Some aspects of entering an unfamiliar process are hard to explain and hard to understand until you experience it. As the saying goes, “you don’t know what you don’t know until you KNOW it!”. I hope this article can help you to KNOW as much as you can so you can be better prepared for the journey through the collaborative divorce process.
There are slight variations to each piece of the Collaborative Process, depending on whether you have chosen to use a neutral facilitator, and/or neutral financial professional. In Florida having two attorneys (one representing each client in a dispute) is required by law. Additionally, each of the neutral professionals and the team as a whole will tailor their approach to the unique and varying needs of each set of clients entering a divorce or who has a family law issue they need resolved. So, the content here is intended to merely give you a sense of what you can expect when navigating the Collaborative Process.
Let’s assume you’ve retained a Collaboratively trained (and hopefully seasoned) family law attorney, a neutral facilitator and a neutral Financial Professional. Each of these professionals has a different level of expertise and “lens” through which they approach the divorce process. Therefore, each one of these professionals needs to gather information pertinent to being well-informed and to being able to provide adequate, if not extensive, information to clients navigating divorce or a family law issue that is in dispute.
You can expect to meet with the professionals of the team: the neutral facilitator, your attorney, and the neutral Financial Professional, individually at first. Sometimes each one of these professionals may see both of you together as well. These individual meetings are meant to gather information pertinent to their respective disciplines and include wanting to know what is most important to you for this process and for the outcome of this process.
In general, the neutral facilitator is gathering information relevant to communication, cooperation, mental health issues that may impede the process, child concerns, readiness, emotionality, co-parenting issues; evaluating a client’s competency in the areas needed to navigate the divorce process effectively, safety issues and your understanding of how the Collaborative Process works. The financial neutral will gather information pertaining to marital assets, liabilities, income, and costs of living. The attorneys will gather information related to a spouse’s interests and concerns as it pertains to the law, which they may use as guidance for their clients to contemplate.
It is important that once a foundation of understanding is made by each respective professional, they meet as a professional team to discuss the various perspectives in order to align goals and interests with how the team will approach the process for the sake of being as efficient and solution focused as is possible. The professional team then coordinates and plans for our first team meeting and in some cases schedules subsequent team meetings in anticipation of moving the process forward.
“Pressing issues” may come up at any point in the process and can include things like conflict between spouses, safety concerns for children, real estate market fluctuations or actions taken or needed to be taken by the family, changes in employment, etc. These issues result in a need for the team to address them as timely as is possible to best help the clients mutually decide what and how to resolve the issue(s). The team will enlist whichever professional is best suited to address the need first to gather the necessary information to be brought to the professionals and/or the full team (clients included) to discuss and resolve asap.
Parenting plans, co-parenting and parenting issues are typically addressed with the neutral facilitator “offline” (meaning outside of full team meetings), as needed. Similarly, financial questions or issues may be addressed “offline” by the financial neutral and the clients.
Each professional takes on a role to help manage clients’ expectations and provide guidance as the process unfolds. We may reach out privately with a client to discuss an issue or concern brought up by the client(s) or identified by the professional(s) to help improve the Collaborative Process.
The more clients can gather and provide necessary information requested by the professionals; communicate effectively; negotiate and resolve their disputes; the more efficiently the process moves forward.
The hallmarks of the Collaborative Process include: transparency; a disqualification clause which directs 100% of the efforts of the professionals toward resolving all aspects of your divorce within this Process; confidentiality; and using an interest-based approach, which fosters resolutions that take into consideration common and differing interests of each spouse.
For a spouse who is facing the divorce process or a client with a family law dispute entering the Collaborative Process, it is common that communication between their spouse or co-parent has broken down, or is dysfunctional in some way; that there is a lack of transparency as a result, or for other reasons; and that there is no functional way to resolve issues. As an individual navigating this process, what you will find is support from the team to improve and create transparency of all aspects of your issues that are in dispute, with expert guidance and input, that enables you to make well-informed decisions together = agreements. Another key piece that is beneficial to clients who choose this Process, and helps improve efficiency, is the support to and experience of making and following agreements. Making, and following (small to big) agreements helps to build a level of trust and goodwill. With the professionals in place, both spouses are held accountable for the agreements they make. That is not to say that things can change and an agreement you make might need to change, but when that situation occurs a change in an agreement is made with adequate information, support, communication and consensus of the full team.
Entering the Collaborative Process as a Client provides you the experience of being put on to a “level playing field” with your spouse, so that you can see, learn, and understand all aspects of your issues in dispute and get the right support to make effective decisions, which are yours to make. The professional team is here to inform you and provide guidance and input. Ultimately, decisions remain in your hands. We move forward with each aspect of your case by agreements you make together. Likewise, the approach we take as a professional team is also made by agreement of the professionals every step of the way. By consensus. Unilateral actions or decisions are not encouraged or permitted. As a result, this approach affords clients a stable and cohesive experience.
With each agreement made, more and more aspects of your case are resolved until there are no more issues left to address. Once all issues are resolved, the attorneys will draft a final global contract that encompasses all agreements made for you to review and file in the courts. Once filed, your case is complete.
As a result of using the Collaborative Process, most clients’ experience improved ability to communicate, negotiate, experience a higher level of goodwill and trust for each other and end in a much better place then clients who chose other legal processes to navigate their family law disputes. When it comes to clients who have shared relationships like children, family, friends, etc, this outcome is preferred because it keeps conflict to a minimum and helps protect these shared relationships. If you ask any person entering a divorce or family law process what they want most they will most often say: “to protect my kids, to keep the peace, to stay out of the courts, to spend as little time and money as is possible.” The Collaborative Process is best suited to effectively address ALL of these commonly held goals.
If you want to learn more feel free to reach out. I’m an accredited Collaborative professional facilitator and invested in promoting and educating the public on this new alternative dispute resolution process.