Benefits In Collaborative Divorce: You Be The Judge!

The Collaborative Process enables parties to decide how to resolve their own issues as they divorce.

by: Brenda B. Shapiro, Esq.

The Florida Probate and Family Law Firm, brenda@flpfl.com

Twenty-seven years ago, I became a family lawyer, thinking it meant I was going to get people divorced. It doesn’t. It means I help clients accept change in their family life, whether through the dissolution of marriage, adoption or shared personal partnerships. Collaborative Law, at last, provides a process to do all those life-changing things in a safe, confidential way. When I litigate, and sometimes I still do, it is my task to ask a stranger in a black robe to decide when my client can see his or her children and how much of what is theirs they have to give away. When I take a Collaborative case, I work with a mental health professional who facilitates, a neutral financial expert, and another collaboratively trained lawyer to help couples decide when they see their kids and how much of what they have, they can keep.

The important part of a Collaborative case is you work with a team to help solve complex problems. Each client is an active participant in the problem-solving process because, of course, it is your problem. The professional team is at your direction to bring our expertise in Law and finance to explore your options with you. The mental health professional helps you craft a parenting plan and navigates all of us through this safe harbor, safe because it is confidential, and your privacy is protected.

Best of all, the time it takes to cruise down the unfamiliar river of dissolution is much less than litigating your case, which has you swimming upstream against the tide. The average litigated family case takes twelve to eighteen months as you push against judicial calendars, each Judge having approximately 2,000 cases. Most Collaborative cases are concluded within six to eight months.  Yes, time is money.

You don’t see the Judge until all the work is done, and you have an agreement for the Judge to stamp. In a Collaborative case, the Judge is happy to see you at the very end because he/she appreciates that you and your team have done the work, and the Judge doesn’t have to decide anything. You did it all!

The Collaborative Process: A Different Way To Divorce

by:  Sydney A. Towne, Esq.

Marks and West, P.A., stowne@marksandwest.com

Months spent stuck at home trying to work and simultaneously homeschool can show the fault lines in a marriage. There will undoubtedly be marriages that can recover from the stresses of the current pandemic; however, there will also be marriages that were not working before and for which this crisis is the final straw. That does not mean that those marriages which will end, must end in a contentious, expensive, and public battle in a courtroom. There is an alternative to end your marriage respectfully, frugally, and privately – Collaborative Divorce.

In 2017, the State of Florida legislature passed new laws that allow couples to divorce almost entirely without having to enter a Courtroom. This procedure is called “Collaborative Divorce,” and it can provide you and your spouse with a different divorce experience than you see in the media or that your friends or family have experienced.

In a Collaborative Divorce, each spouse hires their own collaboratively trained attorney who represents and protects their interests. Upon recommendation of counsel, you, and your spouse will hire a neutral mental health professional and, depending on your assets and liabilities, a neutral forensic accountant. These trained, impartial professionals will guide you and your spouse, along with your attorneys, through a series of team meetings to identify your goals, concerns, assets, and liabilities. After those are identified, you and your spouse, not a Judge who has limited knowledge of your family and circumstances, will make the ultimate decisions about your children, your finances, and your family’s future.

Information regarding your income, the marital estate, reasons for getting divorced, and the amount of any spousal support, is not filed with the Court and remains private. In the same way, your marriage was between you and your spouse; your divorce can also be as well.

Perhaps more important than preserving your privacy and allowing you to control the outcome during what is inevitably a difficult and emotional experience, the Collaborative Divorce process allows you and your spouse to redefine your relationship with the support and experience of trained professionals. If you have children and you want to be able to attend graduations, weddings, and other celebrations without animosity or lingering ill will, Collaborative Divorce provides the best process for working through the end of your marriage civilly.

If the current pandemic has taught us anything, it should be that difficult experiences that are handled calmly by trained and experienced professionals can minimize adverse outcomes and protect the things and people who need it the most. If you are contemplating a divorce, I, as a collaboratively trained attorney who also litigates divorces, would strongly encourage you to consider the Collaborative Divorce process. 

