Having practiced family law for most of my career using the traditional adversarial legal process and witnessing its harmful effects on my clients--financially, emotionally and legally, I have chosen to limit my representation of clients to a new, fresh approach, Collaborative Family Law. Collaborative Law is different from a traditional divorce in that it focuses on keeping the family as amicably cohesive as possible and minimizes the harmful emotional, financial and legal aspects of divorce.
Committed: I am committed to providing you the best representation to meet your specific needs. I will try to do everything that can and should be done to insure you have the optimal outcome given the emotional, financial and legal realities of your situation. My staff and I will provide diligent and thorough attention to the facts of your case, the legal issues and your concerns. I will do what I say I will do in a timely manner.
Client-Centric: The work I do and how I do it is focused on your needs and the needs of your children. You are at the center of my work. I will spend the time necessary to understand your interests, concerns, fearsand wishes. I will provide you access toresources to educate you so that you can make informed, future-focused decisions. I will draw on my substantial knowledge of and experience in family law to suggest tailor-made solutions to your particular issues. Your case will be handled by me not an associate.
Professional: I will represent you with integrity and treat you with dignity and respect. I will exercise professionalism and high ethical standards in my dealings with you and the attorney representing your spouse. I strive to represent you efficiently, effectively and carefully.
Collegial: I work in the Collaborative Process with mutual respect for my colleagues. I honor the differences and use our common values to resolve problems and work together effectively for a reasonable outcome. Collaborative Family Law involes a range of other professionals including family specialists (coaches), independent financial advisors,and child specialists.
Divorce does not have to destroy and damage the spouses and the children. More and more couples are choosing Collaborative Divorce to end their marriage in a respectful manner that diminishes rather than fosters animosity.
ISSUES SUITED FOR COLLABORATIVE LAW:
Collaborative Law is an approach to dissolution of marriage and other family disputes in which the parties and the attorneys agree to resolve disputed issues without litigating in court. The attorneys use their knowledge of family law, experience as negotiators, problem solvers and issue analyzers and their training in conflict management to assist their clients in reaching a negotiated settlement through cooperative strategies not adversarial techniques and litigation. The collaborative process maximizes the possibility of a less traumatic, fair and equitable resolution.
Open and Full Disclosure
Collaborative Law requires both parties to provide full and honest disclosure of all relevant information to each other. The spouses cooperate to gather all financial and other necessary information to make decisions concerning division of assets and debts, support and parenting issues. The disclosure is done informally rather than using typical legal tools such as depositions, interrogatories and document requests. Each spouse does sign an asset and income statement under oath.
Neutral Experts and Consultants
Neutral experts and consultants are retained if needed to appraise real estate and antiques, to provide business valuations or other assistance in determining a fair value of assets. In a court-focused action each party retains a separate expert which adds to the cost and often limits the outcome since each expert may not have all the facts necessary to give the best advice.
Use of Other Professionals
Other collaborative professionals are part of the team. A Financial Specialist is available as a neutral to trace assets, prepare financial and income projections and explain the tax consequences of various proposals. A Child Specialist provides insights regarding developmental issues important to establishing the new housing and time sharing arrangements for the children. The Child Specialist can offer guidance on the children’s overall adjustment to the change in the family structure. A Divorce Coach is a mental health professional whose function is to provide assistance in communication issues which can interfere with the negotiation and settlement process. The same professional may provide child specialist services in some instances. These professionals have had special training in the collaborative process and work as a team with the attorneys.
Commitment to a Fair and Equitable Outcome
Collaborative Law requires each party to consider not only his or her specific needs but the needs and interests of the spouse and children. Each
party and each attorney takes a reasoned position on all issues. All use their best efforts to create proposals that meet the fundamental needs of all family members and consider the value of compromise where interests conflict or differ.
