Saturday, December 29, 2012

Tips for Better Communication During a Divorce

In any divorce, things get heated occasionally (or more often).  In Collaborative divorces, the parties can still feel considerable stress.  It is an emotional experience.  Sometimes, parties will react emotionally, in anger, and that is regrettable.  Here are some quick tips to help maintain a constructive relationship between the parties.

1.  Don't text in anger or if you have been drinking.  That never works out well.  You may be mad at your spouse, and he or she may have done you seriously wrong, but a mean, ugly, angry text will cause damage to a relationship that you need to maintain for at least a little while. You may feel smart or clever when you type it, but it will lead to a bad reaction from someone you need to work with to settle your case.

2.  Don't focus on blame or fault.  Especially in Collaborative cases, fault is normally not an issue.  We look forward, not back.  Arguing fault is a diversion that hinders getting to an agreement.

3.  Don't leave messages when you are angry or have been drinking.  See #1 above.  Voice mails will cause major problems.  You need to reach an agreement so you can meet your own needs and interests.

4.  Don't negotiate with your spouse between joint meetings.  Sometimes the Collaborative process works very well and people start to think that they can save money by working out some details on their own.  Occasionally, that works, but more often, the parties get into arguments.  The conflict occurs because they are talking without the attorneys and mental health professional around to help manage the discussions.  Good behavior at joint meetings comes about because of the mutually agreed rules and because of the assistance provided by the professionals.  Without the structure and presence, the parties usually quickly slide back into bad behaviors.

5.  Focus on the big high-level goals, not small, irritating issues.  Any time you get started on really small details, it becomes much easier to get into arguments.  The way out is to think about the bigger issues and how to achieve the higher goals.  It really works!

Keep these tips in mind and you will have a better and more successful Collaborative experience!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Process Options for Resolving Divorces

If you are facing the start up of a divorce, one of the first decisions to be made is which legal process your case will use.  When you are meeting with an attorney, you should be informed about at least 4 different processes.  So that you are better prepared for the initial meeting, here's a preview of what you should find out from the attorney.  If you don't hear about all these approaches, you should probably meet with another attorney to make sure you get a balanced view of your choices.

1.  Do it Yourself, or the Kitchen Table Approach.  In this process, you and your spouse work together informally and come to agreements on what to do.  It's certainly cheaper (at least initially) to handle things yourself.  In the right case, it can be less stressful if both parties are cooperative.  Usually, the right case is one where there's nothing in dispute and nothing to agree on. Those situations are very rare.

There are several potential problems, however, such as:
  • you may not have all the information you need, 
  • you may be uninformed about some aspects of the law or facts, 
  • you may be misinformed (lied to) about some aspects, 
  • you may have not anticipated some  important issues, and
  • you may not have the proper paperwork.  
Even though it is getting easier to find divorce forms online, they may not be the right forms for you.  Sometimes forms and apps and books are prepared based on some other state's laws (often that's California) and that can really mess up a Texas divorce.  In addition, some situations can become very stressful, especially when one spouse may pressure or intimidate the other spouse, which happens frequently when a spouse has been controlling for a while already. 

2.  Mediation.  You can do mediation with or without an attorney.  Doing it without an attorney can be very risky.  A good mediator can help the parties come to an agreement, but the agreement may not be in your or your child's best interest.  A controlling spouse can sometimes get the other spouse to take much lower (or much higher) child support than a court would award, for example, or might get a spouse to give up too much property.

In North Texas, most mediations take place after the divorce is filed and with attorneys representing both parties and attending the mediation.  Unfortunately, that type of mediation (with attorneys) usually takes place just before trial, after one or more court hearings and after discovery (the formal exchange of documents and information) has been completed.  Mediation usually works and is a great process.  It's just that the timing is unfortunate.

3.  Litigation.  This is the standard default process to use.  Some attorneys are not trained in Collaborative Law and don't want to try it, so they ignore it and go straight to litigation.

The litigation process most often starts with filing a petition for divorce, getting a restraining order and having a temporary hearing right away to set up temporary  orders governing custody, support, visitation, use of the house and other property and how the bills will be paid.

After that, there is a process for exchanging information, called "Discovery", that usually includes written questions, requests for documents and electronic information, requests to disclose some basic information and sometimes depositions.  Discovery is usually very time-consuming and expensive.

There can also be various hearings while the divorce is pending.  In contested cases, the hearings may be to enforce orders or to change the orders.

The Court usually sets up a scheduling order for the various steps that are followed leading to the trial.  Usually mediation is required, but it's often shortly before trial.  Most cases, even in litigation, will settle before trial, but a lot of work is done before the settlement is worked out, and that means it's very expensive.  In Tarrant County, a trial is usually set about a year or more after the case is filed.

4.  Collaborative Law.  This has become a great alternative for resolving cases.  The parties each hire their own attorney and the attorneys usually bring in a neutral mental health professional and a neutral financial professional.  The attorneys and other professionals must be trained in Collaborative Law.  Many attorneys are not trained, so check with the attorneys before you hire one.

The process involves a series of meetings that take place after the parties sign an agreement to not go to court.  If the process breaks down, the attorneys and other professionals must withdraw and the parties must hire new counsel.  As strange as it may seem, that is one of the main reasons the process almost always works -- everyone loses if the parties can't come to an agreement.  The attorneys and professionals lose business and the parties are out the fees they have already paid, along with new fees that will be required.

For more information about how the Collaborative process works, please look at some other articles in this blog.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Case Studies: How Does Collaborative Law Work?

This is the third in a series of stories about how Collaborative Law actually works in a divorce case.  These cases are not real cases.  The facts and stories are expanded and modified from real issues faced by families going through a Collaborative divorce.
                 The Teenage Kids + Wife Starting Over Case

Facts:  Husband and wife have been married for 25 years.  They have two teenage children, a boy and a girl, ages 14 and 16.  Husband is a doctor and wife has been a stay-at-home mom; she left her teaching career when the children were born.  The couple has a house, several retirement plans, a variety of  investments, an interest in the doctor's medical practice group and no debt, other than the mortgage.

Issues:  How husband can keep a relationship with the kids, how to compensate for the value of husband's medical practice, what to do with the house and how to help wife get ready to re-join the work force.

Steps Followed:  Each party has their own Collaborative attorney.  The attorneys bring in a neutral mental health  professional (MHP) and a neutral financial professional (FP). They also retain a neutral business appraiser for the husband's practice and a neutral real estate appraiser for their residence.  If the issues about husband's relationships with the children are very difficult, the attorneys might bring in a child specialist to help with coming up with a plan for the husband and children.

1st Meeting:  At the first joint meeting, the parties tell what their goals, needs and interests are so that everyone will know what each party wants to end up with.
Kid Issues:  The MHP works with everyone in the joint meetings and works with the parties, without attorneys present, to come up with a parenting plan to bring to a joint meeting. Or, the child specialist could take the lead on the parenting plan. The parenting plan covers the sharing of responsibilities for the children as well as sharing time with them.  The therapist also runs the joint meetings and makes sure that both parties are comfortable and feel safe in the discussions.  The MHP or child specialist has also answered questions and educated the parents about what to expect post-divorce with the children.

Financial Issues:  The FP gathers financial records from the parties and creates a spreadsheet to use in dividing the assets.  The attorneys coordinate the appraisals. The Financial Professional helps each party put together a budget and plan their financial futures.  The FP leads the joint meetings dealing with finances and together the parties and professionals come up with a plan to divide the assets in a beneficial way, not just each taking half of everything.  The FP also focuses on a way for both parties to meet their financial needs into the future.  Alimony will probably be a major component in providing support for the wife as she transitions back into the work force, and it will produce tax benefits for husband.  The financial professional  also helps the parties plan for the tax consequences of the financial agreements.

