Collaborative Law

To understand “collaborative family law", it is first helpful to understand the traditional divorce process or paternity process. A “divorce” ( called "dissolution" in Florida) is a law suit that you or your spouse file against the other. A “paternity” action is also law suit that you file against the child’s other parent to assert your rights.  Please note that when I use “spouse”, it also applies to a “parent” in a paternity suit.  Please note the term “family” can mean just you and your spouse without children because when you married to each other, even for a short time period, the law considers you “one”.   Once the law suit is filed with the Clerk, the Clerk will assign a case number and a judge to the “case”.  Since you have a “case” and since you want certain goals achieved with your divorce, i.e. money to live on and/or a time-sharing plan, there are only 2 ways to achieve your goal or a result:  1) you and your spouse agree or “stipulate” to these goals; OR 2) you (and your attorney) go to court and present your side and evidence to the judge, and your spouse (and attorney) will present his/her side and evidence to the judge then the judge will make a ruling. This ruling will be a court order by which you both will abide.  Going to court OR the threat of going to court to let a judge determine your issues is called “LITIGATION”.  Litigation is expensive and uncertain.  In other words, it is a gamble, and should really only be a last resort.  

 You have a choice of two roads or two tracks:  the litigation track or the collaborative track.

 “Collaborative Family Law” is NOT litigation.  If you are contemplating divorce then you can decide to use the collaborative law process. If you are in the midst of a traditional divorce (litigation track), you can opt to use the collaborative law process and the judge will allow you time to “abate” (put the case on hold) your case while you use the collaborative law process.

 “Collaborative Family Law” is NOT “mediation”.  “Mediation” is an attempt for you and your spouse to come to an agreement on some or all of your issues by having a neutral third party (usually another family law attorney), who is trained and qualified to be a “mediator” to help you arrive at solutions. Mediation may NOT work in the litigation process:  1) because it is a mandatory first step in Sarasota County prior to litigating, thus, it is used as a necessary stepping stone to get to court; 2) not all of the necessary financial numbers and psychological concerns are addressed prior to the mediation because none of those issues have been addressed by professionals (the attorneys are NOT financial experts, nor are we licensed mental health professionals qualified to help you or your spouse through the emotional turmoil of divorce); 3)  the dollar investment you make when you go through the litigation process is for litigation; not for making an agreement.    

 Collaborative Family Law is a TEAM effort for you and your spouse to arrive at a fair agreement that is best for your family.  Your team will not only include your attorneys, but it can include a financial neutral and a neutral facilitator. There are different models used in collaborative family law.  The financial neutral is a financial professional qualified to understand divorce law and the collaborative process.  The neutral facilitator (sometimes called a “coach”) is a licensed mental health professional.  Please note that there are some teams that are made up of a “coach” for the husband/father and a “coach” for the wife/mother, and sometimes there is a child “coach” too.  You may question then “how are these additional professionals better than just having your attorney?”  

 Answer for Financial specialist:  Unless your family law attorney is also a LLM or a tax attorney then he/she is not a trained financial planner or financial exper who understands retirements, tax effects, etc.  In most litigation, family law attorneys advise their clients to a hire financial professional to evaluate incomes, standards of living and other valuations.  This is after your attorney has already charged you anywhere from $200.00 per hour to $400.00  per hour to analyze financial documents, and your spouse's attorney has reviewed the same documents.  So, you are spending $400.00 to $800.00 per hour in traditional litigation.  In collaborative law, most financial professionals are $100.00 to $250.00 per hour.

 Answer for Mental health professional:  Unless your family law attorney is also a counselor, therapist, or psychologist, your conversations about your emotional distress and the emotional instabilities of your spouse are not cost-effective.  While your attorney can feel sympathy for you, your issues and helping your spouse’s issues will go unaided.  Worse yet, you will be billed for the time you are conversing about these issues that are NOT legal issues. So, if you are meeting with your attorney and your attorney is charging $300.00 per hour then you are getting charged $30 every 6 minutes you are talking about these emotional issues that your attorney is not qualified to help you process through the divorce. In collaborative law, the coach or coaches, meet with you and your spouse first (before meeting with your attorney) to understand the family dynamics and communication.  These coaches are also trained in divorce and collaborative law.  While the coach will not be giving legal guidance, the coach will help you make the best use of your time with your attorney AND you get the added benefit of getting their professional guidance through a difficult time period.  When children are involved, the coach helps with the development of the parenting plan. Further, the coach can help with effective communication skills for co-parenting in the future.  Even when your case does not involve children, coaches are effective with communication, which will make for more productive and positive communications. 

 If you think having a “team” sounds expensive, please read the section on “Collaborative v. Litigation”.

 BEWARE when choosing your “team”.  If you consult with an attorney who only gives you 2 names for each professional (attorney, financial, mental); DON’T WASTE YOUR MONEY.  Since collaborative law is becoming more popular, there are closed groups that are forming and they only give out their people in their group.   Unfortunately, it will breed mistrust and lack of confidence in the collaborative law process.  When you meet with a collaborative law trained attorney, you should get a full list of local attorneys and financials and mental health professionals that have been trained.  

 Probably the most time-consuming endeavor will be your interviewing the professionals to choose your team.  You and your spouse should each individually interview at least 3 separate attorneys.  You and your spouse should interview at least 3 mental health and financial professionals together (or separately but interview the same professional) and decide on one.  If each of you has one favorite then go with the last choice.  It will be your first step towards agreement.  The choosing of your team is so important because you want to have confidence in the individuals and the process.  

Once you have your “team”, there should be a full team meeting to review the agreements for any final questions you may have and you will all sign the agreements (your attorney should have already explained their own agreement).  Some groups may not have the first step, but it should seem necessary for the professionals to meet if they have never worked together before.  Also, that time should be used to schedule your first meetings with the coach and the financial specialist.  After the initial meeting, the model and approaches will differ because each family and team dynamic will differ from other families going through their own collaborative process.    

DISCREET:  In collaborative law, you will not have to divulge your financials, as long as you do not have minor children or other support issues.  When you litigate, your financials are displayed on the Clerk’s site.  The Clerks are now making efforts for the general public to see documents from their onw computers without login.

DIGNIFIED:  In collaborative law, you have conducted yourself and treated your family with dignity.  You have chosen to NOT air your family issues in the public eye and not to allow a stranger determine the fate of your children and/or your financial affairs.

COST EFFECTIVE: Collaborative Family Law is your INVESTMENT for your family to pledge to not go to court and to not hold back information and customizing the results of your case based on your needs and the needs and values of your family.