What is the Collaborative Divorce Team–Understanding the Role of Each Professional
Trained Collaborative Divorce Attorneys
In the Collaborative Divorce process, you and your spouse will each have your own attorney to represent your individual interests. The attorneys should be trained, experienced Collaborative Divorce attorneys and be committed to the Collaborative Divorce process. Having an attorney trained in the Collaborative Divorce process and committed to it insures your best chance for successfully resolving your case out of court. Just like in a traditional divorce, you and your attorney will have confidential conversations and a strategy for accomplishing your personal goals in the case, but the process by which those goals are reached does not require destroying your relationship with your spouse or spending your community estate on a court battle. Collaborative Divorce attorneys are specially trained to reached your goals by what is known-as “interest-based negotiation,” which is a method that enables the outcome to be less destructive than that attained in a mediation or a trial.
Neutral Collaborative Divorce Professionals
One Collaborative Divorce Client said, “I learned from that meeting that the Collaborative team was going to make sure that my voice was heard during our meetings – just as they were going to make sure I was aware of my husband’s interests. I began to actually look forward to our meetings in a strange way, because I felt stronger and more in control of my life after each one.” –Collaborative Law Client
Like the attorneys, Neutral Collaborative Divorce Professionals are also specially trained in the Collaborative Divorce process, but rather than representing a party’s individuals interest, without taking sides, the “neutrals” help the parties create and design options that will enable the parties to meet their individual goals and interests while reaching their common goals and the best overall outcome for all involved, whether a couple or a family.
Neutral Collaborative Divorce professionals are able to provide the divorcing couple with unbiased information necessary to resolve their case–a concept unique to Collaborative Divorce. In litigation cases, the husband and wife hire competing experts to support their respective positions at trial, causing further damage to the parties’ post-divorce relationship and at significant cost.
Because they neutrals are hired by both parties to provide information (rather than to support one person’s position), clients engaged in the Collaborative Divorce process find the neutral experts’ opinions to be more credible and reliable than they would be if they were expected to support one side or the other.
Clients often express concern that they will spend too much money if so many professionals are involved in their case. In fact, the neutral team members usually save them money because the least expensive, most competent person in a given field is doing what he or she does best. In a Collaborative Divorce, the couple’s resources are used on one neutral source of information rather than paying to experts to “fight it out in court.”
Most Collaborative Law teams include:
Neutral mental health professionals (the “MHP”)
Neutral mental health professionals (MHP) perform several roles on the Collaborative Divorce team:
- They serve as process facilitators and communications coaches, to assure that meetings go smoothly and that the group is making progress toward completing the case
- They are consultants who help clients develop and focus on what goals and interests they would like to have satisfied as they move through their Collaborative Divorce
- They also serve as negotiation facilitators with the clients outside the joint meetings helping clients reach agreements on child-related or other specific issues. The MHP can help parents with questions such as how to tell their children and other family members and friends about the divorce. They help the parents create a parenting plan for making decisions and spending time with their children after the divorce is completed.
What neutral mental health Professionals Do Not Do in the Collaborative Divorce Process:
- They do not perform therapy for either client or the couple. Instead, they help the parties and the remainder of the team work at their optimal level. Divorce is almost always a difficult and emotionally-challenging experience. The parties’ feelings range from anger to sadness to frustration to depression to confusion – to name just a few. Having a mental health professional on the team to help the parties deal with those feelings during the process allows everyone to attend to the business decisions that are required to finish a case.
MHPs serving as team members are engaged at the beginning of a Collaborative Divorce and generally attend all joint meetings. They often meet with the husband and wife, individually and/or together, at various times during the process between joint meetings to work toward resolution of specific issues or to intervene if communication becomes difficult. Learn more about the role of the neutral mental health professional in Collaborative Divorce cases below.
Neutral financial professionals (the “FP”)
Neutral financial professionals such as Certified Public Accountants (CPA), Certified Financial Planners (CFP™), and Certified Divorce Financial Advisors (CDFA) help you to make informed decision about your financial future.
The financial neutral will gather, organize and help you understand the financial information relating to your divorce. Financial professionals are trained in the Collaborative Law process and join the Collaborative team as neutrals – they will not be on your side or your spouse’s side. Their role is to help you understand enough about your finances to make informed decisions.
The neutral Collaborative financial professional can help you and your spouse:
- Gather and organize required financial information
- Verify information about your estate
- Develop realistic financial goals for the future
- Become educated about financial matters related to the divorce
- Prepare future household cash-flow plans and projections
- Prepare plans to meet current and future expenses for children
- Develop settlement options and analyze the pros and cons of different ways to resolve the financial aspects of your case
- Provide specialized tax calculations and analysis
- Identify separate-property or other financial claims
- Help with placing values on businesses, real property or other assets of the marital estate
Other experts, like the ones listed below, can be brought into a case to provide specialized information as needed:
When there are minor children, a neutral child specialist may be asked to talk with the child, to be the child’s voice in the discussions about their future without the child having to actually be involved in the case. Child specialists help parents learn and implement co-parenting skills; make recommendations about what arrangements would be in a child’s best interests; and help parents ease the children’s transition from one household to two.
If there is a need for information about the value of real property, businesses or specific items of personal property, neutral appraisers can be hired to give opinions of value.
If a case needs tracing of assets, tax planning or for the books of a business to be analyzed and explained to the parties, it is best for either the parties’ accountant (if the parties are confident of their impartiality) or a neutral an accountant to be engaged to protect the neutrality of the neutral financial professional in the case.
Therapists are sometimes engaged to work with children or one or both of the parties if there are specific needs to be addressed.
Experts in other specific fields
Family law cases in Texas often include issues involving other areas of law. Oil and gas experts; estate, trust and probate lawyers; retirement and investment specialists, special needs advisors, and insurance professionals, for example, can also provide critical information to divorcing couples. The beauty of the Collaborative Divorce system is that clients receive customized information specific to their case at the same time from these neutral professionals, enabling the parties to ask questions in each other’s presence and their attorneys’ presence, which is much more efficient than carrying that information back and forth between the individual client’s representatives.