Thursday, May 15, 2014

What Happens at the 1st Joint Meeting?

Most of the first Joint Meetings in Collaborative cases follow the same pattern.  The purpose of the meeting is to make sure everyone starts out with the same understandings of the process, including the steps we follow and the obligations of each of the participants. 

At the 1st Joint Meeting, we don't do much case-specific work or make decisions on how to divide things up.  We wait until the proper time to do that.

Instead, we are building a foundation for the process to work in the case. It's essential, even though it can be a little boring! We all have to make the best of it.  The process gets more interesting later on.

Here's what generally happens:

  • Introductions.  We usually introduce each of the professionals and each party.  We agree to use first names with each other so the process can be less formal.
  •  Discuss the process. We usually go through the Roadmap to Resolution which outlines each step we follow in the process.  Normally, the neutral mental health professional goes over the Expectations of Conduct with the parties.  We want to be sure everyone really understands what we will be doing and how it works.
  • Sign the Participation Agreement.  This is a relatively long document that is the underlying contract between the parties.  It sets out in great detail the rights and responsibilities of the each participant, including the attorneys and neutral professionals.  It tells how the process works. The Agreement also has a section that commits the parties to maintain the status quo on the finances and property involved in the case, similar to the Injunction typically issued in a litigated divorce. 
        We want everyone to understand the process, and commit to following the rules.
  • Develop the goals for each party.   The parties work with their attorneys before the meeting and then explain the goals and needs they want to meet by the end of the process.  We set up targets so we can meet the specific needs of each party, instead of just asking for some arbitrary percentage of property or standard terms relating to the children.
  • Deal with immediate concerns.  If there are issues that need to be resolved temporarily or immediately, we work together to help the parties.  Typically, these may be interim arrangements relating to the children, finances or housing.
  • Schedule future meetings and homework.  We try to schedule at least a couple of Joint Meetings and some meetings with the parties to work with each of the neutral professionals before the next Joint Meeting.  Homework typically involves gathering financial records and information about the children.
If you need anything to be done at the first meeting that is not included above, please discuss that with your Collaborative attorney.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

What are Off-Line Meetings?

In Collaborative Law cases, you may hear the attorneys or other professionals refer to "off-line" meetings.  They are a refinement to the process that really helps the clients.

What are off-line meetings?  They are meetings between the clients and the neutral professionals, without the attorneys present.  The meetings can be with one or both of the parties.  If the parties meet individually with the professionals, normally each party will meet with the professionals, rather than just one party meeting with the professional.

Why have the off-line meetings?  They save time and money.  It is much more efficient for the parties to meet directly with the mental health professional (MHP) and financial professional (FP) to provide information and to get some guidance on what the issues are and how they are sometimes resolved.

Such meetings are also easier to schedule since they don't have to work around the calendars of two attorneys.

By not having the attorneys attend the meetings, the parties save a lot of attorneys' fees. Plus, the neutral professionals normally charge much less per hour than the attorneys do.

The MHP or child specialist can help the parties identify issues and do some preliminary work on formulating plans for support and possession schedules.

Similarly, it's better for the FP to directly tell the parties which documents are needed and then collect the documents from them.  The FP also prepares a spreadsheet with the information organized and reviews it with the parties before there's a joint meeting.

Bonus:  Both the FP and the MHP are very qualified at what they do and they help the clients produce great quality work that helps move the case toward final resolution.