Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Cost of a Collaborative Case: Is It Cheap? Part 2

There's an old joke about divorce that sometimes goes like this:

Q:  Was your divorce cheap?
A:  No, but it was worth it!

That joke could now apply to Collaborative divorces.  They are not cheap, but, if people must go through a divorce, this process is a much better way to do it.  At the same time, there are some ways to save some money.  Generally, the parties are better behaved and managed and cases are better resolved.

1.     The process allows the parties and attorneys to avoid expensive activities.  In difficult litigated cases, a lot of actions are instigated to wear down the other side.  There are often multiple hearings for temporary orders, clarification orders, modifications, enforcement and other reasons.  It becomes a war of attrition as one side beats up on the other, all the while costing both parties much more money.  Another means of that is using demanding or threatening letters between the attorneys.

       Since Collaborative Law doesn't allow the parties to go to court, that avenue is eliminated.  In addition, there is a lot more direct communication and dealing with the issues in Collaborative cases, instead of posturing.  Plus, the other professionals are closely involved and helping.  For example, if there are visitation problems, the mental health professional will meet with the parties, if needed, to help them resolve the issues.  They can also be addressed directly in joint meetings and there is a great deal more direct communication, even between meetings, among the attorneys and other professionals.

2.     There's better decision-making in Collaborative cases. There are several reasons why the Collaborative process is generally better than litigation.
  • The parties participate in all decisions.  In litigation, often the attorneys tend to make many of the decisions, standard guidelines are used or the issue is turned over to a judge to decide.  In Collaborative cases, the parties participate in discussions and no agreement is made unless everyone agrees.
  • When needed, neutral experts are readily brought in and the mental health professional and financial professional are normally always involved, so the parties can easily turn to experts in Collaborative cases.
  • There is a focus on the future, instead of assigning blame for past problems.  Looking ahead and not looking back saves time and avoids unproductive arguing over fault. It also allows the parties to move ahead without further damage to their relationship.
3.     Finally, there's a greater commitment to the terms of an agreement than there is to the terms of an order imposed by an outsider, such as a judge.  There's more buy-in when the parties participated in creating a plan, compromised with each other and committed to the final terms.  Even though parties should follow an order from a judge, they are going to feel better and usually be more willing to follow their own agreement which is probably slightly (but importantly) different from a judge's order.  That usually means there's more compliance and less fighting post divorce!

 As the old joke suggests, divorce is rarely cheap, but if it's done right, it can be worth it.  If you are facing this difficult time, you should look into using the Collaborative Law process.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Cost of a Collaborative Case: Is It Cheap? Part I

Some people become interested in Collaborative Law because they are looking for a cheap way to get a divorce.  They assume one lawyer can handle the process and that there will be no fighting as they come to agreements.  Unfortunately, Collaborative Law doesn't work that. There are always two lawyers and the parties often disagree on matters, but we keep the parties focused on the issues and are usually able to come to acceptable agreements even on difficult issues. Fortunately, Collaborative Law can still be a very cost-effective way to handle divorce and other family law matters.

Most of the time, when Collaborative Law is used, the parties can save money in various ways, including the following:

1.     The attorneys don't use unproductive and wasteful discovery methods.  In litigation, attorneys almost automatically use fairly standard, broad discovery requests.  In Texas, we typically send out 25 written questions (Interrogatories) to be answered, 20 to 60 or more specific Requests for Production of documents and records and a standard Request for Disclosure of basic information, and then we do Depositions. Attorneys throw out a broad net to capture as much information as possible and then spend time reviewing the results and piecing the facts together.

       In contrast, in a Collaborative case, we usually have  a neutral Financial Professional (FP) and a neutral Mental Health Professional (MHP) gathering specific information about the finances and the children's issues, respectively.   We don't use written discovery or do depositions.  The parties are given specific lists of documents to provide that deal with the relevant issues specific to their case. The FP and MHP direct the gathering of information and that saves money for the parties because the FP and MHP charge less per hour than the attorneys do, who do the work in litigated cases. The FP puts together a spreadsheet that captures the relevant financial information.

2.     For property valuations, we normally use one neutral expert in Collaborative cases.  In litigation, it is common for each party to have their own expert for appraisals.  In addition to paying for two experts, the parties often pay for depositions and court testimony of the experts, costs that are avoided in Collaborative Law cases.

3.     In Collaborative cases, we don't have expensive court hearings.  In contested  litigated cases, there are often multiple hearings.  In addition to having to go to court several times, the parties face waits and delays whenever they go.  Unfortunately, the courts are overcrowded and overbooked.  That explains why it often takes a 3-hour trip to the courthouse for a simple hearing -- a lot of the time is wasted in waiting.

       In Collaborative Law cases, we don't go to court, except for a prove-up at the end.  Instead we have a series of meetings, usually 1 1/2 to 2 hours each, to work on a pre-set agenda of topics.  When we get together, we are working.  Also, much of the preliminary work is done in smaller chunks of time with individual professionals.

       When people divorce, there are usually complicated, very important issues at stake.  There are no easy solutions for some problems, which means the parties may struggle as they work through them.  With the Financial Professional and Mental Health Professional helping the attorneys, the parties can normally explore the issues and reach acceptable solutions in a safe environment.

       While hard issues usually take a great deal of effort and compromise, Collaborative Law gives the parties the opportunity to be cost-effective, even if the process is not "cheap" or easy.