“Back to normal” is a phrase we have all been hearing a lot lately. Everybody is saying and using it, yet everyone has a different concept of what “normal” is supposed to look like now. Is normal watching your kids play soccer without wearing a mask or without your kids being required to wear a mask? Is it normal to attend outdoor barbeques, neighborhood block parties, or movies in a theater?
Unfortunately for some people, there is no normal to go back to because, after months of quarantine, they have decided to get divorced. But today’s normal means that divorce does not have to be adversarial, and the collaborative process ensures that.
What is involved in the collaborative divorce process?
The collaborative process is a way for both you and your spouse to respectfully separate without ever entering a courtroom. In fact, the process itself starts with both spouses and both lawyers signing an agreement that specifically states that everyone agrees to resolve the divorce outside of court. This enables parties to guide the nature and scope of their divorce, control its outcome and avoid having to go to court. The agreement also sets forth that the process is not confidential, thereby allowing open communication and sharing of financial information to empower both parties and not just the less financially savvy spouse.
Agreeing to the collaborative divorce process creates an environment where shared solutions for the highest priorities of both spouses can be reached. Occasionally, outside professional assistance in the form of financial experts or mental health professionals is required to reach these solutions. The result is a collaborative agreement for moving forward that was jointly made by the parties instead of by the court.
If your “new normal” includes a divorce, I encourage you to seek out a collaborative family law attorney. Your divorce can be resolved in a respectful manner where you and your spouse share complete information as well as complete control of the outcome.
How to find a collaborative divorce attorney in Pennsylvania in four easy steps
- Search for a Collaborative Law Professional in Southeastern Pennsylvania.
- Share the site with your spouse.
- Research and select a collaborative professional to represent your interests.
- Reach out for appointments.
What should I bring to the first meeting with my collaborative divorce lawyer?
The goal of the first meeting is for you to share your most important interests and concerns, along with the desired outcome for your divorce. You may have something on your list like, “I would like to find a way to keep the house so that the children stay in the same school district.”
The difference between litigation and the collaborative divorce process
The difference between collaborative practice and litigating is really the difference between taking an interest and taking a position. The collaborative process is an interest-driven concept. Using the example above, the collaborative attorney hears the interest as “the client wants the children to stay in the same school district” whereas the litigation attorney hears “the client wants the marital residence.” While keeping the house may be the outcome, in this case, the collaborative process will make sure that it is a financially sound one for the spouse who wants to retain it. If it is not in that spouse’s best interest to retain the house, then a more affordable house in the same school district can be considered with the help of a real estate professional.
What should I expect at the first meeting with my collaborative divorce attorney and at the first collaborative meeting?
It is not always easy to turn positions into interests, but your collaborative attorney is trained to do just that. The attorney will help you fine-tune your wish list into interests at the first meeting so that you leave the meeting with your interests clearly defined and goals for meeting them. After the meeting, your attorney will contact your spouse’s attorney to openly discuss your respective interests as well as the formal, written collaborative agreement so that the agenda for the first collaborative meeting with the four of you can be compiled. The collaborative agreement is signed at the first four-way meeting, which is also when you determine what additional professionals you might need to help resolve your divorce. If it is decided that your case does not require a financial professional, then the attorneys will provide a list of homework for each of you to complete prior to the next meeting and an agenda will be established for the second meeting. Using the scenario above, the homework for the spouses might be to create individual budgets to see which one can keep the house or which one should try to refinance the mortgage on their own.
There is no need to fight.
Marriage is a harmonious institution. It has always seemed odd to me that the traditional way of dissolving a harmonious union is through an adversarial process where everyone picks a side and then fights to the death. In divorce, most people fear change and worry about their future financial stability. It can be frightening to imagine the loss of one income and/or maintaining your household on one income alone. When we are scared, our natural instinct is to fight to survive. If you can resist the urge to take a position and fight and stop to think about what you really want to achieve by divorcing, your “new normal” through the use of the collaborative process, can result in the restoration of harmony for you and your family.
About Lisa Shapson
Lisa M. Shapson, Esquire is a partner with Berner Klaw & Watson LLP, a boutique, woman-owned family law firm in Philadelphia. She is a trained and experienced arbitrator, collaborative family law attorney, mediator and parenting coordinator; Lisa is also licensed to practice law in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey. She currently serves as the Co-Vice Chair of the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Collaborative Law Committee and is a member of the Nicholas A. Cipriani Inn of Court, where she has served as Co-Chair of the Programming Committee since 2013. Lisa has been consistently named as a Pennsylvania Super Lawyer® since 2013, to Best Lawyers® and to the First Judicial District’s Pro Bono Roll of Honor, for exemplary pro bono work. She was also honored by the First Judicial District with the Family Division, Domestic Relations 2018 Pro Bono Publico Award. Learn more about Lisa here.