Communication in Collaborative Divorce: It’s Not What You Said, It’s How You Said It, It’s How I Heard it, It’s How I Interpret It

by Rosemarie S. Roth, Esq. and Lana M. Stern, Ph.D. Florida Collaborative Trainers, www.floridacollaborativetrainers.com

Communications are a critical component in the Collaborative Process.  It should be so simple – I say something, you hear it – everything is fine! So what can go wrong? Just about everything!  Communication is so central to everything we do, think and feel that we hardly give it a moment’s pause. It is comprised of many parts – spoken and written language, body language, cognitive distortions (how we interpret what we hear and see) and more.

The Collaborative Process helps educate divorcing spouses on the tone and content of information being shared and how to actively listen and respect another person’s point of view.  Tone and inflection of spoken language are among the key components of verbal communications. Nonverbal messages are transmitted by facial expressions, eye contact and positions, physical touch, dress, posture and even the physical space between people. Written language lacks these nuances and is open to interpretation by the reader.  Our gestures and body language transmit more than what we say or mean. Cognitive distortions describe how we interpret what we see, hear and say since they are automatic and unconscious reflections of our own biases and experiences (people are notdeliberately misinterpreting).  We filter out what we don’t want to hear, see things as “black or white,” jump to conclusions, catastrophize, personalize, blame and label. Mix in cultural diversity, and it becomes immediately obvious just how complicated communications can be. Consistent verbal and non-verbal communications can help a divorcing spouse send the “real” messages that we mean to convey and enhance understanding of one another.

In the Collaborative Process, commands, critical language, moralizing, threats and name calling will immediately shut down a dialogue. In the Collaborative Team meetings, if distortions occur, a reset permits the divorcing spouses to achieve equilibrium to be able to listen to each other. Honest, open communications between the divorcing spouses and the Collaborative Team will enable effective dialogue to reach a meaningful settlement.

A Users’ Guide: Facilitators In The Collaborative Process

Here is a description of the Mental Health Facilitator’s role in the Collaborative Process and a list of five ideas to use them for an enhanced experience.

Lana M. Stern, Ph.D., Miami, Florida, lmsternphd@aol.com, www.drlanamstern.com

As the Facilitator in Collaborative Divorce, a Mental Health Professional addresses the multifaceted emotional issues faced by divorcing spouses in arriving at a marital settlement.  A Facilitator’s role is a necessary factor in the successful completion of a Collaborative Divorce.  Divorcing is one of the most emotionally stressful events that an individual or family will experience due to conflicting emotions and changes that occur on multiple levels.  It is for many, a time of loss, which begins with the acknowledgment that the marriage is over and continues as the family recovers, reorganizes, and restructures relationships.  It is both an end and a beginning and holds sadness and hope for those involved.  Mental Health Facilitators enable this transition to proceed between divorcing spouses while minimizing stress and pain. 

The emotional component of divorce is the most potent force that steers the course of the divorce.  There are many ways to divorce; most of them involve painful changes to the family structure often superimposed in hostile, stressful circumstances with long-term financial and emotional consequences. The Collaborative Process offers an alternative, non-litigated, non-adversarial process. Cool heads may best understand and accept the financial implications consequences of dividing up the family fortune or doing what is in the best interest of the children. Yet, a spouse’s emotions can disrupt brainstorming or the ultimate resolution of the marriage. A divorcing couple is empowered to design their unique resolution, and post-divorce familial relationships are enhanced relative to the traditional divorce process. 

The Facilitator understands human behavior and can model good communication skills but is also alert to emotional issues that can potentially derail a negotiation between spouses, including addictions, domestic violence, domestic psychological abuse, shadow people, and power imbalances.  Through underlying relationship dynamics, Facilitators can enable effective interest-based negotiations and open communications between the spouses and that remove roadblocks to settlement. 

