The words graceful, healthy and divorce do not go together. The first words clients use to describe the process of divorce are typically words of war: FIGHT, CUSTODY BATTLE, and WINNING. I would like to present a concept to you that is a kinder, gentler way to get divorced. Collaborative Law.
While we have the early adapters of technology, it is sometimes hard to find the early adapters of new legal processes. Collaborative law started in Texas in 2001 as a movement away from the damage of courtrooms and put the divorce process into the hands of our clients. Collaborative Divorce Texas differentiates the process, “because it enables the couple to create their own customized divorce, focusing on protecting their families and preserving their resources and assets through a solution-oriented, interest based negotiations. There are no court hearings, it is less stressful, and the final outcome is better for the couple, their family and their estate.”
Collaborative law is a vow and a binding agreement never to go to the courthouse to seek a judge’s intervention. The ground rules of Collaborative, are designed to protect clients from the typical toxic, harsh landscape of a litigation case. Instead of publicly airing dirty laundry, fighting in court until the point that parties have little money left after attorney’s fees, we take a different tact.
First, to start Collaborative Divorce, you need to find a collaborative divorce attorney. Then, the Team assembles. The Team includes the two attorneys representing the parties, the mental health neutral and the financial neutral. Prior to the first meeting, the Team discusses the parties’ needs, outlines issues with the parenting plan, and discusses the depth and breadth of the estate.
This process has transparency. Typically, the clients identify their assets and liabilities but unlike litigation, we do not require hearings and battles to get bank statements, real property appraisals, and statements from retirement accounts.
Once assets and liabilities are identified, we can process whether there are tax consequences to division of property. The financial neutral can run spreadsheets of different splits of the estate, and ascertain if we need further investigation to properly find a just and equitable division.
This process results in a custom tailored parenting plan. In order to address the “kiddo issues,” the Mental Health Neutral meets with the couple outside of the regular meetings in private to address access, conservatorship, child support and any issue that the couple finds to be important. Additionally if the couple can think of a schedule that works for them, they can make it happen with a unique schedule that does not match the typical standard access ordered by the courts. This is one of the most valuable tools of the Collaborative process
The clients are in the driver’s seat throughout the Collaborative process. Clients decide goals, when meetings occur, and help set agendas for children’s issues and the division of assets with the help of neutrals. In summary the advantages are the following:
- Transparency – Although there is attorney-client confidentiality, the Team cannot hide assets, and if Team member requests information to divide the estate or to draft a parenting plan, there is no escaping it.
- Scheduled meetings – Meetings last 2 hours typically and can be scheduled according to the clients’ calendar.
- Emotional healthy communication – The Mental Health Neutral is also a communications coach. If parties engage in conflict during a meeting the Mental Health Neutral will assist in mitigating the problem and redirect the conversation back to resolution.
- Access to mental health and financial neutrals – The neutrals are efficient and effective figures who assist clients with laser focus to resolve differences in the area of the parenting plan and the estate.
- Privacy – There will never be a day when you have to take the stand and publicly trash your spouse in order to get more time with your kids or more child support. The Team meetings are private, confidential and self-contained.
If this alternative way to divorce makes sense to you and you are interested in the Collaborative approach, find a collaborative attorney in your area. I invite you to begin this process where you will happy with the result and you can still look your ex in the eye at the end of it all.
This blog post is from Natalie Gregg, a family law mediator and a collaboratively trained attorney, who focuses her practice on helping families transition through difficult times. Her philosophy is to provide dignity to her clients through helping parents and spouses protect their interests, while creatively facilitating the division of estates and the designing of parenting plans for families who want to co-parent.