Articles Posted in Collaborative Law

Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often a real loser—in fees, expenses, and waste of time. As a peacemaker the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.

–  Abraham Lincoln

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The primary function of a consulting attorney is to provide advice and counsel during the mediation process and provide the support you need to advocate for yourself. This is different from a “review attorney” whose primary job is to review the agreement that has been drafted after the mediation process is over. These are 2 very different roles. If you took my previous advice and are interviewing consulting attorneys, these are 3 important questions to ask.

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When it comes to choosing an alternative to divorcing in court, both divorce mediation and collaborative divorce have their own unique advantages.

Divorce Mediation

Divorce mediation is a private and confidential method of non-adversarial divorce in which the participants advocate for their own needs and concerns without a lawyer present in the room. The mediator will help the parties reach a consensus through a series of 3-way meetings. Although the negotiations are taking place between the spouses, it is highly recommended that each party has a consulting attorney during the process. The mediator is able to provide the couple with legal information, but a consulting attorney can provide a party with individual legal advice. Additionally, the parties may wish to consult other professionals such as appraisers, financial professionals, accountants, and divorce coaches.

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This fall, I attended a meeting of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, where one of the keynote speakers was Donna Hicks, PhD. Throughout Donna’s academic and professional career she has written books about the power of dignity and, specifically, its importance in negotiations of all kinds. Her past clients have included the United States Navy, several large healthcare systems and corporations, and various governments around the world.

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One of the weaknesses of litigated divorce is that it encourages rigid thinking that stands in the way of compromise.

Choosing your battles wisely is an important strategy in all areas of life, including if you are in the process of divorce. Unfortunately, traditional divorce attorneys often neglect to give their clients this advice, encouraging them to fight for everything they say they want, regardless of how impractical, impossible or destructive it may be.  And when the other spouse inevitably takes opposite positions on those same issues, there’s nowhere to go but to the courthouse where both parties will be subjected to the slow-moving and very public litigation process.

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Before marriage was made available to every American, same-sex couples struggled with issues that married couples could take for granted – like hospital visitation rights, after-death services and inheritance rights.

In order to achieve that same peace of mind that married couples enjoy, gays and lesbians came up with some brilliant solutions to bridge the dire straits in which they found themselves. In New York City, the government began a Domestic Partnership registry which granted hospital visitation, health insurance coverage and the inheritance of rent-controlled apartments, among other things. But because those provisions only applied to government-run agencies, lesbians and gays took matters into their own hands to protect themselves and their partners in the private sector through the use of wills, healthcare proxies and burial instructions. Continue reading

A high-net-worth couple going through a divorce can benefit greatly by staying out of court.

Couples with considerable assets (which I will define here as more than $5 million) are often lead to believe that their divorce will be a “no holds barred,” brutal, lengthy process with astronomical legal bills and complicated offers and counter-offers. Because of this belief, many high-net-worth couples assume that mediation or the collaborative law process will not work for them.

They couldn’t be more mistaken. In my experience, the opposite is true; high-net-worth families have more to gain by keeping things civil and private. Unfortunately, many attorneys who practice litigation harbor a killer instinct that grows along with their clients’ assets, and they see a litigated divorce as the only way to satisfy that instinct.

I was recently sitting at my desk when I received a text message from a phone number I didn’t recognize. In rapid succession I received the following missives:

  • “I don’t respect people who hit children.”
  • “You belong in jail for the rest of your life!”
  • “Where you can hit a woman!”
  • “LMAO, who’s not on parole!”
  • “How pathetic what a cheater you are too.”

This person, who was obviously in distress around a family law matter and possibly even dealing with domestic violence, was exhibiting a habit I see often with my clients: Talking to a spouse or partner directly becomes so emotionally difficult, they start using text messages as their main source of communication. While it can feel easier or safer to express difficult feelings by text or email, separating and divorcing couples should use these methods of communication only if they are careful about what they are writing before hitting the send button.

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Something I have been seeing more and more in my practice as a mediator and collaborative attorney are couples living apart for long periods of time, without being legally separated.

For various reasons, many married couples decide to separate for years without having any legal agreements in place. They don’t realize until years later when one of them is seeking a divorce that the legal, financial and emotional issues caused by the years of separation can become very difficult to resolve.

Below are just some of the pitfalls that people encounter when they separate unofficially:

  • When two spouses start living separately, the clock starts ticking on a new status-quo. Eventually, the lifestyle maintained by the lower-earning spouse during the separation can become the standard for the amount of spousal support that is required in the future.
  • Non-legal separations do not necessarily end the legal financial union between spouses. That means all the money earned – or debts being incurred – by either spouse may still be considered part of the shared marital estate.
  • The higher earning spouse is not necessarily going to get credit under the law for the amount of support they’ve been providing.
  • Once a couple moves into separate residences, communication between them can break down even more than it was while they were living together, which makes negotiating a separation agreement even harder than it has to be.
  • If either spouse starts a new relationship and spends money on the new partner, it can be considered a “waste of marital assets,” which can result in complicated requests for repayment (financially as well as emotionally).

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The feeling of or ability to be in control can be an elusive concept to many, and the lack of control can be a source of anxiety to those who crave it. When it comes to personal matters, like divorce, the need for control may be even greater. The feeling like one is not in control of his or her own future or relationship is a common frustration expressed by divorcing couples who are litigating and at the mercy of the court system. Luckily, there are alternative options for couples wishing to seize control of their divorces.

Mediation and collaborative law are private processes. These processes keep everything between just you, your attorneys and any other professionals who you invite into your case.

Besides offering privacy and dignity, the mediation and collaborative law processes also provide a degree of control that is absent from the court system: