Collaborative Family Law – A Better Way to Divorce

We are all familiar with the traditional divorce model. Spouses each hire lawyers, and begin a journey of litigation, aggravation, character assassination, and tense negotiation until the case is either settled or decided by a Judge. This system puts the two spouses completely at odds with one another. It causes enormous strain on the family, and children are often the pawns caught in the middle. The damage to the divorcing couple’s future relationship is irreparable. Often times, there is continuing litigation after the divorce.

A new model for divorce and family law has emerged and is fast-becoming the hottest trend in Florida. Collaborative law is a unique process where both clients hire separate attorneys whose only job is to help the clients settle their disputes. All participants agree to work together in a collaborative manner. They agree to be respectful and honest, and to participate in good faith to try to reach an agreement which meets both clients’ interests. If the case does not settle in the collaborative process, the lawyers must withdraw and cannot participate in court proceedings. This agreement that the lawyers will not go to court requires the lawyers and the clients to look at the resolution process differently. There is no posturing, threatening or deception. Everyone puts all their proverbial cards on the table.

The collaborative process primarily entails informal discussions and joint meetings for the purpose of settling the issues. The atmosphere is congenial and relaxed, and the direct communication between the two sides is assisted by a neutral Mental Health Professional, chosen by the two attorneys for their expertise and training in the collaborative process. They help maintain an atmosphere of respect and open dialogue which helps the parties understand one another’s interests. In addition, a neutral Financial Professional is utilized to assist the parties in formulating and evaluating multiple financial options for the family. These neutral professionals along with the two lawyers comprise the collaborative team, and the team’s goal is to assist the clients with achieving a maximized outcome under the circumstances. The possibilities that exist in the collaborative framework are limited only by the imaginations of the clients and their commitment to settlement.

One of the most attractive aspects of collaborative law for many clients is the fact that it is conducted in private, with the exception of the uncontested final hearing. In the privacy of one of the lawyer’s or other professional’s offices, the clients can discuss sensitive issues that they might prefer not to air in the public arena of the courtroom; further, the neutral Mental Health Professional guides that discussion in a way that fosters constructive communication among all of the participants, including the attorneys. Another appealing aspect of collaborative law is its flexibility in scheduling. In traditional litigation, virtually nothing happens at the convenience of the clients. In collaborative law, the clients, their lawyers and the neutral professionals schedule everything cooperatively and thus avoid inconveniencing the other members of the collaborative team. In addition, the clients are not under pressure to dispose of their case according to the Court’s often arbitrary docket, which gives them the time to deal with the emotional aspects of the divorce, experiment with different parenting time schedules, sell a home, or do whatever else needs to be done before they finalize their divorce. But by far, the best reason to consider Collaborative Divorce is that you minimize the emotional impact on yourself and your children, preserve a positive relationship with your spouse, and move forward in the next phase of your life without all the anger, resentment and stress that traditional divorce inevitably generates.

For more information on Collaborative Divorce, check out these valuable resources: (website of the Collaborative Family Lawyers of South Florida) (website of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals)
Divorce Without Disaster: Collaborative Law in Texas, Brumley, Janet P., (PSG Books, 2003).
Collaborative Divorce: The Revolutionary new Way to Restructure Your Family, Resolve Legal Issues, and Move on With Your Life, Tesler, Pauline and Thompson, Peggy (Regan Books, May 2006).
The Collaborative Way to Divorce: The Revolutionary Method That Results in Less Stress, Lower Costs, and Happier Kids – Without Going to Court, Ousky, Ron and Webb, Stuart (Hudson Street Press, 2006).

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