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About Collaborative Practice

Collaborative Practice, including Collaborative Law and interdisciplinary Collaborative Divorce, is a new way for you to resolve disputes respectfully — without going to court — while working with trained professionals who are important to all areas of your life. The term incorporates all of the models developed since IACP’s Minnesota lawyer Stu Webb created Collaborative Law ideas in the 1980s.

Divorce is a sensitive personal matter. No single approach is right for everyone. Many couples do find the no-court process known as Collaborative Practice (Collaborative Law/Collaborative Divorce) a welcome alternative to the often destructive, uncomfortable aspects of conventional divorce. Please contact our office to learn more and receive advice from our certified specialists who can aid you in your divorce process.

The heart of Collaborative Practice or Collaborative Divorce (also called “no-court divorce,” “divorce with dignity,” “peaceful divorce”) is to offer you and your spouse or partner the support, protection, and guidance of your own lawyers without going to court. Additionally, Collaborative Divorce allows you the benefit of child and financial specialists, divorce coaches and other professionals all working together on your team.

About Divorce Mediation

Divorce mediation is about you and your soon to be ex-spouse deciding your own divorce and what is best for the both of you and most importantly, your children. In mediation, you and your spouse meet with a neutral third party, the mediator, and with their help, you work through the issues you need to resolve so the two of you can end your marriage as amicably and cost effective as possible.

Prepare For Your Divorce

1. Envision civil negotiations. Really.
2. Make a checklist of issues to discuss at each session.
3. Sketch out a parenting plan or two.
4. Gather financial documents.
5. Strive for fairness in asset and debt division.
6. Draft a prospective monthly budget for you (and your children).
7. Address the inevitable shortfall (e.g., earning more, making do with less).
8. Consider spousal support and calculate child support.
9. Consult a family lawyer.
10. Monitor your attitude. Stay positive. It’s better for you and MUCH better for your children.

+ Mediation Agreements

In mediation, the couple, with the help of the mediator, works out agreements on the above issues. Sometimes agreements come easy, sometimes they take time and a lot of work. When agreements are hard to reach, that is when the mediator intervenes. It is the mediators job to keep the lines of communication open, brainstorm ideas, reality test the couple, teach empathy and assist the couple in their decision making process. Mediators help keep the couple focused on the issues at hand, trying not to get them off track. When divorcing couples get off track and away from the above issues during mediation, arguing, name-calling and bad prior memories are brought up.

Mediation is flexible and confidential. It gives you and your spouse a way to settle the conflict between you in a way that helps you to work together as parents. This is extremely important if you have children and must interact with your ex-spouse after you are divorced. Mediation brings about communication between the couple, which can then be used when they must discuss issues in pertaining to the children. Lack of communication may have been one of the main reasons for their divorce. Mediation has the ability to help the couple learn to communicate again, if only for the sake of the children, and make their post-divorce relationship better than their married one.

A divorce mediator is neutral and doesn’t “work” for either parent. That means the mediator can not give advice to either party. They must remain neutral no matter what the situation.

What the mediator can do, though, is assist the divorcing couple in formulating ideas that can eventually lead to agreements that will stand the test of time. That open and free exchange of information frees up both spouses to negotiate with each other in confidence. Because both spouses are working with the same base of information, it usually takes far less time to negotiate a resolution that makes sense to both spouses.

Mediation is voluntary. It continues only for so long as all three of you – you, your spouse, and the mediator — want it to. Mediations can be conducted weekly, every two weeks, monthly or how ever often the couple wants them to be. This is their mediation and they decide everything in the process.

+ What should I Expect?

Collaborative Practice Is A Voluntary Dispute Resolution Process that covers the following:

  1. The parties sign a collaborative participation agreement describing the nature and scope of the matter

  2. The parties voluntarily disclose all information which is relevant and material to the matter that must be decided

  3. The parties agree to use good faith efforts in their negotiations to reaching a mutually acceptable settlement

  4. Each party must be represented by a lawyer whose representation terminates upon the undertaking of any contested court proceeding

  5. The parties may engage mental health and financial professionals whose engagement terminates upon the undertaking of any contested court proceeding

  6. The parties may jointly engage other experts as needed

+ Am I a Good Fit

If these values are important to you, Collaborative Practice is likely to be a workable option for you:

  1. I want to maintain the tone of respect, even when we disagree.

  2. I want to prioritize the needs of our children.

  3. My needs and those of my spouse require equal consideration, and I will listen objectively.

  4. I believe that working creatively and cooperatively solves issues.

  5. It is important to reach beyond today’s frustration and pain to plan for the future.

  6. I can behave ethically toward my spouse.

  7. I choose to maintain control of the divorce process with my spouse, and not relegate it to the courts.

Does this path sound and feel comfortable for you? We suggest that you talk to a Collaborative lawyer, divorce coach, child specialist, or financial professional about your situation to help you make the decision.

+ Getting a Divorce? Why you should not just fight it out

There are times when a custody fight appears inevitable. While you, of course, are willing to be reasonable, many parents believe that the other parent either cannot or will not return the favor, and that a court fight is inevitable. Many have traveled the adversarial road, and probably for many of the same reasons. Constant fighting, arguing and blaming in a marriage or similarly committed relationship generally leads to more of the same while dissolving it. Unfortunately, the consequences of continuing this behavior can be dramatic, including protracted litigation, escalating costs, a dramatically reduced standard of living and significant damage to your children’s emotional well-being.

