What Do I Need to Know About Collaborative Divorce?
There are many ways to get divorced in Orlando. Collaborative Divorce is one of the best available options.
There are a lot of benefits to you. Here are some of them:
- You and your spouse are in control and make final decisions.
- It provides you with a peaceful and respectful divorce process.
- Usually less expensive than “Divorce Court.”
- It moves as fast or as slow as you need it to.
- You can jointly hire outside experts to help both of you.
- Your lawyers work together for a mutually created settlement.
- Your divorce will be private and confidential.
- You never have to go to court.
When compared to litigation, also known as “Divorce Court,” collaborative divorce provides families with a process that litigation can never provide for usually less money.
This results in a better divorce, a more amicable divorce, and a faster divorce.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE
A litigated divorce averages about 18 months from start to finish, with some taking as long as 10 years or more.
A collaborative divorce typically last less than 12 months. In fact, about 95% of collaborative divorces reach a full and complete settlement in less than 12 months. Some of my collaborative divorces have completed in as little as 3 months.
WHY SHOULD I CHOOSE COLLABORATIVE DIVORCE?
PRIVACY – If privacy is important to you, then collaborative divorce is a perfect option.
Many families do not want their entire financial circumstances published for public view. When you use the “Divorce Court” option, all of your financial information is public record.
Anyone can see who you and your spouse work for, how much your salary is, what benefits you receive, how much your taxes are, what you spend your money on, who your creditors are, and how much and what kind of debt you have.
In addition, anyone will be able to see what your assets are, like retirement plans, bank accounts, investment accounts, real property, businesses, collectables, etc.
FLEXIBILITY – Your divorce happens on your schedule, not the court calendar. In litigation, if a hearing, trial, deposition or mediation is set for a specific date and time, you must attend. In a collaborative divorce, the meetings are scheduled for dates and times that work best for you and your spouse.
Many courts are backed up for months, and it is difficult to get in front of a judge quickly. In litigation, you may have to wait 3 to 6 months before you can get in for a hearing with your judge. That does not happen with collaborative divorce.
SELF-DETERMINATION (CONTROL) – You and your spouse keep the power to make decisions that work best for each of you and your family. In litigation, you turn your decision making power over to a judge to make all the decisions for you.
Your court judge does not, will not, and cannot know everything about your family. He or she will hear very limited information from you and then make a decision. Most people would not want a person they don’t know making important decisions about their family that will likely impact everyone for a lifetime.
SAVE MONEY – Taking your divorce to court can cost thousands, if not more. It is not uncommon for a litigated divorce to cost $100,000 or more.
Then, if one of you does not like the decision and wants to appeal it, you will be spending thousands more on the appeal.
Collaborative Divorce has saved thousands of people money on divorce. Florida statistics demonstrate that the majority of people will spend less than $20,000 on their collaborative divorce.
SAVE TIME – Over 90% of collaborative divorces finish in less than 12 months while the average litigated divorce takes about 18 months. Some litigated divorce cases can drag on for years for many reasons.
STAY OUT OF COURT – Some people never want to see a judge or have to go to court. Others would rather not discuss intimate family issues in a public forum like a courtroom.
Choosing collaborative divorce means you never have to go to court. Your divorce happens outside of the courtroom.
COLLABORATIVE LAWYERS WORK TOGETHER – In a litigated divorce, each spouse’s lawyer works against the other lawyer. It is like sending hired guns or gladiators to battle about your family’s problems and issues.
Choosing collaborative divorce means that you each will have trained professionals who will work together for the betterment of your family.
HAVE A VOICE – A litigated divorce does not provide you with a voice to speak your truth and talk about things that matter most to you. Here’s an example:
If the number 36 represents all the information you want to tell your judge about your family. The actual amount of information your judge will have time to hear would be 36 divided by 2, divided by 2, divided by 2, divided by 2, divided by 2. So 36 becomes 18 becomes 9 becomes 4.5 becomes 2.25 becomes 1.175. So, in essence, the judge will hear about 1/36th of what you want to tell them. That’s the reality of our overloaded court system and overworked judges.
YOUR GOALS MATTER – In a litigated divorce, the judge does not care about your goals and interests. Your interests are the “why” behind what you do or what you want.
For example, someone might say “I want the house in the divorce.” And their interest might be that there is a lot of meaningful family history in the house that they don’t want to lose.
Other common goals and interests in divorce might be:
- I want our children to feel good about themselves and be well-adjusted.
- I want our children to be happy.
- I want us to be good co-parents for our children.
- I want us as parents to be consistent with discipline, consequences, bedtime and mealtime.
- I want to develop better parenting skills.
- I want our children to have meaningful contact with both parents.
- I want to be involved in decisions for our children.
- I do not want our financial issues to affect our children.
- I want our children to be protected from being introduced to new significant others too soon.
- I want to be able to move with our children.
- I want us to live close to each other for the benefit of the children.
- I want to make sure we each have access to school information and medical information.
- I want all communication between us to be civil and respectful.
- I want our children to be raised in our current religion.
- I want our children to have a good diet and eat healthy at both households.
- I want our children to be able to afford to go to college.
- I want our children to maintain their current school performance and grades.
- I want our children to be able to continue with their current extracurricular activities.
- I want to be treated fairly.
- I want my spouse to get help for his addictions.
- I want to be able to start a new career.
- I want to understand our finances.
- I want to be able to fix my poor credit.
Choosing collaborative divorce means your goals and interests matter and they will be given airtime and consideration. Every creative option for settlement will be linked back to your goals and interests. If a potential solution does not help you accomplish your goals or meet your interests, then another option may be better.
EXPERTS BENEFIT BOTH OF YOU – In a litigated divorce, each of you would hire your own experts. When its time for a hearing or trial, it often comes down to a battle of the hired experts. Your judge has to pick one to believe or disregard both of them entirely.
The purpose of experts in a litigated divorce is to help the judge understand complex subjects and to help them make a good decision. Each expert will argue that their opinion is the better opinion.
When you choose collaborative divorce, both you and your spouse get the benefit of two experts who work for both of you and your family.
For example, a mental health professional, also known as the “MHP” will be part of your collaborative team. He or she will likely be very skilled and experienced with custody and visitation issues. In addition, they will be the conductor of the collaborative orchestra.
In other words, they help the collaborative process stay on track and focused. They also help make sure everyone is communicating in a respectful manner.
You also get the benefit of financial professionals, also known as the “FP.” Their job is to help you gather all of your important financial documents, such as tax returns, bank statements, credit card statements, lease agreements, loan documents, etc. They will then analyze all of the financial information and present your financial picture to you and your spouse in a way that is easy to understand.
They can be incredibly valuable when one spouse handled all of the finances and the other spouse does not know what the family finances are.
WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE
The collaborative divorce process is fairly simple and can be summed up as follows:
- You and your spouse agree to try collaborative divorce.
- You each hire collaboratively trained lawyers.
- The lawyers will talk and come up with possible names for your other professionals.
- Once a mental health professional and a financial professional have been selected, they and your lawyers will meet to discuss the facts of your situation and those things that are important to you. They will also discuss the scheduling of the first full-team meeting. Your lawyers and your other two professionals make up what is called your “Professional Team.”
- You and your professional team will have a series of meetings which are really negotiation sessions to discuss those things that matter most to you and possible options for agreement or settlement. The total number of meetings you may have depends upon the complexity of your situation, your willingness to compromise, and the effectiveness of each meeting.
- A final meeting called a “Signing Meeting” will be scheduled to review and sign your settlement agreements.
- One of the lawyers will file the required documents with the court for a judge to review, sign, and enter into the court record.
- Congratulations! You’re divorced.
WHAT HAPPENS AT THE FIRST FULL TEAM MEETING
- You will likely meet your spouse’s lawyer for the first time. He or she will want to get to know you better and understand your perspective on things like custody, visitation, splitting up your assets and debts, spousal support, child support, and other issues.
- Your attorney will also be meeting your spouse for the first time. So he or she will want to establish rapport with your spouse.
- You will review and sign the Participation Agreement.
- You each might talk about why you chose the collaborative process.
- You will then each talk about your goals and interests. You will probably find out that you and your spouse share a surprising number of common goals and interests.
- With the help of your lawyers, you will identify the issues in your divorce, such as custody, visitation, spousal support, and splitting up your assets and debts.
- You may begin exchanging and reviewing documents or gathering information by asking questions.
- You might discuss the possibility of adding other team members, like a child specialist or a financial advisor.
- You will likely have homework you need to complete before the next meeting.
- You will schedule the next full team meeting.
ARE THERE ANY RULES I SHOULD KNOW ABOUT?