Result:  A comprehensive agreement is drawn up that provides for the children and allows both parents to have time with the kids that takes into account the fact that the children have become busy and independent and probably don't want to spend much time with either parent.  The property is divided and alimony is given to wife to enable her to get the training she needs to get back into the labor force while still supervising teenage children.  Wife may keep the house, if it is affordable.  Otherwise, cash is found to get her into another less-expensive residence.

Comment:  The case would probably have taken about 6-8 joint meetings because there are many difficult issues for both parties.  If it had gone to litigation, it probably would have taken a year to a year and a half to get through a trial (or a mediation just before the trial date).

To find out whether Collaborative Law would possibly work for you, talk with an attorney who has been specially trained in Collaborative Law.  If any attorney tries to talk you out of using Collaborative, you should always get a second opinion from a trained Collaborative attorney.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Case Studies: How Does Collaborative Law Work?

This is the second  in a series of stories about how Collaborative Law actually works in a divorce case.  These cases are not real cases.  The facts and stories are expanded and modified from real issues faced by families going through a Collaborative divorce.
                               The Affair Case

Facts:  This case involves a 12-year marriage and two children, ages 6 and 9.  Husband and wife both work and make a good living.  They have a house, two retirements and some cash in the bank.

Issues:  The issues here mainly revolve around the kids.  Wife knows about the affair.  She is unhappy about that, but she was also unhappy in the marriage.  She is concerned about how the girlfriend (this one and any future ones) will eventually be introduced to the children and how visitation will be shared.  Wife also feels very strongly that husband should not have the girlfriend spend the night with him, with the kids present, until husband and girlfriend marry.

Steps Followed:  The two attorneys select a neutral mental health professional (MHP) and a neutral financial professional (FP) to work with them and the parties.

1st Meeting:  At the first joint meeting, the parties  identify their goals, needs and interests and share them with everyone so the focus will be clear for future meetings.

Financial Issues:  The parties meet separately with the FP who gathers and organizes their financial information.  The FP prepares a spreadsheet and budgets for both parties.  The financial issues will be discussed at one or more joint meetings and there probably won't be too big a problem in reaching agreement.

Kid Issues:  The more difficult issues may be the ones relating to the children.  The MHP works with the parties to help the parties prepare to tell the children about the divorce and to help them come up with a plan about how to introduce new significant others for both parties to the children.  The MHP does most of the work in getting the parents to understand the need to look at this from the kids' perspective.  Visitation is probably not much of an issue, once the girlfriend issue is worked through.

Comment:  If this had gone to litigation, standard visitation schedules would have applied and the outcome on the girlfriend issues would primarily have depended on whether the Judge hearing the case considered it a big issue, regardless of how strongly the wife felt about it.  The case might have dragged out for 9 months to a year or more if the parties really got into fighting over the kids or the money.

To find out whether Collaborative Law could possibly work for you, talk with an attorney who has been specially trained in Collaborative Law.  If any attorney tries to talk you out of using Collaborative, you should always get a second opinion from a trained Collaborative attorney.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Case Studies: How Does Collaborative Law Work?

This is the first in a series of stories about how Collaborative Law actually works in a divorce case.  These cases are not real cases.  The facts and stories are expanded and modified from real issues faced by families going through a Collaborative divorce.
                               The Uneventful Case

Facts:  Husband and wife have been married for 15 years.  They have two children, a boy and a girl, ages 10 and 8.  Husband has a sales job and wife has been a stay at home mom; she left her teaching career when the children were born.  The couple has a house, two retirement plans, some investments and very little debt.

Issues:  How to share time with the kids and providing some extra support for mom as she starts to rejoin the workforce.

Steps Followed:  Each party has their own Collaborative attorney.  The attorneys bring in a neutral mental health  professional (MHP) and a neutral financial professional (FP). 

1st Meeting:  At the first joint meeting, the parties tell what their goals, needs and interests are so that everyone will know what each party wants to end up with.
Kid Issues:  The MHP works with everyone in the joint meetings and works with the parties, without attorneys present, to come up with a parenting plan to bring to a joint meeting.  The parenting plan covers the sharing of responsibilities for the children as well as sharing time with them.  The MHP has also helped the parents work out a plan for how they would tell the children.  The therapist also runs the joint meetings and makes sure that both parties are comfortable and feel safe in the discussions.  The MHP has also answered questions and educated the parents about what to expect post-divorce with the children.

Financial Issues:  The FP gathers financial records from the parties and creates a spreadsheet to use in dividing the assets.  Equally important, the Financial Professional helps each party put together a budget and plan their financial futures.  The FP leads the joint meetings dealing with finances and together the parties and professionals come up with a plan to divide the assets and a way for both parties to meet their financial needs into the future.  The FP also helps the parties plan for the tax consequences of the financial agreements.

Result:  A comprehensive agreement is drawn up that provides for the children and allows both parents to have meaningful time with the kids.  The property is divided and extra support is given to wife to enable her to do what's necessary to get back into the labor force while still being the primary caregiver of the children.

Comment:  Very few cases are this simple, but the story tells about the roles of everyone working on a Collaborative case.  The case would probably have taken about 4-5 joint meetings.

To find out whether Collaborative Law would possibly work for you, talk with an attorney who has been specially trained in Collaborative Law.  If any attorney tries to talk you out of using Collaborative, you should always get a second opinion from a trained Collaborative attorney.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Acknowledgements: Spouse of a Professional, Facing Divorce

How about the spouses of professionals?

I recently wrote about how married professionals often feel under-appreciated.  What's true for such professionals as physicians, lawyers, dentists, veterinarians, CPAs, professional athletes, financial planners, pilots, architects, engineers and many others, is also true for their spouses.  Just like the professionals to whom they are married, spouses of professionals often have a difficult time facing divorce. 

Spouses of high-earning professionals of all types experience some common problems that need to be addressed during the marriage (to save the marriage, if it's not too late!), or during a divorce.  There's always an easy way and a hard way, or a nice way and a not-so-nice way, to do divorces.  People who choose to use Collaborative Law are opting for the nicer way, but that doesn't necessarily make the process easy.

In representing spouses of professionals, I have heard some complaints over and over.  Although I don't doubt the validity of the issues, what really matters is the strong feelings associated with how the spouses feel valued or not.

Many times, busy professionals tend to overlook or minimize the sacrifices of their spouses in keeping a family together, running a household and raising children.  Sometimes, the professionals feel sorry for themselves and don't think much about their spouse.  They often take for granted the daily things the spouse does without getting much credit for it.

For professionals facing divorce, even if they haven't shown much appreciation and understanding of their spouse in the past, and even if they aren't feeling too charitable as they work through a divorce, it is certainly in their best interest to express understanding and appreciation of their spouse.  That can really help establish an atmosphere of cooperation and shared interests.

In case professionals have forgotten what their spouses have done, here are some suggestions of topics to focus on:
  • The spouse may have really carried the load for years with the kids.  That includes such time consuming actions as taking them to school and picking them up, taking them to the doctor or dentist or orthodontist, getting school supplies, buying appropriately stylist clothes for the kids, managing play dates for young kids, keeping track of dating for older kids, helping them with homework, taking the kids to sports practices and games, and many other things.  That's not to mention being a doctor and therapist for the children.  There's a lot of work that's easy to overlook if you're not in the trenches.
  • Your spouse may have carried the load with the house.  Someone has to maintain the house and get help as needed.  Some spouses decorate and clean, others hire workers.  A spouse often takes responsibility for setting up the house to entertain friends, family, business associates and others.
  • Your spouse may have worked to support the family while you were in school or in training.  The spouse may not have earned nearly what you earn now, but she or he worked hard and made it possible for you to get to your current position.
  • Many times, a spouse must deal with the fact that a professional is away from home for long periods.  Traveling may become tedious to you, but it is lonely for your spouse.
  • Believe it or not,  sometimes you are very difficult to deal with when you come home from work.  Your spouse doesn't have anywhere to go or hide.  Instead, she or he tries to comfort you and reassure you that you will get over whatever difficulty you are having at work.
  • Your spouse may have needed to take charge of the personal finances.  Because you have been so busy, your spouse often sees that the bills are paid and that the necessities are purchased.  Your spouse has had to live within a tight budge at times, even if you make a high income now.  You probably don't have time to deal with all that. 
 While you have a busy and demanding life, and the family has been rewarded by your income, that doesn't mean that your spouse has had an easy life.  If you will do a little soul searching, you will probably realize that your spouse has done a lot for you that you hadn't recognized before.

It will greatly benefit you if you will make some honest and sincere acknowledgements to your spouse and thank her or him for their contributions.  Just like you may feel under-appreciated, I'll guarantee your spouse feels the same way.  Both of you can do better by understanding more about what the other has contributed to the good aspects of your marriage.  Help yourself  and your family by recognizing your spouse's efforts.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Acknowledgements: Professional Facing Divorce

Physicians are people, too.  So are lawyers, dentists, vets, CPAs, professional athletes, financial planners, pilots,  and other professionals.  They have feelings.  Sometimes they are successful at marriage and sometimes they aren't.  It's not unusual for professionals to become very successful in their business lives and neglect their personal and family lives.  Unfortunately, they may end up divorcing.  If their spouse has felt neglected as the professional's career advanced, the spouse often becomes angry.  That may lead to an unpleasant divorce.  But, it doesn't have to.

While success in certain professions seems to depend upon the person being objective and unemotional, there are still emotions that exist deep within everyone.  One that I hear about, when representing a high wage-earning professional is a lack of appreciation from the family.  I have heard many professionals complain that they are treated just as a meal ticket or bank account.  There may be many reasons for the lack of respect and appreciation, but the situation is real. 

In Collaborative cases, we sometimes work with the parties to have more empathy and understanding for their spouses.  Working on that can make it easier to come to a settlement and to find an appropriate settlement.  If you are the spouse of a professional who works hard and makes a lot of money, but you are now facing a divorce, it is in your best interest to try to understand your spouse's perspective, even if you don't agree with it and even if you strongly dislike your spouse now.  When you are facing a divorce, it is inevitable that you will be divorced. 

The question is whether you can reach a favorable settlement or whether you want to turn over the control and decision-making to a stranger (the judge) who may not see things the way you do.  If you want to reach an amicable agreement, it helps if you have some understanding of the feelings that your spouse probably hasn't shared with you about his or her sacrifices in reaching this point of his or her and your lives.

Here are some things I have heard over and over.  That means they are common feelings and ones that your spouse may have experienced.
  • The spouse went through long years of training to reach this point.  While you may have been there and even sacrificed to make it possible, your spouse did put in a lot of sweat and dealt with a lot of stress to get here.
  • The professional puts in long hours of work.  This may be one of your complaints, but you shouldn't ignore the fact that your spouse is working hard and gets tired.
  • Although your spouse may be making a lot of money now, the pay was low and hours long in the beginning.  That's tough to put up with and probably wasn't easy for you either, but you should give credit to your spouse.
  • Your spouse works hard to earn the high income he/she is bringing home now.  No matter what career your spouse chose, hard work precedes the pay-off.
  • The work is often stressful.  Many professionals deal with life and death decisions, health issues or large financial issues.  There's a lot hanging in the balance and there's huge responsibility.
  • Many professionals sacrifice time at home with the family in order to advance in the career or maintain a high income.  Their spouses may not view it as a good thing, but many professionals believe they don't have a choice and yet they miss their family.
  • The professional is a good breadwinner.  He/she is successful.  Many would really appreciate hearing thanks from their family.
If you are married to a high-wage-earning professional and you are now facing a divorce, it would really benefit you to consider the points above and try to come up with some statements acknowledging how hard your spouse has worked, the sacrifices made and the successes they have had.  Showing some appreciation may help defrost relations and lead to a better settlement for both sides.  Talk it over with your lawyer and the mental health professional, if you are in a Collaborative divorce.

Monday, October 15, 2012

What We Do and Don't Do in Collaborative Cases

If you are trying to decide whether to take a chance and try Collaborative Law, here are some things to think about.  Keep in mind that Collaborative Law may not work in every case or for everybody.  You and your attorney should carefully consider you, your spouse and the issues of the case.  Although Collaborative has a lot of attractive qualities, it may not work well in some circumstances. 

As you are analyzing your situation, here are some elements to focus on.

What We Do

  • Focus on goals, needs and interests for all the parties.  This results in a very individualized approach that calls for more thought than typically goes into a Family Law case.  Even if you end up in litigation, it will be helpful to your attorney for you to be able to articulate what's truly important to you.  In Collaborative, we spend time helping the parties identify and clearly state their goals, needs and interests, and then we rely on them to establish our targets in settling the case.
  • Use an organized gathering of information.  The parties cooperate and share information.  We focus on the essential information instead of using a "shotgun" approach.  In litigation, there are often requests for both sides to produce the same information and some information that really won't be helpful in resolving the case.
  • Incorporate unique and creative solutions.  We try out new ideas and are unlimited by traditional or standard rules and approaches.  We are not bound to follow the standard "guidelines" in the Family Code, although we may choose to use them.
  • Reach agreements while preserving relationships.  That is especially beneficial when there are children involved.  Using two well-trained attorneys and a neutral mental health professional makes this possible.
  • Improve the communication skills of the parties.   There is a great emphasis on learning to listen and communicate respectfully and effectively and the mental health professional helps the parties.
What We Don't Do

  • Use standard guidelines as the answer.  We can consider them, but we can be flexible and come up that solutions that fit.
  • Use "positional bargaining".  We don't stake out extreme positions and negotiate to reach a settlement in the middle.  We focus on the actual needs of the parties.
  • Go for 50% or some other arbitrary share of everything.  Again, we focus on the actual needs and interests of the parties.
  • Attack each other.  The parties learn to communicate effectively so they can reach agreements.  Attacking drives the parties farther apart and usually ends up costing everyone a lot more.
  • Engage in game-playing in discovery.  We identify the information we need and then arrange for the person best able to furnish it to bring it to the neutral professional to organize it.  Game-playing and deception also cost the parties more money.

 When you are deciding whether to use Collaborative Law, do some research, think about it and talk it over with your lawyer.  Maybe these points will help you decide if it would fit your circumstances.  Good luck!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Patience Please!

Sometimes, people get anxious to get their divorce over with.  That's understandable.  Divorce is stressful, difficult and often unpleasant.  It's usually not a good experience, unless you and your spouse both are still cordial with each other and both want to move fairly quickly through the process.  Even if things start out well, try not to be in too big a hurry.

Reduce Your Expectations
Wherever you are on the scale of urgency and on the quality of the remaining relationship with your spouse,  you should keep in mind the following: 

The divorce or Collaborative process doesn't work like your business.  There's input from several directions and we have emotion playing a major role.  A good business may operate efficiently and have some degree of objectivity.  Neither condition applies to divorce.