In a litigated family law matter each party typically pursues his agenda and tries to obtain the maximum benefit in the situation. This often requires exposing (and sometimes exaggerating) the weakest rather that the best attributes of his or her spouse. In a litigated case the attorney has no duty to advise the other attorney or client if they make a mistake in calculation, in the law or in valuation. In fact, the “rules” lawyers follow in that type of representation may prevent such disclosures as being against their client’s interests.
Limited Scope Representation
By entering into Collaborative Law Participation Agreement each attorney and his or her client has thoughtfully agreed to limit the role of the lawyers within the contractual relationship to that of providing representation for settlement only. In a Collaborative Law representation the attorney is hired to advise the client and achieve a negotiated settlement in a context of full and open disclosure where the goal is a fair and equitable resolution of all issues. This means if no agreement is reached, the attorney agrees not to represent the client in a litigated court action. Collaborative attorneys believe as much effort should be exerted toward settlement as is traditionally spent in preparing for and conducting a trial. This means if the attorney determines his client has been untruthful or withheld information or in some other way undermined the agreed upon ground rules, the attorney must terminate the Collaborative Law process and withdraw as attorney for that client. In a Collaborative process the attorney does not have and cannot use the “threat” of a court decision to resolve issues. The attorney does not benefit in any manner from assisting his or her client in taking an unreasonable position. The attorney is required to advise the other spouse and his or her attorney of mistakes in law or fact.
The parties enter into a Participation Agreement in which they agree to follow the guidelines and procedures of the Collaborative Law Process.
Collaborative Law fosters an efficient use of resources to gather information, analyze issues and problem solve disputes. Rather than each side having his “view” of the case, all information is shared. The client has more control over the involvement in the outcome and process. One technique that fosters transparency and efficiency is team meetings. Spouses often lack good communication and ability to compromise with each other by the time they decide to divorce. The Collaborative Law attorneys guide the negotiations and are trained in conflict management. The process uses face to face meetings with the clients and attorneys and other professional team members depending on the issues. Each spouse has a representative in the negotiations.
With both attorneys concentrating their skills on problem solving settlements achieved often include creative resolutions.
Schedule Determined by Parties
The parties determine how much time they need to gather the information. Deadlines are agreed by the parties not mandated by the court. The parties and attorneys can schedule meetings at convenient times. In a litigated case many courts impose deadlines for discovery and conferences with the judge and hearing dates at inconvenient times.
Less Costly Than Litigation
The expense to prepare for and undertake a litigated resolution in fees, time lost from work and competing experts generally exceeds the costs in a resolution through the Collaborative Law process. Of course, if the process fails the client still has the option of a litigated trial.
Climate of Cooperation Reduces Stress
Collaborative Law requires each spouse and attorney to agree to work in good faith. The process tries to eliminate insensitive and/or exploitative conduct. Every divorce is difficult for many reasons. The collaborative atmosphere is much less stressful than an adversarial litigated trial.
What happens if settlement can’t be reached?
If a settlement cannot be achieved or if one of the parties becomes adversarial or acts in a manner inconsistent with the terms of the Participation Agreement, BOTH LAWYERS MUST WITHDRAW FROM THE CASE. The lawyers will assist the parties to find new counsel to pursue their cases in court and will work to make a smooth transition for their clients.
Can a party quit during the process?
Nothing in the Participation Agreement prevents a spouse from terminating the Collaborative Process and pursuing mediation. In that event both parties must obtain different lawyers.
Why must a lawyer withdraw if the other side decides to go to court?
The requirement that all lawyers be disqualified in the event of a failure to reach a resolution of all issues guarantees that all participants will be totally and exclusively motivated to make the process succeed. Thus, all participants are equally and fully invested in finding the solutions to all problems. More subtly, it is believed that the way spouses and lawyers participate in negotiation is affected by the certainty that the lawyer will never litigate the case. Openness, candor, and cooperation replace guardedness, secrecy, and threats as the techniques most likely to achieve ultimate success. Walking out in anger, or provoking the other side, ceases to be a viable tactic.