Collaborative Law/ Is a Collaborative Divorce a Fit for You?
Collaborative law is a voluntary process by which you attempt to avoid litigation at virtually all costs, but it doesn’t fit every case. The number one prerequisite for entry into the collaborative process is a commitment to lay all the cards on the table, be totally transparent and cooperative and work with the team in good faith. If BOTH of the parties and the attorneys are not willing to commit to this, the process should not be attempted.
Collaborative law involves the use of a collaborative team made up of both of the parties, one lawyer for each of the parties, a neutral forensic C.P.A., and a neutral process facilitator/mental health professional. The first thing you notice here is that there are four professionals that have to get paid. That sounds like a big commitment without any assurances of success. In cases with at least reasonably substantial assets and issues, the advantage is that, although you may spend what seems to be a significant amount of money, you will never break the bank or spend an amount equivalent to your children’s college education funds as can happen in a litigated divorce.
The neutral C.P.A. works with both of the parties in developing a joint marital balance sheet after all assets and liabilities are identified and valued. A good example of the advantages of the process is that appraisals and/or formal business valuations are often not necessary when the parties are able to agree as to values with the help of one C.P.A. In contested litigation, often each party has their own CPA, doubling the expense. That alone can save a tremendous amount of money compared to the cost in a litigated divorce. The C.P.A. also helps the parties work out certain scenarios and option building related to alimony and child support.
The neutral process facilitator/mental health professional is generally a psychologist with significant background and training in the family law process. That person can be of tremendous help with regard to the emotions involved in a divorce, keep them at a minimum, and do what is necessary to prioritize the best interest of the children. Often parenting plans can be worked out in a matter of a few weeks rather than spending months and many thousands of dollars on the process.
The team commits to a series of meetings, rather than litigation, making it clear that the entire team is working toward common solutions in the best interest of the family. You always have the right during the process to meet with your attorney and/or any of the professionals alone to make sure that you are completely informed and your voice is being heard. The meetings are generally pleasant and very productive. If a collaborative agreement can be reached, the process of having it approved by the Court and/or getting a dissolution a marriage becomes simple. Usually the process takes between 3 and 5 meetings to complete, over a period of 4 to 8 months. Obviously there are cases where it can be completed sooner or later.
One of the guiding principles of collaborative law is that, if a settlement agreement cannot be reached and/or the process is terminated, both attorneys and the other professionals can no longer be involved in the case and both of the parties have to transition to litigation counsel and effectively begin again. Although this sounds extreme, it is critical to the process in that everyone becomes so invested in it that failure is not a reasonable option.
Our law firm has a great deal of experience with the collaborative law process and has been one of the leading firms in the development of the process in Pinellas County since the beginning. We have been fortunate enough to complete the process successfully in excess of ninety percent of our cases.
Finally, all of the research shows that when parties are able to reach an agreement involving their family disputes, rather than have a Judge decide these private issues. the agreement is almost always more comfortable to both of the parties and more likely to be enforced without need for litigation in the future by voluntary compliance. The St. Petersburg collaborative lawyers at Meros, Smith, Lazzara, Brennan & Brennan, P.A. can assess your situation and address your concerns. Please fill out the online form or call 727-822-4949 to schedule a consultation.