Your perspective and your spouse's perspective will probably be distorted.  You are both anxious about what is happening and your emotions will jump in and mess things up. 

There are no clear, absolute rules.  You may get tired of hearing it, but Collaborative Law involves a lot of choices and options.  We avoid relying on standardized solutions that are quick to apply, but often don't fit well.

Emotion distorts reasoning.  Divorce and Collaborative Law are not purely logical.  We have people involved, so logic is often distorted or abandoned.  Just because something is reasonable (to you), it doesn't mean that everyone will agree with it.

Divorce is rarely simple.  As easy as you might think your case should be, talk with your attorney for a reality check.  It's never simple.

What To Do? 
Be prepared.  That will help move the process along.

Be cooperative.  That makes the process easier for everyone.

Be on time.  Waiting for information or for steps to be completed can slow down everyone and create friction.

Be realistic.  Listen to your attorney and the other professionals.

Keep things in perspective.  Think about the big picture.  Make some concessions where you can so you can get what you want elsewhere.

Bottom Line:  Be Patient!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Do I Really Need an MHP (Mental Health Professional)?

Sometimes, people start to wonder what they've gotten themselves into.  They go in to hire an attorney to do a Collaborative Divorce and they end up with a lawyer and a shared therapist and shared financial advisor.

So, why should they feel good about working with a neutral mental health professional (MHP)?  Here are some of the benefits:

Communication Facilitator.  The MHP helps the parties be comfortable in meetings.  Since the Collaborative process relies heavily on getting both parties to express their feelings, wants and needs, it is important to have someone who is trained in helping people express themselves effectively.

Maintaining Order. An MHP acts like a discussion traffic cop, if necessary.  That means that the MHP not only draws out information from the parties, but helps regulate the behavior of the parties, and even the attorneys, if needed.  Family law issues are very personal and emotional.  Attorneys are not trained to be able to recognize emotional issues and responses, much less manage them, but the mental health professional is.  I have had many situations where we took a "time out" in a joint meeting at the insistence of the MHP to cool things down or deal with some emotional issues that were building up that us attorneys weren't noticing.  Our meetings were literally saved by the MHP being able to intervene and help everyone.

Improving Listening.  People take it for granted that they know how to listen to others, but lack of listening is actually one of the biggest complaints in marriages.  MHPs are constantly helping parties become better listeners.  Part of that effort is helping people speak appropriately and part is making sure that messages are being heard correctly.  Having a neutral expert help with that develops an extremely beneficial skill which people can take away from the process.

Coaching.  While an MHP does not get involved in therapy during the Collaborative process, he or she can help the parties deal with the pressures and stresses of going through a legal process.  As a side benefit, I have had MHPs help me better understand my own client by explaining what's going on under the surface.  Getting a divorce or dealing with other family law issues can be less daunting for both with the expert help of the neutral MHP.

Parenting Specialist.  Sometimes, we bring in a separate child specialist to help the parties develop a parenting plan to take care of the children.  In many cases, however, we utilize the MHP who generally has considerable experience in helping to resolving kid issues.  They can help the parties work out living arrangements, shared possession schedules, support issues, how to share the powers of parents and such hot-button issues as managing extra-curricular activities and expenses  and how and when to tell the children about new romantic relationships of the parents.  Much of the preliminary work on those issues can be handled off-line.

Caveat 1:  The above is based on how we work with mental health professionals in Texas.  Other states and jurisdictions work with MHPs in different ways.  No way is automatically better than all others.  Each area tends to develop their own approaches, so just be sure to get information that relates to your jurisdiction.

Caveat 2:  Because of my experience, I will generally not handle a Collaborative case without a neutral mental health professional.  That is true with many other Collaborative attorneys in my area.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Value of Off-Line Meetings

When people learn about Collaborative Law, they often focus on the joint meetings where we work through the steps of reaching an agreement.  We call it the Roadmap to Resolution around here.  We determine the goals, needs and interests for each party. Then we gather information.  After that, we identify issues and brainstorm solutions.  We follow that with an analysis and comparison of options until we reach agreement.  It's actually a pretty logical progression. 

A lot of the work happens in joint meetings, but significant preparation is also done outside of the joint meetings.  Everything comes together and stays together because of "off-line" meetings.  Here's how.

  • Before the joint meetings, the attorneys will usually meet with their client.  Sometimes, those meetings are a day or a few days before the joint meeting.  Other times, the meetings will be for a few minutes just before the joint meeting.  Those meetings are important for the attorney and party to update each other and to discuss what to expect at the joint meeting.  The result is a more productive meeting and a client who feels more secure in the process.
  • After the joint meetings, attorneys usually meet with their client briefly, at the meeting site or sometimes later by phone or in person.  This meeting is to review and discuss what happened at the joint meeting. It helps attorneys find out how their client was feeling about things and it helps the client better understand what happened at the meeting.
  • Between joint meetings, the parties often will meet with the other professionals to gather and review financial information, discuss options, work out a draft of a parenting  plan or do other preliminary steps.  This informal work is less stressful for the parties and allows the professionals to answer questions and follow up efficiently on requests for information.  As a result, a lot of preliminary work gets done without the cost of having the attorneys around.  The professionals work in their specialized areas, saving time and money for the parties.
  • Also between joint meetings, parties will meet with their attorney as needed.  It is in a private, confidential setting and the attorney can answer questions, give advice and help their client to prepare for the joint meeting coming up.    
  • A final type of meeting between joint meetings is a meeting or conference call involving some or all of the professionals in the case.  Occasionally, a problem or crisis will come up in a case, and it would be helpful for the professionals to discuss what's happening in the case.  Sometimes, only one professional knows about it, but the activity can threaten the success or change the direction of the process, so it is important for all the professionals to know about it.  That way, they can come up an appropriate response to keep the process on track for a successful conclusion.
The Collaborative process involves a lot of communication between the parties, between the parties and their attorneys, between the parties and the other professionals and between all the professionals in the case.  The enhanced communication helps make Collaborative Law a much more effective, efficient and safe way for people to resolve family law issues.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Should I Use Collaborative Law in an Uncontested Divorce?

First, we need to understand what an "Uncontested Divorce" really is.  There are two common definitions which reflect different points of view.

 A party to the divorce may say that the spouses have agreed to have an uncontested divorce. That usually means that the parties both want, or at least will agree, to be divorced.  Very often, though, there is no agreement on the terms of the divorce.

For a lawyer, an uncontested divorce is one where the parties both agree to be divorced and they agree on all the terms of the divorce.  That means that they have agreed on custody, child support, visitation, property division, payment of debts, the possibility of spousal support or not,  tax issues and any other matters.  If any of those issues have not been agreed upon, it is not an uncontested divorce, according to the lawyers.

The Answer:

If your situation is the second example and everything already is agreed, you don't really need to use the Collaborative process.  If all terms have already been worked out, then you don't need to spend the money on a team of professionals to go over the agreement.  

On the other hand, if one or more of the issues remain in negotiation, then it may be worthwhile to use Collaborative Law.  If you both want to get divorced, but can't agree on some issues, that's a good situation for the use of Collaborative Law.

