Monday, August 15, 2016

Why Do We All Meet in the Same Room?

One of the key elements of Collaborative Law is that we have meetings with both parties in the same room with both attorneys, plus the Mental Health Professional (MHP) and the Financial Professional (FP).  We encourage direct, respectful communication between the parties and the professionals.

Occasionally, some people are a little hesitant to commit to sitting next to, or even across the table from, the spouse they are splitting with.

This is another aspect of Collaborative Law that sounds difficult, but which normally works well and usually helps some wounds heal.

Why does it work?

1.  MHP: A big part of the MHP's role is to manage the discussions and help the two parties improve their communication skills so they can effectively participate in the process.  The MHP will redirect one or both parties, as needed, and can call a timeout if someone appears uncomfortable or some other problem shows up. Plus, the MHP discusses rules of conduct with the two parties to reinforce the expectations of their conduct.

2.  Attorneys:  In addition to the MHP, there are two specially-trained attorneys cooperating, helping lead the process and acting as role models for the parties.  The attorneys act very differently than they would in a litigated divorce.

3.  FP:  Having the neutral FP also adds to the security and integrity of the process.  Perceptions of a power imbalance between the parties can change because the FP can control the gathering and review of financial records, making sure that everything is produced and accurate.  The FP also takes a lot of the emotion out of the financial discussions.

4.  Planning:  With the Collaborative process, we initially determine the goals and needs for each party, then have meetings that are planned out and which follow set agendas.  Minutes are kept and there are discussions before and after the joint meetings, so the professionals keep on top of any issues and make sure that we all stay on track and don't wander off to upsetting unscheduled topics.

If you are considering using Collaborative Law to work out a divorce, don't worry about being in the same room with your spouse, even if one or both of you are upset.  The process is set up with many safeguards to make sure everyone is comfortable and safe  working together. Please talk with your attorney about any concerns you may have.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Who Should Make Life's Major Decisions?

In an ideal world, two spouses love each other, communicate well and can make decisions together.  In reality, that's not often the case.  Love fades, anger comes in and the parties no longer get along very well.  Communication suffers and whether it's the cause or the effect of the break-up of the marriage, making decisions together becomes very difficult.

Still, there are important life decisions that must be made and the parties need to be able to respond to various issues that are family-related.

Issues like:
  • Raising kids:  how to share time and responsibilities for the kids.  Who makes decisions?  How much consultation goes on?  What if the parents disagree on something?
  • Financial support:  one spouse often makes substantially more than the other spouse.  Sometimes a former spouse needs help resuming an old career or starting a new one.  There can be health issues.  The children may have special needs.
  • Paying bills and taxes:  who has responsibility?  How is it figured into the overall settlement?  What if one spouse can't afford to do much? 
  • Retirement planning: how to divide up existing retirement assets.  Is there a greater need for cash now or at retirement?  Is there a way in increase future contributions?
  • Home ownership:  do you keep or sell the house?  Who gets the house or the sale proceeds?  Do you use the proceeds to pay off all the bills? Do you try to refinance the house?
There are different ways of ending a marriage.  Litigation is the traditional approach and it usually includes going to mediation near the end of the process.  If you go to trial, the Judge will answer all the questions.  If you use mediation, the parties will try to settle the case with the help of a neutral mediator, with the possibility of going to trial if mediation fails.  

Collaborative Law is the  "new kid on the block".  This process allows the parties to work out their own terms by having a series of meetings that begin right away.  They usually work with a neutral therapist and neutral financial advisor.

So the question is:  do you want to be in control of your own destiny or do you want a Judge to decide how you raise your kids and how your finances are going to be managed?  It's up to you.