+ Custody Litigation is Unpredictable

While asking a court to solve resolve differences over custody and visitation is, unfortunately, the traditional approach, it is also highly unpredictable. If you doubt this, ask your attorney to guarantee, in writing, what will happen if you choose to litigate your custody and visitation issues. Part of this unpredictability stems from the fact that most parents believe their cause to be righteous. This means, of course, that at least half of all litigants are unpleasantly surprised by the judge’s decision. More importantly, litigation is unpredictable because judges are human beings who naturally differ in their approach to the kinds of problems that custody and visitation disputes present. In almost every case, some factors favor one parent and others the other parent. This means that even when two fairly “good” parents face off in court, both are likely to walk away dissatisfied.

+ Custody Litigation is Usually Costly

If you choose to pursue litigation, the next hurdle will be figuring out how to pay for your court battle. If you decide to represent yourself, you will save on attorney’s fees, although the costs and time associated with filing, (which include doing the legal research as well as preparing and serving your court papers), can be significant, and the results you achieve may be less than you might have expected if you had been represented by an expert. Whether or not you hire an attorney, you may find yourself having to pay for testimony from a counselor or therapist prior to submitting any final report, or a custody evaluation. In addition, you will probably find it necessary to arrange for testimony from friends, relatives, school teachers, clergy members and neighbors.

Funding a child custody battle can be especially difficult in light of the fact that after separation or divorce, the income you once shared must now be used to maintain two separate residences. In addition to separate rent or mortgage payments, telephone service, food and other incidentals, you will be forced to duplicate the furniture, clothes and toys that don’t travel with the children, and meet the costs associated with the distance between your homes (such as travel and telephone). Many who separate or divorce are stunned by how quickly their money disappears!

+ Litigation Damages the Children Regardless of the Result

As important as money is, the economic consequences of fighting in court can be dwarfed by the impact it will have on your children. Mental health professionals, the court system, attorneys, mediators and custody evaluators all agree on one thing—on-going parental conflict is generally the single most damaging stressor for children.

When conflict is obvious and occurs over extended periods of time, children feel torn between loving both parents, hoping someone will magically restore the marriage, and wishing that they could be anywhere but where the battle is raging! You may be surprised to note that this is true even when parents have most of their arguments out of their children’s presence. Because children have spent all of their lives living with and observing their parents, and because children rely on their parents to provide the basic securities of life, they develop an uncanny ability to “read” them. Children are exquisitely sensitive to each parent’s reactions when that parent hears the other parent’s name, receives a call from the other parent, receives court papers from the other parent or calls the attorney.

+ Avoid Litigating Your Custody Dispute if at all Possible

Hopefully, after reading this, you’re convinced that litigation should most definitely be a last resort. Ideally, you should start by researching these issues so that you will have the tools and information you need to resolve your differences with the other parent in as friendly a way as possible and avoid litigation. Next, find out which professionals might be available to support you through the process, (such as attorneys, mediators, mental health professionals, paralegals or others), and develop a plan for resolving your differences which allows both you and the other parent to retain control over the decisions which result. Parenting separately is challenging, but it is a job worth doing well. By making the commitment to put your children’s interests first, and by taking the time to educate yourself about your options, you, your children and the other parent may find that you can develop a parenting agreement that each of you feels is essentially fair.

+ Ten Tips For Preparing For A Divorce Mediation

In preparing for the mediation of your divorce, it’s helpful to think of these things ahead of time.

  1. Envision civil negotiations. Really.
  2. Make a checklist of issues to discuss at each session.
  3. Sketch out a parenting plan or two.
  4. Gather financial documents.
  5. Strive for fairness in asset and debt division.
  6. Draft a prospective monthly budget for you (and your children).
  7. Address the inevitable shortfall (e.g., earning more, making do with less).
  8. Consider spousal support and calculate child support.
  9. Consult a family lawyer.
  10. Monitor your attitude. Stay positive. It’s better for you and MUCH better for your children.

+ How long does divorce mediation take and what are the costs?

The length of mediation depends on what issues have been agreed to prior to mediation and those issues that need to be addressed during mediation. Also, the amount of time spent in mediation is contingent upon you and your spouse’s willingness to come to agreements that are equitable for the both of you and your willingness to do what is in the best interests of your children. The time spent in mediation can be reduced if you and your spouse are able to come to agreements prior to mediation, or at the least, narrow down your options to a few workable ones. However, if you and your spouse are not able to discuss your divorce outside of mediation, it is strongly recommended that you avoid it at all costs. When couples try to work out issues on their own and it leads to arguments and “drawing lines in the sand”, it makes mediation more difficult and time consuming.

On average, pre-decree divorce mediation can be completed in 4-10 sessions. Again, how long it takes really depends on what if any communication there is between the divorcing couples and their level of animosity for each other. If either one of the spouses is unwilling to budge from their certain position on a divorce issues, mediation may not be an option for them and they may have to litigate in court. Once this happens, communication is shut down and the fight begins.

In 2005, the average mediated case cost $3000 and was settled in 90 days. In turn, the average litigated case in the courts cost $15,000 and took 18 months to settle. Keep in mind, the litigated cases led to more spite and frustration between the divorcing couples, usually leading to a lose/lose situation for both. Not many people walk away from a litigated divorce feeling satisfied. On the other hand, couples who went through mediation felt satisfied with the agreements they had reached and both walked away feeling that they had gotten what they had wanted. Who would you rather have decide what happens with your children and assets after a divorce, you during mediation or attorneys and judges during a divorce in the courts? Who knows more about you, attorneys, judges or you? Why have people who know nothing about you tell you how you are going to live the rest of your life.

Also, divorce in the court system is public domain. Anybody can sit in court and hear the specifics of your divorce. On the other hand, mediation is confidential, private and conducted behind closed doors. In mediation, there are no attorneys putting up walls between you and your spouse. Mediation is about working together, doing things in the best interests of your children and focusing on being able to be parents for your children for years to come. Unfortunately, divorce in the court system is designed to put up that wall and limit communication, which inevitably leads to many post divorce problems and many more hours and thousands of dollars in court.