Alternative Situation:

If one person wants the divorce and the other doesn't, Collaborative Law may be a very good means to work things out.  Keep in mind that if one person wants a divorce and the other party doesn't, eventually a court will grant the divorce. Collaborative Law would be a good alternative because it is less destructive than litigation on family relationships and it can lead to mutually agreeable solutions.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

How to Get Information about Fort Worth Collaborative Lawyers

Let's say you have heard a little about Collaborative Law and you want to find out more because you are about to start on a divorce.  If you live or work in Fort Worth, Texas, you may want to find a Collaborative lawyer in or near Fort Worth to talk with. 

Most people find family lawyers by getting a referral from a friend, relative, lawyer or other professional, or by searching on the Internet, or by both methods.

One of the questions you will need to answer is whether location is important to you.  Most people don't want someone far away from where they live or work, but location is not always a big consideration.  

In Collaborative cases, we have a series of joint meetings as we work through a case.  The meetings often alternate between the two attorneys' offices, but I have also had cases where most of the meetings have occurred in just one of the attorneys' office or in the neutral financial professional's office. We tend to use the location that is most convenient for our clients.  That means that location is not always a big factor, although it is something to consider.

So, how do you find a Collaborative attorney for your case?  Location is one issue. Recommendations are very important.  Information on qualifications and experience that is available online is important.  But ultimately, your chemistry with the attorney is probably the most important factor. 

You need to meet with the attorney in person and talk strategy, experience, communication, and any issues that are really important to you.   Information about the other factors may get you in the door of the attorney's office, but chemistry determines whether you stay.  Your attorney needs to really understand your objectives and needs.  Be leery of an attorney who starts to take over the case and tell you what you want and need.

Chemistry is also an important factor for both the attorney as well.  Like many other attorneys, I don't take on representation of just everyone who comes in.  That would be a disservice to the client.  The attorney needs to feel a connection, just like the client needs the connection, trust and confidence with the attorney's ability to handle the case in an appropriate way. 

If you are hiring an attorney, be sure you feel right about the choice and don't just settle for what others have told you to do.  You will be much better in the long run.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Why You Shouldn't Negotiate with Your Spouse

As a Collaborative case progresses, one or both of the parties often want to "save time" or "save money" by negotiating directly with their spouse, outside of the joint Collaborative meetings.  That's usually a bad idea from my experience.  Why?
Here are some common problems that arise when the parties go off on their own and directly negotiate some aspects of their case.
1.  One spouse often dominates.  That's usually the one who came up with the idea of meeting, talking and getting some quick decisions.  That spouse often tries to pressure the other spouse into agreeing on some issues, and that conflicts with the structure and safety that Collaborative Law offers.
2.  One spouse may have more information.  Usually, that's the spouse pushing to get quick decisions.  The other spouse may be at a disadvantage from lack of preparation and lack of information.
3.  Having the private meetings skips steps in the Collaborative process and the parties lose the advantages of organized information gathering, analysis and brainstorming.  For the party with the agenda, that's not so bad.
4.  There's no referee.  The mental health professional (MHP) is not around to make sure each party treats the other party appropriately.  Things can easily get out of hand, with arguments ensuing.
5.  The parties can easily get caught up in small details and argue over them, rather than considering the bigger issues.  Small issues can lead to big arguments and hardening of positions for future negotiations.
6.  One spouse may feel pressured.  Each spouse already knows how to put pressure on their other spouse.  That can lead to hurt feelings, anger or fear, none of which helps future negotiations.
7.  The discussions can easily become heated.  That can end up moving the parties away from possible agreements.  It's easy to slip back into old patterns of argument when the MHP isn't around to keep the peace.

There's a fine line between necessary communication on minor issues and private negotiations between the parties.  Make sure you don't cross over the line.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Professionals Getting Divorced Respectfully

Professionals of all kinds often live a high reward-high risk business life.  They do stressful work, whether they are doctors, lawyers, accountants, pilots, engineers, athletes, business owners or other professionals.  It has often taken a long time and a lot of hard work to reach a level of success and sometimes the family suffers.  Relationships are hard to maintain in the best of circumstances, and professionals often are called on to make personal sacrifices to advance in their careers.
As a result of many factors, professionals may end up facing a divorce.  If that time comes, they usually prefer to work through the process as quietly as possible, for many obvious reasons.  Because of that, Collaborative Law has become an attractive option for professionals dealing with divorce and other family issues.  Here are some considerations that lead to that conclusion:
1.  Collaborative Law affords the parties privacy.  Instead of filing various pleadings and motions in court, having hearings and depositions, and doing voluminous discovery, the parties in Collaborative Law have a series of short, private meetings to work out agreements.  It is a less-adversarial process and it works quietly in confidential meetings.  The parties agree to stay out of court until they prove up the final agreement.
2.  Collaborative Law permits flexible scheduling.  Many professionals are quite busy and just aren't able to suddenly change schedules and run to the courthouse or show up for depositions.  In Collaborative Practice, the meetings can be scheduled to work around the availability of the parties and minimize the inconvenience for everyone.  That rarely happens in litigation.
3.  Neutral experts are used in limited roles in Collaborative cases.  We normally use a neutral mental health professional (MHP) to assist the parties communicate effectively and deal with the stress of the process.  The MHP often helps the parties resolve children's issues as well.  In addition, we use a neutral financial professional (FP) to gather and organize the financial information.  The FP also leads the discussions reviewing the financial summary and generating options for property division.  If we need to get appraisals of real estate or business values, we hire one neutral expert to establish the values.  All of that is in contrast to litigation where each side independently usually hires their own set of experts, doubling the cost and increasing the fighting.
4.  Both sides are helped to be realistic.  Using neutral experts and having experienced Collaborative lawyers all working together to help the parties come to agreement truly benefits the parties.  Instead of encouraging the parties to take extreme positions in negotiations, the team helps the parties focus on their underlying goals and needs.  They also help the parties be reasonable in their objectives by openly dealing with the facts and information that is shared throughout the process.
5.  Help is available for the difficult emotions often experienced in divorce.  Collaborative attorneys are better prepared to deal with emotional issues, but even more important is the MHP who attends all the joint meetings and who can also work one-on-one, not to provide therapy, but to help the parties deal with the emotions and challenges of making important personal decisions and changing relationships.
Collaborative Law won't work for everyone, but it can be very effective and not as difficult or destructive as litigation, in the proper case.  Professionals can get information about Collaborative Law by talking with attorneys, MHPs or FPs who are trained in the process.  Good luck!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

What Happens if Someone Refuses to Provide Requested Information?

This is a common question, but an uncommon problem.  It is a logical question if one is coming from the world of family law litigation.  Why?  Because people are deceitful and hide or destroy evidence all the time.  Sometimes they get caught.  Sometimes they don't.  That's litigation.
In Collaborative Law, cases are supposed to operate differently.  People are expected to voluntarily cooperate in sharing information without going through all the formalities of litigation discovery.  To many attorneys, used to working with clients in litigation, it is hard to understand how or why a voluntary system would work.
The simple answer is that it is up to the attorneys and other professionals to screen out the bad apples, the clients who are inherently dishonest or who clearly aren't comfortable opening up everything.  Many of the bad apples aren't interested at all in trying to be cooperative and sharing information, so many problems are avoided.
Still, there are some problems that come out, even from honest, well-intentioned people.  Maybe the information is embarrassing or showing certain information will likely lead to bigger fights, or maybe they are getting caught in some lies and react the way many people have tried in the past -- stonewalling.
If that happened, the options for dealing with it would be:  (This is assuming that the information exists, is available to at least one person and the information is deemed, by one or more of the professionals,  relevant to an important issue.)  Here are some possible courses of action:
  • Try to find the information through another source.
  • The party's attorney would talk with the client to try to gain cooperation.
  • The mental health professional or the financial professional would talk with the party.
Possible termination.  If none of those steps works, the professionals and the other party have the right to terminate the process or to continue the process without the information.  If the process is terminated, both sides will need to hire new attorneys to complete the legal action.  The threat of that additional expense might be enough to gain cooperation.  If the case moves to litigation, it's likely that the information can be ordered to be produced, but there's still no guarantee of compliance.  Of course, a judge can make the uncooperative party pay for it at the decision time.
Many people considering Collaborative Law wonder about how to force the other side to disclose necessary information.  In reality, it's mostly a theoretical question.  In over 10 years of doing Collaborative cases, I can't remember a single case where requested  information was withheld. That may be because the people choosing Collaborative are already willing to follow the rules and be cooperative.  In addition, the professionals are careful at the outset to not start up a case where someone likely won't abide by the rules and practices of Collaborative Law.
Bottom Line:  Don't worry about whether information will be provided.  It hasn't been a problem so far.

