Collaborative Divorce is a process that is becoming more popular, as people look for ways to handle divorce and other family law cases that are less adversarial and less expensive than traditional litigation. The Florida legislature recently passed a Collaborative Family Law bill that was signed into law by the Governor, and the Florida Supreme Court has approved Rules of Procedure for collaborative cases. Collaborative Family Law is now an officially recognized part of the family law process, like mediation or the rules governing trials.
One of the significant aspects of the Collaborative Law rules is a procedure to stop and take a case out of the litigated adversarial process, or begin the case from the outset outside of the court process, and also rules regarding neither collaborative divorce attorney continuing to participate in the case if it becomes a litigated, contested case. In a collaborative divorce or other collaborative family law case, each party retains a collaborative family law attorney, and the parties and their attorneys sign a formal Participation Agreement in which they agree to work through and settle the case outside of court.
There are some variations in how a collaborative case can proceed. Unless the parties are already for the most part in agreement or resources are tight and the parties with the help of their lawyers are able to work well together, in my opinion it is best for collaborative cases to be led by a neutral facilitator who will be a mental health professional. The mental health professional (MHP) will meet with each party to understand what issues are important to them and also to assess for safety — to be sure the process will be safe for all involved, and to be sure each party is capable of participating. Thereafter, the case proceeds through meetings among the two parties and attorneys and the MHP. The parties and lawyers attend the meetings, and the MHP leads the meeting with input from the attorneys as needed, rather than the attorneys driving the process. It can make a big difference, for example when you are trying to work out a parenting plan for time-sharing, for the parents to be discussing children's issues with the neutral MHP versus a legal discussion with each attorney — the lawyers are still there for input and to help come up with options and support the process.
When there are financial issues, a neutral financial professional often will be retained, and will become part of the team and attend meetings when financial issues are addressed. In my opinion, in most cases It will be quicker for the parties in a collaborative law meeting, led by the MHP with the help of the financial neutral, to resolve financial issues like addressing alimony alternatives, rather than through series of settlement correspondences or discussions between the lawyers in a litigated case. Alimony is one issue which can prolong resolution of a divorce, with calculation, discussion and negotiation back and forth, and something which can potentially be resolved much more quickly with all parties there in the room together to discuss the issue and alternatives with their attorneys and the neutral financial professional.
The case proceeds through a series of meetings to resolve all of the issues in the case, and then the attorneys prepare a settlement agreement to present to the Court. The collaborative law attorneys can not represent either party if the case becomes a litigated, contested case, but your collaborative law attorney can prepare the court pleadings to file the case in court and appear with you at the final hearing to submit the settlement agreement and final judgment for the case to the Court.
You can visit the collaborative law FAQ for answers to more questions, and also research regarding the cost and outcomes for collaborative cases.
Call me at (954) 636-7498, or use the contact form on the website, and we can discuss Collaborative Family Law as an option for your family law case.