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!