COLLABORATIVE FAMILY LAW
WHAT IS COLLABORATIVE FAMILY LAW?
Collaborative family law is a method of dispute resolution in which the parties agree to attempt problem solving together BEFORE resorting to the expense and time consumption of litigation.
WHO MAKES UP A COLLABORATIVE FAMILY LAW TEAM IN FLORIDA?
Attorneys – each party has his or her own attorney; you pay your attorney just as you would for litigation, usually a retainer deposited and earned at an hourly rate; when possible, I use a hybrid flat-fee/hourly agreement so that the family has predictability as to the ultimate cost.
Mental health professional (“MHP”) – a licensed social worker or mental health professional serves as a neutral facilitator for team meetings; the MHP does not serve in a therapeutic role but instead helps the team manage civil communications and cut through the emotions to uncover the underlying interests motivating the parties’ positions.
Financial professional – the financial professional, usually a CPA or financial planner, is also a neutral team member. The parties agree to total transparency, and the financial planner helps create an equitable distribution plan that is fair to both parties, addressing each of the parties’ concerns.
Other professionals – if other professionals are necessary, such as a real estate appraiser, he or she will also provide services in a neutral fashion.
THE FAMILY – most importantly, YOU AND YOUR SPOUSE are part of the problem-solving team. You control the outcome of your case. Because the team works together BEFORE a case is actually filed in court, they have flexbility to work outside the statutes and to develop a unique solution that works for the family but otherwise may not be available from the court.
HOW DOES THE COLLABORATIVE FAMILY LAW METHOD PROCEED?
After a client tells me that they would like to try collaborative law, I or the client makes contact with the other spouse, offering an explanation and a list of trained attorney colleagues. If everyone is in agreement, the parties pay their initial retainers/fees to the attorneys, and the attorneys meet to develop the team. The parties then meet with the mental health professional, together at first and then separately, and later, they meet with the financial professional, together at first and then separately. The team has a series of meetings to negotiate. Each meeting may result in sub-agreements for any issues resolved at that meeting. Sub-agreements ensure that matters already settled remain in the past, so as to avoid distracting the family from further progress. Those agreements later accumulate to a final settlement agreement. The attorneys then file the matter as an uncontested case, along with the settlement agreements.
WHAT IS THE COST OF COLLABORATIVE FAMILY LAW IN FLORIDA?
It is impossible to predict the total costs for any type of case. However, collaborative law offers much more predictability than litigation. It is likely that the costs of a divorce will be much less because (a) the collaborative process avoids time-consuming motion practice and discovery (exchanging of documents and interrogatories and depositions) (b) the family is hiring only one set of neutral experts instead of competing experts and (c) the case can be resolved in substantially less time than a typical divorce. Instead of waiting months for a final hearing, which may delay other aspects of your life, uncontested matters go to the front of the line at most courts.
WHY WOULD I CHOOSE COLLABORATIVE FAMILY LAW FOR A FLORIDA DIVORCE?
When someone comes to me with a family law problem, one of my most important assessments at the intake meeting is whether the potential client has the stamina to make it through the case – mental/emotional, physical, and financial. Some attorneys will only scrutinize the issues, the ease of winning the case, and the potential fees to be earned. However, in family law, we’re dealing with not just one “whole person” but several “whole persons.” The actions we take for a client impact an entire chain of individuals, most especially the children. Your marital or family legal issue is greater than the facts or the black letter law.
After several years in the practice area, I have come to realize that much of the work attorneys offer in family law does more to harm the individuals involved than to help them. From the beginning, attorneys offer a loaded arsenal for attacking the other party. Many clients expect such a harsh adversarial approach. As family law evolved over the last century, the public and lawyers were conditioned to perceive divorces as a vengeful, winner take all battle to the end. Media depictions continue to focus on the spouse who loses the most money as being the loser of the litigation. The reality is that NO ONE WINS IN FAMILY LAW. If you’re at my office, you and your spouse have already lost more than I could fight for or than a court could award you. So why do we perpetuate this approach that offers little benefit and a lot of damage, while clogging our court dockets?
As an attorney, I have a choice in what practice areas I work in and the services I provide in those practice areas. For example, I offer trademark and copyright registration and licensing, but I’m not an intellectual property litigator. To have a law degree is not a mandate to practice law in one way or another. It’s a profession – a practice – and as professionals, we have the authority to shape our business models. Likewise, potential clients have options. You do not (and maybe should not) hire the first attorney with whom you meet; yet, I find that most everyone hires me without ever having consulted someone else. I’m just that awesome, I guess! Clients should be made aware that an expensive, animosity-building litigation process is not the only option. You can choose mediation; you can litigate, and you can choose collaborative law.
I believe so strongly in the benefits of collaborative family law that I have abandoned litigation as an option in my practice. I will absolutely make sure you know that litigation is one path, but with very rare exception (for example, cases that involve domestic violence), I am certain that collaborative law is in your best interests.
The philosophy of law and dispute resolution is evolving. My office is at the forefront. I am a trained collaborative law attorney, and I am available to help Pensacola, Escambia County, and Santa Rosa County families. Call me, and let’s discuss your options. (850) 607-6879 or firstname.lastname@example.org