Friday, June 15, 2012

What to Expect at the 1st Joint Meeting (and Why)

Collaborative Law is different enough from litigation that we insist on having a first joint meeting to put in a foundation so that everyone can be comfortable in the process.  This will be a brief introduction to the process.

1. Introductions.   We start off the first meeting by introducing ourselves to each other.  We usually have a team that includes two attorneys, a mental health professional (MHP) and a financial professional (FP).   Since we will all work together in an informal atmosphere, it is helpful for everyone to get to know who they will be working with.  We like to keep things informal and normally go by first names.  In contrast to litigation, attorneys and all parties speak directly to each other, which usually improves communication.

The first meeting is usually one of the few meetings when the whole team is together.  Most of the time, the parties work with just one professional at a time.  In some situations, if it helps the parties be more comfortable, we have the MHP present when the parties are working with the FP in gathering and organizing the financial records.  The MHP normally works alone with parties doing the preliminary work on kid issues.

2.  Reviewing the Participation Agreement.  Everyone should receive and read an advance copy of the Participation Agreement.  (A generic copy is available on my web site.)  The attorneys normally give out copies in advance and often review the agreement with their client.  We really emphasize the Agreement because it is carefully drafted to educate the participants and to clarify what will be happening, or what could happen, in the Collaborative  process.  We want to avoid misunderstandings and to encourage realistic expectations.

3.  Road Map to Resolution.  This document, also available on my web site, outlines  the steps of the Collaborative process.  We follow a logical, standard pattern that leads to an agreement that both parties are comfortable with.  The steps start with discussing the goals of both parties, researching the facts of the case, determining the issues, coming up with options and then evaluating the options and reaching agreements. Experience has shown  there are better results when we follow the process and don't skip steps and jump ahead.

4.  Rules of  Conduct.  These are reminders of common sense rules of how to act in meetings.  We want everyone to be comfortable and feel safe, while effectively  moving to a mutually agreeable settlement.  The Rules are good reminders in the heat of the moment when discussions sometimes get difficult.

5.  Goals.  One of the most important steps in the first meeting is often harder than it might seem on the surface.  We want the parties to each come up with their broad goals relating what's important to them and how they would like the case resolved.  We insist that the parties go beyond wanting a "fair" settlement and a"good relationship" or "as much time as possible" with the kids.

Some useful goals that we sometimes get are:  Having an adequate level of support until a party finishes school; Having financial security at retirement; Minimizing debt coming out of the divorce; Being involved with the child on a daily or weekly basis; or Having enough cash for a down payment on a house.  These are broad, but somewhat specific and they give us targets to work for.

6.  Dealing with Immediate Issues.  Sometimes we need to help the parties deal with interim issues of paying bills, sharing time with the kids and who stays in the house, among other things.  We can have brief discussions of such issues to help the parties until the next joint meeting.

7.  Schedule Future Meetings.  We usually schedule one or two joint meetings, as well as individual meetings with the mental health professional and the financial professional.

What's Not Included:  Don't expect to jump in and start negotiating at the first meeting.

Caveat:  Different Collaborative professionals will have slight variations on how they like to conduct a first meeting.  Always talk with your own professionals to find out what they will be doing.

Friday, June 1, 2012

5 Reasons to Use Collaborative Law for a Divorce after a Long-Term Marriage

Divorces for Baby Boomers and others who have been in long-term marriages can be complicated and emotionally difficult.  Unfortunately, the court system doesn't provide a very gentle or nuanced response to divorce situations.  Most often, courts take a one-size-fits-all approach.  They apply standard guidelines for child support and visitation and will divide assets on a roughly 50-50 basis, unless there are special reasons that might justify a  55-45 or 60-40 split, or something in that neighborhood.  Although the purse strings have loosened somewhat over the past few years, alimony is still not much of a factor.

One of the best ways to get an appropriate, customized, creative agreement is to utilize Collaborative Law.  Here are some reasons why it's a good approach for ending long-term marriages.

1.  The Collaborative process allows the parties to respectfully manage their emotions.    Both parties usually work with a neutral mental health professional (MHP) who can help the parties acknowledge anger, fear, anxiety or whatever other emotion shows up.  The MHP can also share constructive ways to deal with their emotions, and also help the other party accept the emotions without overreacting.

2.  A Collaborative divorce can proceed with reasonable speed to accommodate the needs of both parties. The process does not rely on arbitrary timetables that must be followed.  The parties, with professional guidance, work out their own schedule and plan for resolving the issues.  Collaborative Law allows both parties to be comfortable with the scheduling.  Sometimes the parties must take some financial steps, such as planning or finding employment, that  will take some time, and it is easy to find the time for that in Collaborative Law.

3.  Expert financial guidance is easily available.  We usually start off with a neutral financial professional (FP) who manages the gathering and organizing of the financial records. That is much more efficient than relying on attorneys and their staffs to supervise the financial information. If we need specialized financial help, a neutral, joint expert can be hired to deal with the issue.

4.  Privacy is protected.  Virtually all work is done in private, confidential meetings.  We don't have hearings at the courthouse and don't do formal discovery or depositions.  We reach private agreements as we progress, instead of having multiple public hearings.

5.  Cost is reasonable.  Collaborative Law is not cheap, but there are some cost savings.  We utilize single, neutral experts whenever needed, in addition to the MHP and FP.  When there is a business or real estate to be appraised, we use one agreed-upon expert instead of dueling experts.  Much of the preliminary work is done with the FP and MHP, without the attorneys being present, which saves a great deal of money.  Even when we have the full team present with the parties, meetings generally run more efficiently because of the experts guiding the discussions. 

Ending a long-term marriage is complicated and deserves a careful, competent and unrushed process. Collaborative Law is usually the best approach for everyone involved.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

What if You're Uncomfortable Talking About Your Case?

If you enter into a Collaborative Law procedure, you should expect to speak up for yourself, but don't feel overwhelmed if you are not comfortable speaking to your spouse or others in that context. You will have the support of your attorney, the neutral mental health professional and possibly a coach. For context, you should keep in mind that, in litigation, you could end up speaking/testifying in court, a much less supportive environment. 

If you are in litigation, there's not too much than can be done unless you can work out a settlement without going to court.   Otherwise, you will probably have to testify.  The other side can even call you as a witness.

In a Collaborative case, there are several things that can be done.