You and your spouse will be required to sign a Participation Agreement.
PARTICIPATION AGREEMENT – Your collaborative divorce has not really started until the participation agreement is signed at the first full-team meeting or before.
This agreement lays out your commitments to the collaborative divorce process such as the following:
- Identification of the values, goals and interests of each person.
- Each person is empowered to make decisions.
- Each person’s lawyer will assist in identifying issues, analyzing relevant information, developing options, and understanding their consequences.
It also specifies rules and guidelines regarding communications during the process such as the following:
- We agree to effectively and honestly communicate with each other.
- All communications between us will be respectful and constructive.
- We agree not to engage in unnecessary discussions about the past.
- We agree to maintain a high standard of integrity and shall not take advantage of each other or of known mistakes and errors of fact or law.
- We acknowledge that inappropriate communications regarding our divorce can be harmful to our children.
- We agree that our goal is to reach an agreement that promotes the best interests of our children.
Finally, it addresses the sharing of information such as the following:
- We agree to make a full and candid exchange of information as necessary to make a proper evaluation of the case, including and not limited to full disclosure of the nature, extent, and value of all income, assets, and liabilities.
- We agree that no formal discovery procedures will be used unless specifically agreed to in advance.
There is also a Code of Conduct that each of you must agree to and abide by. For example, your Code of conduct might include the following:
We agree not to:
- Communicate with my spouse in an offensive manner
- Place telephone calls without a legitimate purpose of communication
- Destroy, remove, conceal, encumber, transfer, or otherwise harm or reduce the value of the property of one or both of us
- Falsify a writing or record relating to the property of either of us
Collaborative divorce requires that if either of you terminates the collaborative process, your collaborative lawyers cannot continue to represent you in a litigated divorce. You will each have to hire new lawyers or represent yourself.
This does not mean that if you have a current litigated divorce and want to try a collaborative divorce that you need new lawyers. A litigated divorce can be put on hold to try a collaborative divorce and you can likely keep your existing lawyer.
WHEN COLLABORATIVE DIVORCE IS THE WRONG PROCESS
Sometimes for couples who have a history of domestic violence, which inevitably involves an extreme power imbalance, collaborative divorce is not a good option.
Also, when a spouse is unable or unwilling to be transparent and honest, collaborative divorce may be the wrong option. For example, a spouse who insists on hiding money or assets, is not a good candidate for collaborative divorce. A spouse who refuses to compromise is also probably a bad candidate for collaborative divorce.
Successful negotiation in divorce requires compromise and a willingness to consider the other spouse’s perspective. It requires a give and take from both spouses. If one spouse intends to take a firm position and not compromise or budge from their position, collaborative divorce may not work.
WHAT SHOULD I KNOW ABOUT HIRING A COLLABORATIVE LAWYER?
When considering who to hire to represent you in a collaborative divorce, you should ask the following questions:
- Have you been trained in collaborative practice?
- When were you trained?
- Have you received any advanced training beyond your basic training in collaborative practice?
- What advanced training have you received? When?
- What organizations do you belong to or have belonged to relevant to collaborative practice?
- Have you served in any leadership roles for any collaborative organizations? Which ones?
- Why do you like collaborative practice?
- Why do you think collaborative divorce is best for families?
- How many collaborative divorce cases have you handled?
- Have you had a collaborative divorce process terminate? Why did it terminate?
- Why should I choose collaborative divorce versus a litigated divorce?
- How will I and my family benefit from a collaborative divorce?
The answers to the above questions should give you a good idea of the lawyer’s training, experience, skill, knowledge, and philosophy about collaborative practice.
Select the lawyer you feel most comfortable with; the lawyer you can see yourself working with to solve the issues in your divorce and help you transition your family through divorce. Choose the lawyer who understands what trauma a family and children can suffer from a litigated divorce and exactly how collaborative practice helps minimize or mitigate that kind of trauma.
SHOULD I HIRE A MAN OR A WOMAN FOR MY LAWYER?
It does not matter. There is no evidence to suggest one gender is more beneficial or effective than the other. It should really come down to who you are most comfortable with.
WHAT TYPE OF LAWYER SHOULD I AVOID FOR MY COLLABORATIVE DIVORCE?
Avoid any lawyer who believes that approaching and handling a collaborative divorce case is the same as taking a divorce to court. I would also recommend that you avoid any lawyer who has not been collaboratively trained.
