Tuesday, May 1, 2018

DIY Divorce Negotiating -- Why it's a Bad Idea!


In an age when more and more people want to "do it themselves" with so many things, people negotiating their own divorces seems like a natural.  After all, who's more interested in the outcome than the parties themselves?  Think of the money they can save by not hiring lawyers, and think of the fights that can be avoided by keeping the lawyers out of it. Plus, the parties either believe they know the details of their case or trust their spouse will share the information. 

Everyone knows Texas is a 50-50 state, right, so dividing things up should be easy. And you can find all the forms for child support and visitation online.

So, what could go wrong?

Although I am naturally an optimist, I have to point out a number of potentially costly problems with the DIY approach. 

1.  You may be misinformed.  For example, property doesn't have to be divided 50-50, and usually there's some variance from that.  There are a number of factors that can affect the division. You may also not know whether something is separate property (not to be divided) or included in the community property.  Some situations are complicated and relying on the internet may not be smart.

2.  You can be bullied. Hopefully, that's not the case, but I have seen numerous cases where one party dominates the other and obtains a very favorable property division, child support order or custody arrangement. That is much less likely when there are attorneys involved.

3.  You may not be aware of the true strengths of your bargaining position.  Knowledge of the law, along with experience, can unlock a lot of options for getting the result you want to achieve.  Some issues are settled and don't need to be re-litigated.  Or, you may be in a weak position and it would be helpful to learn that before you are in too deep.

4.  You probably have no experience with how different approaches work.  For example, you or your spouse may want a 50-50 time sharing arrangement with the kids.  There are several different models used for that purpose and an experienced lawyer can help you understand how they work and which might be best option for you.

5.  Overall, it is better to have someone experienced to bounce ideas off.  You are dealing with serious and very important issues.  Having a second opinion or alternate point of view can help you test your ideas or your spouse's ideas before you agree to them. Take a little time and have a discussion.  What you are discussing will affect you and your children the rest of your lives.

While the tendency may be to favor saving money by doing the negotiating yourself,  that can easily leave you with bad agreements and bad court orders.  What you are going through has such enormous effects on your future that you really need to be smart and get help.  Be smart, not cheap!


Sunday, April 1, 2018

Why is Collaborative Law Better than Mediation?

Although I am a Mediator as well as a Collaborative attorney, I almost always recommend using the Collaborative process, rather than Mediation or Litigation, for divorces and other family law issues. That's in spite of a very impressive success rate for Mediated cases. 

Mediation has its place in the world of dispute resolution.  Once Litigation has started, Mediation is ordered by courts in North Texas in most cases before the parties can have a final trial. The reason is that almost every case will settle in mediation.

So, why the preference for Collaborative Law over Mediation or Litigation? Here are some of the reasons that are important.

1.  Collaborative work starts at the beginning of the case. Mediation usually occurs months down the road.  There have been a lot of hearings, documents exchanged, arguments had and money spent by the time the case gets to Mediation. In contrast, we start direct communications (talking!) from the beginning.  We don't spend time and money going to court, doing Discovery (formal exchange of documents) and arguing over lots of side issues.  We identify and focus on the issues that are important to both sides.

2.  Often, Mediation is done with a court date looming in the background.  The implicit threat of court often eliminates some options. In Collaborative, we control our timetable and work as fast or slow as the parties want.  We don't have a threat of compulsion or an adverse Judge's ruling  to force an unpleasant agreement. In Collaborative cases, we have up to two years during which the Court cannot control our schedule.

3.  Mediation usually occurs after a lot of problems continued and often got worse.  Collaborative Law uses a neutral mental health professional, with the close cooperation of both attorneys, to manage emotions and communications. Plus, the structure of the Collaborative Law process is much more rational.  We identify the goals and needs for both parties.  Then we gather information about the parties, their children and their finances.  Next, we generate options for settlement, followed by negotiations to reach agreement so that the needs of both parties are met. Finally, we draw up the paperwork and get it signed by the Judge.  When problems come up, we work together to find solutions because we have all committed to do so.

4.  Collaborative Law is not part of a strategy to financially weaken the other party, a common strategy in Litigation.  Unfortunately, there are sometimes motions and hearings in Litigation that seem to serve little purpose other than to harass the other party and drain their resources. In Collaborative cases, we know that the parties are better served by staying focused on the issues relating to settlement of the problems they have identified. We work on being efficient and regularly review the financial accounts of the parties so everyone knows what's going on.

5.  Collaborative Law eliminates ambush and strategies to "win". Both sides work together to achieve the goals for both parties. There's no solution until both sides are satisfied.  It is not a situation where there's only one "winner"! Both sides have to win, or we keep working.


These are just some of the reasons why Collaborative Law is often a much better process than Mediation or Litigation for handling family issues, including divorce.  For more information relating to your specific circumstances, go talk to a trained, experienced Collaborative attorney.  It will be time well invested.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Why Does Collaborative Law Work?


Sometimes just explaining the Collaborative process isn't enough to convey how great a process it is. I have seen statistics showing successful outcomes in 85-90% of the cases where Collaborative Law was used.

So, why does it work?  Here are some of the reasons.  