  • First, discuss the situation with your attorney.  In Collaboration, you are normally expected to speak up and give information and your opinion on different matters.  If you are not comfortable, please discuss that with your attorney as soon as possible.  The attorney might be able to reassure you, or the attorney might help you come up with some strategies to overcome it or compensate for the feelings. 
  • You should also discuss your feelings with the mental health professional (MHP).  We use the MHP in Texas as a communication coach.  She or he can help you deal with your underlying concerns or help you learn strategies to overcome the issue.
  • You can get  a personal counselor or coach for just you.  Please let your attorney know, but there's nothing wrong with getting some help for that issue.  If you don't know a counselor or coach, your attorney or the MHP can help you find one.
  •  In some cases, your attorney can carry more of the load for speaking at meetings.  Normally, we prefer for each party to speak for himself or herself, but it is possible to work out some other arrangements.  You can discuss that with your attorney.
  • The professionals can probably come up with other  ideas on how to help you,  They meet frequently by themselves during the Collaborative process, and they can customize some solution to work in your unique situation.
 The main thing is to communicate your feelings and concerns as early in the process as possible.  Your attorney is a good starting point, as is the MHP.  The good news is that the Collaborative Law  process is much more flexible than litigation in dealing with circumstances like this. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

What if There's No Collaborative Attorney in Your County?

Although Collaborative Law is spreading throughout Texas, there are still many counties that don't have trained Collaborative professionals.  Sometimes, in those under-served counties, people facing divorce are researching how to get divorced and uncover information about Collaborative Law.  Many of those people are intrigued, but then become frustrated because no one locally does Collaborative Law.  

Why don't all attorneys do Collaborative Law?

First, you should understand that attorneys need special training in order to be able to do Collaborative Law.  We normally go through a two-day basic training in the concepts and do a lot of role-playing to help learn the techniques and start to get comfortable.  An attorney without the training, technically can claim to do Collaborative Law,but they really won't have a "feel" for how it works.  They might be able to do an easy case, but will not be able to deal with difficult issues and difficult clients.  (Collaborative is not just for the "easy" cases.)

Some attorneys haven't learned enough about Collaborative Law to see its advantages.  Sometimes clients have to educate them.

Other attorneys are very comfortable with the current way they practice and just don't want to try something new.  That's very understandable and it's probably a good decision for them.

Some attorneys have heard about Collaborative Law and are opposed to it.  That seems to be a small group and my experience is that they don't really understand how and why the process works.  I also think they will usually come around and start practicing Collaborative Law when they see the market demand for it.  It's kinda the way mediation caught on in Texas in the 1980's and 1990's.

Sometimes there hasn't been convenient training in Collaborative Law.  That's a reality.  The Collaborative Law Institute of Texas (CLI-Tx) and various local groups have sponsored training and the State Bar of Texas has joined in as well, but it's hard to find two available days when there's a training at a convenient location.  For many attorneys, it's just a matter of time.

There's also a large group of neutral attorneys who are still waiting to see if Collaborative Law will "take off".  They are gradually getting the training, so there will be a bigger pool of attorneys in the future.

So, what can you do if there's no Collaborative attorney in your county?
In  some counties, you may be able to find Collaborative attorneys in an adjacent county.  For Example, many Collaborative attorneys in Tarrant County would be willing to work with parties from Parker County, Wise County, Johnson County, Ellis County or Hood County, and possibly other places.  Several years ago, another attorney and I did a Collaborative case for a Wichita Falls couple and met for meetings in Decatur.  You will find that Collaborative attorneys are enthusiastic about the process and will go out of their way to accommodate clients.

I believe, as demand grows, there will be more attorneys getting the training so they can do Collaborative cases.

The bottom line:  Look up the closest Collaborative attorney and discuss the situation.  You will always find someone willing to help if at all possible!

Monday, April 16, 2012

How to Speed Up the Collaborative Law Process

For many different reasons, people going through the Collaborative Law process are anxious to settle their cases quickly.  It may be to save money, to stop the pain and stress from the end of a relationship or just the desire to start another chapter in their life.  Whatever the motivation, the parties often are in a hurry to get it over with.
In the interest of speeding up the process, here are some things you can do if you are a party to a Collaborative divorce.
  1. Be available for meetings.  Be flexible with your schedule.  It sounds simple, but one of the top reasons for delays is the difficulty in getting three, five or six people together when they are all available.  On the other hand, if your schedule is extremely difficult to manage, Collaborative may be a better process for you simply because you have very little control over scheduling in a litigated case. 
  2. Gather information and documents early.  You and your spouse will need to provide detailed and up-to-date information on your children and your finances.  If you have it together early, in an organized fashion, that will save time.
  3.  Be agreeable.  You don't have to rollover and agree to everything your spouse suggests, but you can be pleasant and pick and choose only the truly significant issues to have extended discussions on.  If there are a lot of important issues that you need resolved, then be realistic.  It's going to take a while to work them out.  Don't expect your spouse to just agree to anything and everything you propose.  Be realistic.
  4. Be ready.  Show up for meetings.  Don't put them off, unless it is unavoidable.  Be prepared for the meetings.  When you get assignments to work on aspects of the case, be responsible and get things done.  If you can't complete your task, let everyone know ahead of time.  You might reschedule the meeting to avoid wasting time.  Generally, if you are concerned about speeding up the process, do your share -- on time!
  5. Follow the rules and the steps of the process.  At the first joint meeting (the one that often seems boring and unnecessary if you are in a hurry), we go over the steps we follow in the process (usually referred to as the "Roadmap to Resolution") and we discuss how everyone should act in the meetings.  If everyone behaves well and follows  the steps of the process, we can move along pretty quickly.
Keep in mind that Collaborative Law is NOT meant to be a FAST  process.  But, it is more civilized, less stressful, more efficient, private and set up for the parties to create a solution from their own decision-making.  If you follow the above suggestions, you will also operate as quickly as is possible.

Monday, April 2, 2012

How Fast is Collaborative Law?

Here's a quick answer.

  • The Collaborative Law process is NOT FAST.  When you are dealing with significant assets and important family relationships, it is not prudent to make snap decisions.  When there are important matters to decide, be prepared to take an appropriate amount of time to analyze the situation and then come to a decision.  This is not a short-cut process where we guess about things and seriously consider other options.  If you are in a huge hurry, don't waste your time on Collaborative.
  • Collaborative Law is probably/usually faster than litigation.  The key information is that most contested litigated cases take a long time to resolve.  They often take a year or more.  Collaborative cases are almost always resolved much quicker than that.  On the other hand, if the case if very complicated, the parties have special needs to be addressed or family events get in the way (marriage, death, job loss, etc.), the process can be drawn out.  In most cases, however, Collaborative will be FASTER (although not fast).
  •  It's not really possible to compare how a case would turn out in Collaborative Law versus how it would run in litigation.  We can't get the facts of your case and then tell you with any accuracy how it would play out in each process.  Once a case starts in either process, new events change the facts and attitudes, and decisions are made based on changing circumstances.  Each decision leads us down a different path.  Both processes involve us continually making new decisions, based on new facts and new perspectives, resulting in us going in new directions.  Cases  aren't handled the same ways in both processes, so there's no easy comparison between them.  Similarly, you can't compare your Collaborative case to someone else's Collaborative case, just like no two litigated cases are the same.
While I stand by the conclusion that Collaborative Law is not FAST, I still believe it is the best process for resolving family law issues for a great number of people.  If you have concerns about what the best approach is for you to take, consult with a Collaborative Law trained lawyer.  We don't recommend the process for everyone, but it might be a good fit for you!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Speaking Up for Yourself

Communication is important in most aspects of life. That's true in both pleasant and unpleasant circumstances. We are all taught to speak up for ourselves in certain situations, but some people do so more easily than others. In Collaborative cases, it's very important to communicate your thoughts, ideas, needs, values, concerns, analysis or preferences.

