Wednesday, June 15, 2016

How Do We Start a Collaborative Divorce?

Once you decide you want to use the Collaborative Law process instead of litigation or mediation, you're probably ready to get started.  So, what should you expect as you get started?  

Different attorneys may do things slightly differently, but here are some steps that are fairly common.

1.  Make sure you understand how the process works.  You and your attorney should have a good discussion and go over the process thoroughly.  It's not like anything you would see on TV.  You should learn what to expect at the first meeting -- it's usually handled about the same from case to case.  You can also talk about how to prepare for the meeting.

2.  Have a discussion with your attorney about why you want to use Collaborative Law.  Some of the common reasons are because of the privacy, getting to control the process, getting to decide the terms of the final agreement, being able to create non-traditional solutions, focusing on needs and interests rather than arbitrary guidelines, being able to maintain important family relationships or using a less stressful process.  It helps for the attorney to understand your motivation and to know what's really important to you, so they can help you achieve your goals.

3.  Review documents.  There will be a Participation Agreement that is fundamental to the process.  It is written in moderate legalese, so it will take some interpretation, but it is very important that you understand it. In part, it explains again how the process works. You might also review the Roadmap to Resolution, which is an outline of the steps in the Collaborative process. You will probably also go over the Expectations of Conduct. That's a reminder on how to behave during the Collaborative process.

4.  Outline your goals.  One of the best advantages of Collaborative Law is  that we are always working to achieve your goals and meet your needs post-divorce.  We need you to carefully explain what's important to you.

5.  Study your calendar so we can schedule the first meetings.  We want to schedule the first joint meeting as soon as possible, and then 2or 3 more joint meetings, along with separate meetings with the therapist (if there are children's issues) and the financial neutral. It helps to schedule the meetings early so we can keep progressing.

These are the basic steps, but talk with your attorney about what he or she wants you to do.  

Some Next Steps:  Gather financial records and start working on a budget, if you're in a hurry.  The financial neutral will tell you what's needed and help you organize it.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Why Choose Collaborative Divorce Over Mediation?

When people are considering their options for divorce, it usually boils down to litigation, mediation or Collaborative Law, if they are aware of the Collaborative option.  If they choose to avoid traditional litigation, they usually consider either mediation (often without attorneys) or Collaborative Law.

So, why would someone choose Collaborative Divorce over mediation?  For different people, one process may work better or feel better than the other.  Here are some points to consider if you face this process decision.

1.  With Collaborative Law, each party will have their own attorney throughout the process.  That can lead to more informed decisions and some assurance that the important issues will be discussed and resolved.  With mediation, sometimes parties choose to work with a mediator and without attorneys while they hammer out an agreement.  That will save money initially, but sometimes the parties, without attorney guidance, make bad decisions that have to get un-done. That gets expensive and it might kill the agreement. Sometimes, it's better to spend a little more money as you go along than to take a chance on making some bad financial and life decisions.

2.  In Collaborative, we normally use a team of helpers.  On financial decisions, a neutral financial professional works with both parties to gather and organize financial data. That's especially helpful when one spouse does not really have much financial experience or knowledge.  On children's issues, the neutral therapist or child specialist helps the parties calmly work out a plan to share time and responsibility regarding the children.  Both neutrals are much better than relying on just standard guidelines approaches.  They can help the parties be creative because of their expertise and experience.

3.  There's a more informed decision in Collaborative. With attorneys and neutral experts, plus an explicit agreement to share all relevant information, Collaborative Divorce provides the means to get the needed information to both parties.  In mediation, there is less oversight and it can be hard to get some information if one side wants to avoid disclosing certain facts.

4.  In Collaborative cases, documents get prepared correctly.  In mediation, especially without attorneys, it's often hard to find someone  who will prepare the documents.  Even worse, some people with significant assets attempt to use online forms, a sure recipe for disaster.

5.  Collaborative Law utilizes interest-based negotiations.  The parties start off by establishing their goals and interests, and then the negotiations are always focused on trying to meet the needs of both parties.  In mediation, most often, the parties revert to positional bargaining, like that used in buying a used car.  One side starts high and the other starts low.  Often, only one of the parties comes out in good shape in an agreement.

Let me emphasize that mediation can be a very good process.  I am a mediator and I strongly support the process. The biggest problems occur when the parties try to save money by negotiating their own divorce without lawyers.  That will almost always lead to major problems.  Please consult with a lawyer before you start negotiating on your own on such serious matters.