Our Collaborative Florida Statute does not require that a lawyer be collaboratively trained. However, having practiced collaborative divorce for over 10 years, I would suggest that it should have required at least the basic training.
Handling a collaborative divorce versus an adversarial, litigated divorce requires a paradigm shift in a lawyer’s thinking, behavior, and approach. It requires a mindset that mitigating harm and trauma to families and children is a duty and responsibility of practicing family law.
WHAT OTHER PROFESSIONALS MIGHT I WANT ON THE COLLABORATIVE TEAM?
You might want a Coach. A divorce coach or conflict coach.
They can help you prioritize issues, support you through the emotional process of divorce, help you communicate more effectively with your spouse, and help you manage your spouse if he or she is a high conflict personality type.
You also might want a child specialist. These are professionals experienced with working with children and families transitioning through the divorce process. They can be advocates for the children and make recommendations to the parents based upon input from the children.
You might want some type of financial specialist, like a Certified Financial Planner or investment specialist.
You might need a Business Valuation Expert if one or both of you own one or more businesses. Determining the value of a business is a specialized skill and is critical when it comes to splitting up your stuff.
WHAT DOES IT COST?
Fees for collaborative divorce vary widely.
Some lawyers charge a retainer and will bill you by the hour with a billable rate anywhere from $250 to $500 per hour. While some lawyers offer flat fees or fixed fees per meeting. For example, some lawyers may charge you $750 to $2000 or more per collaborative full-team meeting.
Other lawyers may charge a flat fee or fixed fee between $3000 or $20,000 or more for the entire collaborative case from start to finish. Finally, some lawyers may reduce their fees for certain families and may also limit the total number of full-team meetings.
In sum, the fees and costs will vary depending upon who you talk to. So make sure you talk to at least a few different collaboratively trained lawyers to get an idea of what your costs might be.
At Leap Frog Divorce, you have a lot of options as follows:
- A reasonable retainer plus a sliding-scale hourly rate based upon your family’s household income
- A flat fee or fixed fee for the entire case from start to finish
- A flat fee or fixed fee for each full-team meeting
- A reasonable retainer and hourly rate with the option of a payment plan
Our mission is simple – to provide zealous representation, high quality divorce and other family law services at a price you can afford.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A COLLABORATIVE DIVORCE FAILS?
Sometimes a collaborative divorce process will terminate. There are a wide variety of reasons this might happen, such as:
- One spouse threatens litigation if he does not get what he wants immediately.
- Someone is refusing to be honest and transparent regarding the children or finances.
- Compromise is not happening and someone is refusing to budge or is taking a hard-nosed position on an issue.
If this happens, your collaborative process will stop. Your lawyers stop representing you, and you will be given time to find new lawyers.
WHAT COLLABORATIVE ORGANIZATIONS ARE THERE?
- IACP – International Academy of Collaborative Professionals
- FACP – Florida Academy of Collaborative Professionals
- Collaborative Family Law Group of Central Florida
WHEN DID COLLABORATIVE START?
It began around 1990 and was started by Stuart Webb, a lawyer in Minnesota who knew there had to be a better way for families to get divorced.
Here’s a quote from his book “The Collaborative Way To Divorce:”
“In 1989, I had been a divorce lawyer for about eighteen years and was getting pretty sick of it. I saw what the adversarial court battles that were the focus of divorce were doing to my clients, and I knew the resulting negativity was having an effect on me too.
In traditional litigation two lawyers (or teams of lawyers) hash out the divorce in a court of law. The actual parties to the divorce – the husband and wife – have almost no direct contact with each other, and what little interaction they have is usually bitter and unproductive. Tension, fear, anger, and recrimination prevail. This traditional process makes it almost impossible for the parties to have anything remotely resembling a healthy relationship after the divorce, even when there are children involved.”
CONTACT A SKILLED, AGGRESSIVE, AND EXPERIENCED ORLANDO COLLABORATIVE DIVORCE LAWYER TODAY
Starting a divorce can be difficult. Divorce is the second most stressful event someone will ever experience. It is important to have a guide who can help you identify your rights and responsibilities that you might overlook trying to do it yourself. Having an attorney who focuses their practice 100% on family law and divorce is essential because you need a professional who understands everything about divorce. The anger, the fear, the betrayal, and the anxiety about your financial future.
Divorce and divorce-related situations is all we do here at Leap Frog Divorce. We’re ready to help you today, and we have affordable options.