Most people who have gone through a divorce will tell you that the experience was emotionally wrenching, painful and prohibitively costly. Those people are also likely to tell you that the divorce lawyers contributed to these problems by heightening conflict and escalating arguments over the placement of the children, payment of support and division of the property, all the while charging increasing fees. Divorce law is applied to a family in crisis. Unfortunately, the legal process seeks to resolve that crisis in an adversarial system that often intensifies the conflict. Divorce lawyers, who perceive their role as winning for their client, usually defined as gaining the most time with the children and the most money, advocate only the positions of their own clients. The lawyers often engage in contentious, last minute negotiations. When such negotiations fail, the parties may put their disputes before a judge, a stranger to themselves and their children, for decisions. Any veteran family lawyer or mental health professional can tell you that trials in divorce solve little and often perpetuate problems.
What can be done to ease the burden of such a divorce? A new process is available for divorcing couples in Florida. The process is called “collaborative family practice.” In a collaborative case the couple agrees that they will work together to reach a settlement of the placement and custody of the children and financial issues in their divorce in a way that meets the needs of all family members, including the children. The parties and the lawyers each agree, in writing that they will not go to court to settle their issues. In the event the parties do not succeed in settling their differences without going to court, the lawyers, by agreement, must both withdraw. This creates an incentive for everyone to reach agreements. The parties and the lawyers each agree to work together as a team to reach a fair settlement. The collaborative lawyers act as legal advisors and problem solvers rather than as adversarial gladiators. Experiences in many places where collaborative family practice has been used, such as Minnesota, California, Texas, Florida and Canada show that divorces resolved in this way are less financially and emotionally painful, and prevent returns to court when new issues arise between the parties.
Generally, in a collaborative case, the parties meet with their lawyers in a series of four -way settlement conferences. Each party has the advice of a divorce lawyer who is specially trained in the practice of collaborative law as well as experienced in the practice of family law. The parties may agree to use the services of other professionals, including financial advisors and mental health professionals specializing in child related or divorce issues. Since the professionals are neutral and are jointly chosen to provide input rather than take sides only one is need from any discipline.
Although most of the collaborative cases deal with divorce, other family matters such as paternity and modifications of final judgments can utilize the collaborative process.