Saturday, March 15, 2014

What to Expect: How Easy is Collaborative Law?

Some people think that if you choose to work out your divorce issues and you agree to not go to court, you have elected to use a nice, simple, easy process.  While the process is generally nicer than litigation and is intended to at preserve family relationships (assuming you want or need to), it is not necessarily simple or easy.

If you are considering using Collaborative Law, we want you to have realistic expectations.  The preparation and meetings are often difficult and time consuming.  Here are some things to keep in mind if you begin the Collaborative process.

1.  There will be a number of meetings.  People often try to cut back on the meetings, but I can assure you that the attorneys and other professionals do not set up unnecessary meetings.  Issues tend to be handled better if we work on them in joint meetings rather than by email or phone calls between attorneys.  We always try to limit the meetings, but please work with the professionals if we say we need another meeting.

2.  Express what you want. Don't expect your attorney to speak for you.  This is not the process where you attorney writes pleadings and makes arguments for you.  We want you to speak up for yourself.  Your attorney will help you prepare.

3.  Each of you must listen to the other side.  In court, it often feels like whoever speaks first or loudest is the one the judge will pay attention to.  In Collaborative, we want both of you to speak and be heard by the other.

4.  Be patient.  This may take a while.  Even though going to court would probably take 9 to 18 months to reach resolution, people in Collaborative sometimes have unrealistic expectations that the process can be resolved in 2 to 3 meeting over a couple of months.  Some minimalist cases can be done that quickly, but most will take 3 or 4 months and some will take more.

5.  You must be an active participant.  You have to gather information, plan, be creative and suggest solutions.  There will be meetings to attend and you may have to study different options.  There will be times to meet with your attorney and times to meet with the other professionals.  You must speak your mind and tell us what you like or don't like.

6.  Be willing to grow.  You may need to expand your horizons.  Don't settle for the what the law will give you.  Ask for more and ask for different solutions.  We are talking about a major life event, so look into the future.

7.  Expect some discomfort.  You will hear some things you don't like.  You will be confronted with difficult issues and will have to compromise where you may not want to.  Instead of giving up or giving in, you can learn to seek other alternatives and find new solutions that can work for everyone.  It's just not the situation where you choose from a menu of possibilities.  Sometimes you will need to create a new menu and that may be hard.  But, it will be worthwhile.

Having realistic expectations will ensure that the Collaborative process is successful and less stressful for you.  Good luck!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Discussing Why You Want to Use Collaborative Law

There's an important discussion that needs to take place, but which is often overlooked, at the start of a Collaborative Law case.  People choose to use the process for many different reasons, sometimes being influenced by more than one reason.

Here are some of the reasons why people choose to use Collaborative.  They are looking for:

  • A civil, less stressful, resolution of difficult issues.  Instead of "warfare" between spouses, they can choose to negotiate as adults to find acceptable ways to meet the needs of each party.  
  • An inexpensive process to resolve disputes.  
  • A fast process to resolve disputes.
  • A fair process.
  • A process where the parties can control the expenses.
  • Privacy.
  • A process where the parties make the decisions and control the outcome.
  •  A process where the parties control the timing, instead of leaving it to a court or arbitrary rules.
  • A process  that preserves important family relationships.
These are all reasons that different people have expressed in different cases.  They are all legitimate values, but you should know that:

  • Collaborative Law is not "cheap".  Cheap is a relative term.  In general, Collaborative Law can be less expensive than litigation because we don't do formal discovery or depositions, we don't use competing experts and we don't have numerous court appearances.  That's money that's saved.  On the other hand, there are two attorneys, usually a neutral mental health professional and a neutral financial professional and multiple meetings. We do gain some efficiency by having the other two professionals do a lot of the work on parenting issues and gathering financial information and creating budgets without having the attorneys sit in on the preliminary work.  My opinion is that, on balance, Collaborative can be cheaper than litigation, especially compared to hotly contested cases.
  • Collaborative Law is not inherently "fast", unless both parties are in agreement as to how fast they want to go.  The general rule is that the process can move along only as fast as the slower party is willing to go. One party cannot rush the other party in Collaborative.
What to Do
At the start of your Collaborative case, please take some time out to discuss with your Collaborative lawyer why you want to use the process.  Explain your expectations.  If you have unrealistic expectations, it is better to discover that early on so adjustments can be made or a new course chosen.  The attorneys and other professionals can adjust their approaches if they know from the beginning what is really important to you about the process.

The result will be greater comfort for you and a greater chance for a successful outcome!