attorneys sit in on the preliminary work.  My opinion is that, on balance, Collaborative can be cheaper than litigation, especially compared to hotly contested cases.
  • Collaborative Law is not inherently "fast", unless both parties are in agreement as to how fast they want to go.  The general rule is that the process can move along only as fast as the slower party is willing to go. One party cannot rush the other party in Collaborative.
What to Do
At the start of your Collaborative case, please take some time out to discuss with your Collaborative lawyer why you want to use the process.  Explain your expectations.  If you have unrealistic expectations, it is better to discover that early on so adjustments can be made or a new course chosen.  The attorneys and other professionals can adjust their approaches if they know from the beginning what is really important to you about the process.

The result will be greater comfort for you and a greater chance for a successful outcome!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Is Collaborative Law Faster than Litigation?

Is Collaborative Law faster?  Usually, BUT it's not necessarily "fast".

The Collaborative process is deliberate.  We follow a Roadmap that is logical and efficient.
  • At our first joint meeting, we usually explain the process, make sure everyone understands it and then get a firm commitment from everyone to follow the process.  We also discuss the goals and expectations of each party.
  • The next step is gathering information.  Financial information is gathered by the neutral financial professional (FP).  Information about children's issues, if any, is gathered by the neutral mental health professional (MHP).
  • After we have the information to work with, we develop options to consider.  
  • The final step is to discuss and negotiate to an agreement.
Other considerations.  
  • We always have to remember that we can't go faster than the slower party is willing to go.  There are different levels of emotional readiness for divorce.  It is fairly common for one party to have been thinking and planning for the divorce for a long time.  That party is over the marriage and often is very anxious to get the divorce over with.  On the other hand, the other party may be taken by surprise and may need quite a while to adjust if the first spouse kept everything a secret.
  • Sometimes, some preparation is needed to transition out of a marriage.  In most Collaborative cases, the parties prepare budgets to help them make financial decisions.  That takes some time.  A house may need to be sold, refinanced or transferred to one party. It may take a while to divide certain assets.  With children, there may need to be planning about how and when to tell them or how to manage the sharing of the parenting post-divorce.  One party may need to find a job and/or get spousal support for some period of time.
  • There may be other reasons to delay final action on the divorce, including health, family obligations, job obligations, housing issues, etc.  Usually things can be wrapped up fairly quickly, but it could take a few months.  For someone very anxious to get the divorce over with, that can seem like a lifetime.
Comparison to litigation.  In litigation, there are numerous things that can delay progress.  Overall, the parties are looking at 9 months or more to reach a final trial in a contested case.  This is because the parties typically have to deal with:
  • Temporary hearings
  • Other hearings
  • Discovery
  • Preparation of an Inventory and Appraisement
  • Scheduling order from the Court
  • Mediation deadline just before trial
  • Trial date 9 months or more away.
What sometimes happens is one party has been thinking about the divorce for a long time,  without telling the other party.  When the divorce gets started, the first party is immediately ready for the process to be over because he/she has thought it over and planned everything for months.  The other party is surprised and unprepared and needs time to collect his/her thoughts and then begin making plans.

In a Collaborative case, the party who plans ahead feels like the process is moving very slowly.  The other party feels the opposite.  Gradually, the second party gets up to speed, but it may take a while.  

Even if it does seem slow at first, the Collaborative process will almost always move much faster than a litigated divorce.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Is Collaborative Law Cheaper than Litigation?

Is Collaborative Law cheaper?  Probably.

Is Collaborative Law cheap?  Not necessarily, but it's all relative.

The Players.  In Texas, each party hires their own attorney.  Then, the attorneys select a neutral mental health professional (MHP) and a neutral financial professional (FP) to work with both parties.  That sounds like a lot of expense, but keep in mind that the MHP and FP do a lot of independent work in the case at a cost of less than half the charge of just one of the attorneys.

The Process.  We will have a series of joint meetings to  discuss and review facts and issues in the case. (We follow a Roadmap that is a step by step process of setting goals, gathering information, generating options and coming to agreements.)  At the joint meetings, we usually have both attorneys and both other professionals, unless we are just talking about non-financial children's issues.  Then we would have the attorneys and MHP.

Efficiencies. The Collaborative process operates very efficiently regarding creating a parenting plan and gathering and organizing financial records.  We have "offline" meetings with just the MHP and the parties on parenting issues and just the FP and the parties to do the preliminary financial work.

In a litigated case, the attorney typically would be meeting with their client to gather information and formulate a plan on parenting issues.  The MHP is much less expensive and probably more qualified to help the parties than either attorney.