1.  We have a team of professionals working together.  In a typical Collaborative case (at least in North Texas), we utilize at least four professionals:  2 attorneys, a neutral financial advisor and a neutral therapist who manages the Joint Meetings and also usually helps the parties put together a parenting plan.  Sometimes, we have a separate "child specialist" who helps the parties with the parenting plan.  All team members have training in Collaborative Law and experience in their fields outside of the Collaborative Divorce context. An experienced team of Collaborative professionals adds a tremendous value to the process.

2.  There is a focus on solutions, not fighting.  This is part of the contrast with litigation. We don't waste time assigning blame or accusing each other of various misdeeds. Obviously, if we're dealing with a couple divorcing, there have been misdeeds by both sides. Instead of looking backward, we focus on creating a better future for both parties.

3.  There is a lot of direct communication. This happens at meetings, most often under the supervision of the neutral mental health professional.  Part of what happens in the process is that both parties learn and practice better communication skills.  Most couples finish the process better able to talk about important matters without fighting.  That's especially important when there are children.

4.  The process lends itself to flexibility and creativity.  We are not bound to use standard solutions and statutory guidelines.  We start by focusing on what the parties want and need.  Then, we gather information and finally start choosing solutions to fit the circumstances of the parties. We have been very successful in getting Judges to approve highly customized solutions that our clients came up with.

5.  You and your spouse get to decide. You know what your needs are and your spouse does, too.  Instead of letting a disinterested Judge impose arbitrary and standard answers to everything, you get to come up with solutions you like and we make them the terms of the Decree of Divorce. You have the power to determine the details of your life after divorce and that is much better than turning it over a Judge to decide.


These are just some of the reasons why Collaborative Law works.  Yes, I am a fan of the process.  If you are facing divorce or have some other legal issue to be resolved, do yourself a favor and talk to a trained Collaborative lawyer about whether Collaborative Law could be used in your case.  I'll bet it can be!

Thursday, February 1, 2018

How Can I Have a Peaceful Divorce?


If you really want to avoid fighting, as much as possible, in a divorce, here's what you need to do.
 
1.  Choose Collaborative Law.  If you get into traditional litigation, you may be drawn into more conflict.  Most of the time in litigation, you are placed in opposition to your spouse, rather than working with him/her to find win-win solutions. Most divorces will eventually get into mediation, but that's late in the process after a lot of damage has been done.

2.  Work with a team. In North Texas, almost all Collaborative divorces involve bringing in a neutral mental health professional and a neutral financial professional to work with the parties and attorneys.  The neutrals help the quality of the agreements on parenting and property division, as well as helping the process move along smoothly.

3.  Focus on goals, needs and interests of both parties.  Doing that helps make sure we deal with the most important matters and not get bogged down in minor issues. We can be a lot more efficient as well.

4.  Hire experienced Collaborative Law attorneys.  As a starter, you want to make sure the attorneys are trained in Collaborative Law.  Just as in most other matters, experience helps.  It's nice to have someone who has dealt with your issues before so look for a Collaborative attorney who has done it for a while.

5.  Be willing to try new approaches.  Don't get locked into what your family and friends tell you.  Be open to new ideas, especially if you have an experienced team of professionals helping you.

6. Understand that neither party can control the process alone.  You have to work together and you can get better results if you are willing to bend a little.  Usually, you have to give a little to get a little. It's easier to do if you're expecting it.

7.  Focus on improving your relationships.  In the Collaborative process, there is an emphasis on learning better communication skills, including listening.  If you and your spouse are able to work together, instead of against each other, that cooperation normally spills over into other parts of the post-divorce relationship.

To get a peaceful divorce, be willing to try new approaches and be willing to help from several directions.  You'll be glad you did.



Monday, January 1, 2018

Should You Consider Collaborative Law for a Divorce?


At this time of year, many people decide to file for divorce.  Often they delay to get through the holidays and then plan to file in January or February. If you are one of those people, you may be considering filing for divorce and using the Collaborative Divorce process, or you may be undecided on how to proceed. Either way, here are some points to ponder as you decide how to go forward.
  
Why should you consider Collaborative Law?  It’s worth looking into if any of the following might be important to you:

•    Privacy.
•    Control over the timing.
•    Control over the decision-making.
•    Expert neutral help in working out a parenting plan for your children.
•    Expert neutral financial help so you can understand your finances.
•    Expert neutral financial help to gather, organize and review your financial information to make sure it is all reported and is accurate.
•    Expert help moderating negotiations to keep them safe, efficient and  productive.
•    Both parties using well-trained attorneys to advise and help work out solutions.
•    Avoiding court hearings.
•    Replacing expensive, formal Discovery procedures with informal cooperative efforts overseen by neutral experts.
•    Keeping on good terms with your ex-spouse for the benefit of your children
•    Creating customized property division plans focused on what’s important for you and your spouse.                           
•    Creating customized plans for sharing time with the children
•    Coordinating and controlling, by agreements,  your financial planning for the family into the future.


You probably have many questions about the alternatives. The best way to get answers is to go see an attorney who is trained and experienced in Collaborative Law.  You can find out about timing, cost and how to get started. It helps to get direct answers that apply to your case.

Note:  if you meet with a Collaborative attorney who tries to talk you out of using Collaborative Law, please do yourself a favor and get a second opinion from a trained and experienced Collaborative attorney.  Unfortunately, some attorneys advertise themselves as Collaborative attorneys, but they use that to draw in potential clients and then talk them out of using the process. Do yourself a favor and get a second opinion.