Going Through the Collaborative Law Divorce Processes
Though the involvement of a team seems to be scary or expensive, it is quite the opposite. The ideal collaborative divorce involves two collaboratively trained lawyers, a divorce coach for the parties, sometimes a child specialist for the children’s interests, and a certified financial divorce practitioner. So how is this ideal? Note that a typical divorce case lasts two to five years in the court system. The court system is fragmented with different legal paths and different triers of fact for support, custody, and lastly, equitable distribution. There is no global settlement path here, but a series of costly skirmishes in the court system while the cash register tab escalates and soon the children’s college funds are no more. Each of those tracks involves one to six “litigation steps” and can result in numerous prolonged hearings over a long period of time. Price tags for such litigation climb quickly into the six-figure range, not to mention the polarization of parents and the casualties that result from such emotional trauma – especially for the children. Collaborative magic offers a two-to-eight-month window of time for a global resolution depending on complexity and the price tag can be far less than a third of the cost of litigation. The result is a self-directed global settlement that both parties can accept and a commitment to co-parent forever. Parties complete the process in an amicable and dignified manner with the help and support of each special team member. When streamlined to suit each case, the costs are kept down by the cooperation of the team. Instead of paying two lawyers to address all aspects of the case, the parties get to meet separately with the other team members for specific purposes. By way of example, such as meeting with a child specialist or divorce coach to come to a good parenting plan, or both meet with the financial specialist to discuss budgets or gather the information about the assets and liabilities and present options for maximizing the resources available to the parties. The glue that holds everything together is the participation agreement which includes a mandate for full disclosure. There is no litigation game playing or holding out of information, so no need for expensive formal discovery tactics that cause nothing but bitterness and anguish for the participants. The other hallmark is the disqualification clause which mandates that there will be no litigation or the team must withdraw, so the participants stay focused and committed to their goal of an amicable global settlement.
Customizing the Divorce Process for Both Parties
So does that mean that every collaborative case must follow the same direction and the same protocol? Absolutely not as every case is unique and demands its own adaptations. The trick is not to lose sight of the end goal of streamlining the process to suit the parties’ needs. It is moving through the process in a way that is not only the most cost efficient for the parties but also more emotionally manageable while upholding the integrity of the collaborative process. For some cases, streamlining may mean making the process simpler by identifying non-essentials or obstacles and removing them to improve the flow of the process. In other cases, it may mean speeding up the process to meet both parties’ needs or timeline, or slowing it down, or taking a break and regrouping if the case is beginning to fall apart. Another facet may mean an adjustment of professional fees across the board to meet the parties’ available budget. Streamlining does not mean skipping the necessary steps as identifying goals and interests prior to brainstorming options as these steps are necessary for the success of the process. It does not mean skipping essential planning and debriefing meetings among the team to identify what is working and what is not, and to efficiently and effectively navigate the process with the parties. Instead, streamlining includes determining what work needs to be done together as a team and where the work can be done separately. It does mean to balance both the parties’ and the professionals’ need for structure and flexibility. Streamlining also means preparing the clients before each meeting so that the meeting flows and the clients are not overwhelmed or lost. It means debriefing with the client afterwards to make sure they are comfortable with the process and their needs are being met. Failure to streamline will result in case derailment. In a nutshell, streamlining depends on timely, complete and accurate information and staying on task with each professional staying in their own lane while being open and supportive to one another and the parties. But most of all, the success of streamlining relies on keeping open all lines of communication – with the parties, with your colleagues, and amongst the team, and being creative in mind and in spirit.
About Maribeth Blessings
Born in Massachusetts, I have long lost my New England accent. My Father became well known for his Work-Time-Measurement process, so the family followed the job offers from Massachusetts to New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and finally back to Mother Merck in Pennsylvania. My two sisters and I lived the work time measurement process and were literally out of the house for school in 45 minutes with rotation between getting and eating breakfast, chores and bathroom primping time. Moving and adjusting to new friends, new schools, and new adventures nurtured an already active imagination. My identification with Peter Pan as a young tomboy has stayed with me for my lifetime, and I still am not sure if I ever want to truly grow up and lose the child within me.
My life dream was to be a teacher. I graduated from Kutztown University with a B.S. in Elementary Education and a minor in Spanish. Ideally, I wanted to teach English in a Spanish speaking country, But life is a series of choices, so I ended up continuing the pattern of relocations by following a military Husband through 26 moves and 11 states. I had two amazing children, with one born in Alaska and the other in Hawaii – the best souvenirs ever! I taught grade school for nine years, mostly in private schools where my children attended and once in an innovative open structure pilot school in Anchorage, Alaska where I taught first grade. That was an amazing experience. I absolutely loved Alaska and its pioneer spirit, where school closed when the spring thaw arrived with frothing waves filling dried riverbeds teaming with salmon trying to work their way back to their home breeding ground. It was quite an experience to be amidst the frenzied excitement of the locals hooking one salmon after another while Kodiak brown bears were doing the same thing downstream.
Life can throw some potent punches and that which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. My husband had left the military but still seemed compelled to move often, so I never had to worry about spring cleaning as we were never in one place that long. During one of my favorite years of teaching seventh and eighth grade history and drama (there is the child within me again), I found myself alone with two children, an empty house and a mortgage I couldn’t possibly sustain. So back to Pennsylvania and family we came. After realizing teaching in private schools wasn’t going to pay the bills, I looked to a career change that still kept me connected to children. I will always be grateful to the Ohio lawyer who helped me through a difficult time with compassion and unwavering support.
Spending eight years in child support enforcement and as a hearing officer adjudicating support, I found I was good at helping others, as I had been helped through a difficult time. I resolved to go to law school nights for three and a half years and entered the private practice arena mentored by two amazing women. Years later, through the support and love of my husband who gave me a little push, I ventured to open my own firm, and have now reached my dream of devoting myself solely to helping people going through a difficult time preserve their families while dissolving their marriage. I am a peacemaker who is focused on creating a forum for parties to take control of their own lives and utilize processes that keep them and their children out of the courtroom while preserving a cooperative co-parenting relationship and keep their monies in their own pockets. My entire firm focuses on processes of cooperative negotiation, mediation, and collaborative family law, where the parties control the process and self-direct the outcome with the support of their attorneys, team or mediator. Instead of two to five years battling each other in a courtroom to come out broken and broke, parties are able to move forward on an amicable basis in a short amount of time with far less emotional and financial damage. And children don’t get caught in the middle! I get to put my head on my pillow at night satisfied that I made a difference in someone’s life for the better! What a Peter Pan kind of feeling!