Fortunately, Collaborative Law provides the safest possible environment for you to be able to express yourself. When you start a Collaborative case, here are some circumstances that you should expect to arise where you will need to communicate.

1. You will need to talk with your attorney frequently. Usually, at the least, there will be brief discussions by you and your attorney before and after joint meetings. Between meetings, you can and should call your attorney with any questions. During joint meetings, there are sometimes breaks so the parties can visit privately with their attorney.

2. You should report any new problems or complications to your attorney and potentially to the neutral mental health professional (MHP) or financial professional (FP) if it affects the MHP or FP. Keeping the professionals informed and up-to-date will allow us to help you through difficulties that inevitably come up in any case. The main thing is: Let us know right away, good or bad.

3. You will be talking directly with the MHP and FP about significant portions of your case. Decisions are made in the joint meetings, but a lot of preliminary work goes on between the two parties and the MHP and FP. That is normally a very easy and comfortable situation.

4. At joint meetings, you will need to speak up or, if you are not comfortable, ask for a break and then talk with your attorney. If you are nervous, you can consult with the MHP to help be able to speak up or maybe we can come up with an alternative strategy. Although it is preferable for each party to speak up for himself or herself, in some cases we have allowed the attorney to speak for the client. It's really better for the parties to speak for themselves because the communication is more direct and the party's true message can be better conveyed by the party, so we try to adjust things to make that possible. Most people speak freely at the joint meetings because they are surrounded by well-trained and concerned professionals.

5. Another aspect of Collaborative communication is emails. In Collaborative cases, we do rely on emails quite a bit to share information, set up meetings and ask questions. You can expect the need to check your emails regularly.

Caution: The one major aspect of communication that we discourage in Collaborative cases is negotiating directly (outside of joint meetings) with your spouse on issues that we are discussing in the process. That almost always ends badly as one or both parties let their guards down when the professionals are not around. It's just not a good idea.

The good news about communication in Collaborative cases is that it is safe, less stressful than litigation and has many safeguards build in. Feel free to express any concerns you have to your attorney or to your MHP. They want to help you succeed!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Finding a Job in the Midst of a Divorce (Preparation for Job Re-Entry)

For many people, getting divorced coincides with a sudden re-entry into the job market. There are a number of legitimate reasons why one party to a marriage has been out of work for a while. In long-term marriages, the period of unemployment is often many years. It may be because of staying home with the kids, moving with a spouse whose job transferred him or her or getting laid off. Sometimes, it's a matter of changing interests -- an old career is no longer attractive. For these and other reasons, it is fairly common for one spouse in a long-term marriage to suddenly have to shift gears and start or re-start a career to be self-supporting.

The resulting job search is a common feature, especially in Collaborative divorces. While I can't give you a perfect answer to the question of how to find a job, I can help you get started in discovering the answer for yourself. Fortunately, in a Collaborative divorce, you are more likely to get cooperation from a spouse and you won't be facing the time and scheduling pressures normally associated with litigation. If education is needed, that can usually be provided for.

Here are some suggestions for getting started. These were inspired by a recent post in a blog called "Attorney at Work". It's a (very good!) blog for lawyers, and the post is about lawyers, but the approach is sound and useful for someone transitioning through a divorce and new job search.

No Idea?
If you have no idea what kind of work you want to do, you should begin researching how to identify your career preferences, interests and abilities. You should also look for opportunities, such as fields that are currently hiring in your locale (or wherever you want to live). Consider whether you want to return to a prior career or try something completely new. You can do some reading and try to figure things out yourself, or you can meet with a professional who can help you in your search. To find someone to help, look on line and ask others for recommendations for counselors.

Some Ideas.
When you have some ideas about what kind of work you want to do, you should explore the possibilities. Investigate with an open mind! Here are some steps you can follow:
  • Think. If you have an idea of what you might want to do for a living, you can start to prepare for a job search by thinking through your options. Do you want to work full-time, part-time or flex-time? Do you want to work from home or go in to an office or other job site? Do you want to stay in the same city or metro area or state? What pay level would you start at, in a perfect world? Think about such details so you can start to define what job or jobs you would consider.
  • Talk. Visit with people in the field you are interested in. It's hard for anyone to find a job, so don't feel bad about talking with friends and acquaintances about your job project. Ask for help! Put the word out that you are looking. You never know what will show up.
  • Train. Having been out of work for a while, you will need new training and updated skills. You will become more marketable if you broaden your knowledge about your chosen field. Get advice. Find out what's needed and what others are doing. Find successful people in the field and ask for their help.

I will do a follow-up post to this about what to do next. Be patient. It's extremely unlikely that you will find a great job quickly. Think it through and prepare before you really get started. It's the old "Look before you leap" approach. That helps, even in a job search.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Why You Might Want Help in Negotiations

"Do it yourself" is a time-honored tradition for many things. Home improvements or repairs come to mind -- a good idea for a handyman, but not such a good idea for others, like me, without the talent and experience to know what to do or how to do it for projects above the basic level. On the other hand, there are lots of books and videos about how to do things without hiring expert help.

The "do it yourself" spirit has invaded the legal field, encouraged by forms, videos, web sites, blogs, e books and other books. There are also some non-lawyer services that provide help. Many people are willing to take on their own legal matters and it works out well for some of them. For others, there can be significant problems. How do you decide whether to step up and negotiate your own case? Here are some considerations.

1. Do you have the full information? Do you know what you need to know and how to get it? Most people don't, and it can be difficult sometimes, even for experienced lawyers. If you have all the needed information, you may not need help. If you are unprepared on the information, your result will suffer.

2. Is there equal information for both sides? Often, one party in a marriage tends to monopolize the information on all the financial issues or the children's matters. The other party can negotiate effectively only if he or she gets access to all the information.

3. Is there equal bargaining ability? Does one party have more experience or ability in bargaining? Sometimes one party does negotiations at work or has received special training in negotiations and that may give that party an unfair advantage. (It could be you or your spouse!)

4. Is there a power imbalance? If one party always seems to dominate the other, the submissive party is not going to do well in negotiations. Even with a mediator or some other facilitator, one spouse can easily intimidate the other prior to the negotiation sessions.

5. Is there equal motivation for both parties? If one spouse is more motivated than the other, the unmotivated one may get run over.

6. Has there been adequate preparation? One party may be pushing strongly to wrap everything up quickly, while the other may not be ready for a long time. The motivated one may have been preparing for a long time, emotionally and otherwise, and the other spouse may need more time to prepare. Without enough prep time, the negotiations are not going to go well.

7. Is there trust between the parties? There are different levels of trust, but a complete absence of trust and goodwill may doom any negotiations.

Bottom Line: If there are imbalances in the relation of the parties, the dominant one will very likely have a significant advantage in negotiations if the parties try to reach an agreement without using attorneys. Don't allow your spouse to pressure you into agreeing to negotiate if any of the problems above are present. Instead, talk to a lawyer and get some professional help. Attorneys have several methods
, including Collaborative Law, available to resolve conflicts.

Other posts have explained the benefits of Collaborative Law. Look into it before deciding to negotiate for yourself. Collaborative Law addresses these issues by cooperatively gathering, sharing and analyzing information. The process involves professionals as neutrals who work for both parties and the attorneys. Any imbalances are leveled out by the professionals so that each party can work to achieve their goals and meet their needs.

You may be making your most important financial, family and legal decisions, and it's not a time to be cheap. Your future is on the line!