Similarly on the financial issues, in litigation, the attorney would be telling the client what information is needed, then would review whatever was produced and would prepare an Inventory and Appraisement. The FP is much better qualified and less expensive in gathering, organizing and evaluating the finances.  In addition, the FP helps both parties plan and prepare budgets for post-divorce, which is rarely done in litigation.

Comparison in litigation

Hearings.  Especially in hotly contested cases, there are multiple hearings at the courthouse.  That means time off work, preparation time and attorney's fees.  We usually average about three hours at court every time a case has a hearing because we end up waiting around to be heard and then there's the time in the hearing.  And there are the inevitable postponements and resets.

Discovery. In litigation, we usually do discovery, which is a formal process involving written requests for information and as a result, the gathering of voluminous, often irrelevant, documents and photos that have to be copied or put on a disk for the other side.  Parties usually spend thousands of dollars on discovery alone.  Then there are often fights, and more hearings, about whether all the documents requested were produced.

Inventory and Appraisement.  This is like an expanded version of the joint spreadsheet used in Collaborative cases, but with a lot more detail, and each side prepares their own.  That means more than twice the cost.

Depositions.  These are a means of discovery where a witness is under oath and is asked questions by one or both attorneys.  There can be a number of these.  Each client will pay for the attorney's fees and some court reporter cost.

Mediation.  Most cases will settle in mediation.  The problem is that mediation usually takes place after many months, often just before trial.  You will pay the mediator as well as your own attorney.

Trial.  If mediation fails, you will go to trial. In Tarrant County, it usually takes 9 months to a year or more to get to trial.  Trials are also very expensive.

Paperwork. In addition to theses steps, there will be a lot of paperwork, from letters back and forth to pleadings and orders and discovery documents. It all costs money.

Bottom Line:  While Collaborative cases may seem expensive if viewed with no context or comparison to litigation, they actually are usually a lot cheaper than contested litigated cases.  In the Collaborative process, there are no hearings, discovery, Inventory, depositions or trial.  There's usually no mediation and there's a lot less paperwork.

If you want to compare processes, look at all the costs!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Does Shared Parenting Require an Amicable Relationship?

Joint custody is easy to imagine where the parents get along even after splitting up.  What about the significant number of cases where the parents don't like each other?  How can they work together in a shared custody arrangement?

Texas law provides a presumption that parents should be in a joint custody relationship, although that does not mean 50-50 time sharing or any other particular arrangement.  Joint managing conservatorship, the legalese term, is just a title.  The real meaning comes from how the time is shared between parents and how the powers, rights and duties of parents are shared between parents.

So how can parents share parenting if they can't get along?  It's certainly more difficult than when the parties like or tolerate each other.  There are some ways to approach such a situation to assure successful co-parenting.

1.  Focus on the kids first, not the parents.  Try to keep the children's lives has unchanged as possible, keeping in mind that their needs will constantly evolve as they age.  Mainly, don't think in "ownership" terms about "my time" or "my children".  Put the focus on what the children need or want and how they can best be attended to.  Don't make it a control fight between parents.

2.  Add structure.  Sometimes locking down schedules and responsibilities takes away the need or opportunity to pick fights between parents.  If everything is clearly defined in court orders, that should help avoid or minimize the conflict.

3.  Model good behavior.  In the long run, the children will benefit if at least one parent models good behavior.  Hopefully, the other parent will start to follow suit.  If not, keep a stiff upper lip and be the better person.  It's good for the kids.

4.  Practice good communication with the other parent.  Don't be argumentative.  Don't make derogatory  comments about the other parent.  Stick to the facts.  Don't worry about blame.  If there are problems, just fix them.  Be on time and be polite.

5.  Take a class on co-parenting.  Many courts require such a class.  It's best to take a class in person (your attorney can help you find a good one), but you can also take one on line.  It would be great for both parents to take the same class, but it's still good if just one takes the class.  And, as is true in many other matters, refresher classes in the future would be helpful also!

Regardless of how well you get along with the other parent, hopefully you can find some common ground around the children and learn to work together.  Good luck!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Is Collaborative Law a Good Fit for You?

In a recent blog post, Adryenn Cantor, a San Diego, CA attorney included an excellent list of five questions for people to ask themselves to determine if they are a good candidate for using Collaborative Law in a divorce case.  Here are her questions:
  1. "Do you want to end your marriage with respect and integrity? 
  2. Is taking a rational and fair approach to dividing your assets more important than seeing yourself as a winner and your spouse as the loser in this process?
  3. Are your children the most important aspect in this process?
  4.  Is saving money, which could go to you or your children more important than spending it on protracted litigation?
  5.  Do you want to model for yourself, your spouse and your children how mature adults handle significant challenges?"