Saturday, March 29, 2008

What You Can Learn from a Divorce Coach

I have just run across another blog about Collaborative Law. It is from Maryland and it has some really good posts about Collaborative Law. The posts show some of the variations in how the Collaborative process is used in various states. The blog is called Divorce Without Dishonor and is written by Michael A. Mastracci of Baltimore. I recommend that you check it out. Although in Texas we usually utilize a single,neutral divorce coach/communication coach/mental health professional, that person's role is virtually the same as what Michael explains for Maryland. The following is a post from that blog:

"In a collaborative divorce, each spouse usually hires their own divorce coach to help them learn to communicate and negotiate more effectively. These coaches are an integral part of the collaborative divorce team. They teach life skills that will form the basis for your post-divorce relationship with your spouse. If you have children, the skills learned from your divorce coach can make co-parenting go more smoothly after the divorce.

"Your divorce coach will provide you will skilled help in:

Managing your emotions appropriately.

  • Separating your thoughts from your feelings.
  • Thinking through emotionally charged issues.
  • Learning to talk about difficult problems in a businesslike manner.
  • Setting short and long-term goals for yourself, your children and your co-parenting relationship.

"Conflict management, creative problem-solving, negotiation and productive communication are among the valuable life skills you can learn with the help of your divorce coach. Your coach can help you identify bad habits and problem areas in your relationship with your spouse and learn to communicate more productively. Divorce coaches help you and your spouse focus more clearly on your individual goals and the positive changes that can come about as a result of your divorce."

Again, the description is extremely similar to what our joint neutral expert does here in Texas. The bottom line is that Collaborative Law provides an important tool that is almost never used in litigation, and the stress, fighting and destruction of relationship are the harmful results of that deficiency in litigation. In Tarrant County, Texas, we use the single neutral coach more and more, and the benefits are apparent. Talk to your Collaborative attorney and find out how you can work with a coach to help you reach a successful resolution through Collaborative Law.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Can We Use Just One Lawyer for Both of Us?

In a word, NO!

There are several reasons why both parties can't use the same lawyer.

1. It is unethical in Texas for an attorney to give legal advice to two opposing parties in a dispute. An attorney will not risk his or her license to do that. Even if that were not the case, each party would still need a separate attorney.

2. The definition of Collaborative Law in the Texas statute, and the way Collaborative Law is practiced elsewhere, provides for each party to be represented by his or her own attorney. It is mandatory. If the parties want to negotiate and if one or both parties decide to proceed without an attorney, they can attempt to reach an agreement, but it would not be the Collaborative process.

3. Even if attorneys were not mandatory, there are good reasons for each party to hire one. Attorneys benefit their clients by performing the following services:

  • Advise the client on various issues, such as what a judge or the law might do in a given situation. Give some practical advice from experience in divorce or other family law matters.

  • Educate the client on how things work in the legal or family systems.

  • Motivate the client to keep working on a settlement, even when the going gets tough, which happens in many Collaborative cases. Remind the client about how bad the alternatives can be.

  • Do the paperwork. Someone has to file the original petition for divorce, notify the court that the parties have agreed to use Collaborative procedure and file periodic reports with the court. Once agreement is reached, it will be necessary to do the final papers.

  • Be an advocate for the client, but in a different way than is common in litigation. In a Collaborative case, the parties do most of the talking at the joint meetings. Attorneys can provide some information and suggestions, but rarely speak for the client the same as they would if they were appearing in court or participating in settlement or mediation negotiations. Attorneys deal with the other professionals outside the meeting and help prepare the client for Collaboration.

  • Work with the other professionals. The attorney will help set up the process, organize and frame the issues and meet with the other professionals before and after the joint meetings.

  • Attorneys also help their clients stay connected to reality as they work through the Collaborative Law process. Sometimes parties can become unrealistic in their expectations of how the process will work. Some people start out thinking about how easy the process will be and then become upset if it slows down. Attorneys can remind the parties about the various problems that may come up, so there are few surprises.

  • Attorneys also help maintain a balance of power between the sessions. If only one party had an attorney, the other party might feel intimidated and certainly would lack the information and understanding needed to have fairly equal parties.

You can handle your own divorce without a lawyer in Texas, if you prefer, but it just can't be a Collaborative divorce. Each party must be represented by a separate attorney for the Collaborative approach to be used and to get a better result for both parties.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Why Do We Need a Financial Professional

In a Collaborative Law divorce case, you may not need a financial professional (FP) if there are just child custody and visitation issues. If there are property issues, you should include a financial professional to help the parties. Financial professionals help in a number of ways.

  • FPs help both parties develop budgets for the future so they can make realistic plans and assessments of needs.
  • FPs can gather and organize various financial records. They can save time (and money) for the parties by efficiently dealing with various financial records. They can certainly do better work than most attorneys.
  • FPs can discuss tax consequences of various actions with both parties. That can have a major effect on decision making.
  • FPs are neutral, so they don't take on the role of the "hired gun" which they might have done in a litigated divorce. They work for both parties and have a lot of credibility. They help both parties and are committed to helping the parties achieve an agreement.
  • FPs can provide income, expense and tax projections into various points in the future to help the parties understand what their needs will be. That helps the parties create customized plans to help reach their goals.
  • FPs are helpful for the parties when they need to generate options while brainstorming. The more ideas that are considered, the better chance that both parties will be satisfied.
  • FPs can explain, with credibility, various financial terms and concepts so that the parties can plan and evaluate more effectively.

The above are some of the benefits of using a neutral financial professional in a Collaborative case, but what about the cost? While they aren't free, they can be a bargain. Most cost less than a single attorney. If you consider the alternative of having two attorneys helping the parties handle the financial issues, the advantage is obvious. Not only do the parties save fees, they save time because of greater efficiency and they produce a better analysis. In addition, a neutral expert can help the parties settle disagreements. Looking at the benefits, it is clear that a financial professional will be a huge benefit for both parties with little or no downside.