Many words are associated with the divorce process. Despite what one may think, the most prevalent and most destructive of these is a simple four letter word: fear. Divorce places an enormous stress on all persons involved. More often than not, the stress stems from fear. On an emotional level, there is a fear of being alone, either as a single parent, a person reentering the workforce after many years or of losing the status of being married. From a financial standpoint, parties have a great deal of fear concerning their short and long term financial future.
The collaborative divorce process seeks to minimize fear as it is the greatest impediment towards settlement. In a collaborative divorce, the parties agree not to go to court and instead to freely and voluntarily disclose information and endeavor to reach an agreement. The parties agreement also provides that their lawyers, divorce coaches and child and financial specialists, if made part of the collaborative process, cannot participate in litigation if the collaborative process terminates. The process is confidential and all team members sign an agreement to that effect. However, where other professionals are involved, the agreement waives privilege to the extent that the professionals may exchange, amongst themselves, information gathered from their meetings with the parties to further understanding of the parties and their children’s needs.
The traditional Collaborative Divorce model separates the divorce process into two components. Divorce coaches and child specialists seek to quell client’s emotional fears by handling coparenting plans and addressing communication issues. Financial specialists and attorneys tackle the legal and financial aspects of the divorce, by dividing the parties assets and creating a financial plan which addresses both parties needs, both presently and in the future.
Although collaborative divorce has been successful in many instances, there has been negative feedback concerning the process. In a study performed by the Collaborative Family Law Group in San Diego, it was found that most of the complainants raised questions concerning the necessity of coaches and specialists, uncertainty about settlement issues and the amount of time it took for the process to conclude. The San Diego group found that most complaints arose in cases where the collaborative divorce team did not work closely together. As a result, the group restructured their collaborative model and now advocates for integrated meetings involving all team members. In the old approach, coaches and child specialists would not attend meetings. As a result, if issues concerning parenting arose, the clients were told to wait and address those issues with their coaches. This revised model allows clients to have all issues addressed in one meeting and gives clients the impression that settlement issues, generally more financial in nature, and emotional issues are equally important. When emotional issues are handled as they arise, client’s anxiety lessens, making them able to work more effectively towards settlement.
As discussed in a previous article, collaborative practice groups across the country are still wrestling with the issue of whether to implement the interdisciplinary approach to collaborative law. As experience is beginning to show, the integrated approach can effectively achieve settlement by eliminating the stress and anxiety brought on by the fear factor.
Lori Barkus is a Supreme Court Certified Civil Mediator, a Family Law Mediator and a Collaborative Divorce professional who practices in the areas of Marital and Family Law, Collaborative Divorce and mediation. She is a current member of Collaborative Family Lawyers of South Florida.
For more information on collaborative law, see the website of Collaborative Family Lawyers of South Florida for information about the local association and its member lawyers in Broward and South Palm Beach County.