As clients, here are some ideas to gain optimal benefits from the Facilitator on a Collaborative Team:

Step One:  Involve a Facilitator from the beginning of the Collaborative Process. Ask for a meeting between the Facilitator and the divorcing spouses before the first Team meeting to create a safe and comfortable communication environment.  The purpose of the Facilitator’s initial interview with both divorcing clients is to get to know them, to understand their dynamics and communication skills, and to understand what their sensitive areas are in their relationship.  The Facilitator’s observations will be thoughtfully considered by the Collaborative Team to structure meaningful agendas and enable an effective Collaborative Process.

Step Two:  Share feedback with the Facilitator regarding the Collaborative Team Meetings or stumbling blocks that you are experiencing.  The feedback received by the Facilitator is helpful to gain insight in a nonconfrontational manner in setting future agendas for the Collaborative Team meetings and to formulate relevant and useful topics of discussion.

Step Three:  Ask the Facilitator questions about how to address sensitive issues or dynamics with the other spouse in the process.  Facilitators are great educators about potential emotional problems that may be triggered by topics raised during the team meeting. 

 Step Four:  Facilitators can also help resolve time-sharing and associated child support issues during the Collaborative Process upon receiving input from the neutral financial professional.

Step Five:  Facilitators are great listeners.  If you are feeling frustrated with any aspect of the Collaborative Process, venting about the issues can be of great relief and can clarify the problem. Once identified, a problem is usually solvable by the Collaborative Team.

The Facilitator can intervene in simple misunderstandings and real crises by helping with problem-solving, creative thinking, and serving as a support system for the divorcing spouses throughout the Collaborative Process. A Facilitator’s neutrality creates a safe place for understanding the underlying currents to be processed before they disrupt the Collaborative Process.  Apply the five ideas with the Facilitator to enhance your experience in the Collaborative Process.

Follow Us On Social Media

Creating Social Media Presence On Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram: 

Using the Collaborative Divorce Miami name, we have established three Social Media pages to can place content and run marketing campaigns designed to drive traffic to our consumer landing page and CFLI’s web page. 

Follow us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CollaborativeDivorceMiami

Follow us on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/collaborative-divorce-miami

The Value of Learned Skills in the Collaborative Process

The Collaborative Process models valuable listening skills that can be used by spouses to realize a marital settlement, facilitate co-parenting, and enable meaningful relationships.

Rosemarie S. Roth, Esq.

The Law Firm of Rosemarie S. Roth, P.A., Miami, Florida, rlsroth@gmail.com

Clients’ lives change when their divorce is finally over. Divorced spouses confront a myriad of issues that they are better able to handle from their experiences in working through the Collaborative Process. Active communication skills develop as the clients work together, with the guidance of the Collaborative professionals, to achieve a marital settlement. Since the clients’ goal was to reach a marital settlement agreement with a “win-win” result, their concerted efforts of arriving at a settlement that works for each of them through constructive communication can be achieved. Each spouse learns not just to hear what their spouse/partner has said, but to LISTEN to WHAT was being said. As each spouse listens to the other, acknowledging the other spouse’s point of view with respect results in the speaker feeling more comfortable in working with the listener. Developing active listening skills provides a deeper understanding of the other spouse between the speaker and the listener throughout repeated interactions with each other and the Collaborative Team.

Once this level of respect and understanding is reached, the resolution of marital disputes or issues can more readily occur between the divorcing spouses. An example of the effectiveness of this skill was demonstrated recently when a couple, divorced for more than a year, resolved a post-divorce issue that would have brought litigating clients, post-judgment, back to court. During the Coronavirus event, a former husband lost his job and needed to reduce his child support. When he approached the former wife and presented his situation, she readily agreed to his request. 

This post-divorce agreement achieved by the spouses was in stark contrast to when the spouses began to divorce.  When the former wife initially sought counsel for her divorce, she told her attorney she wanted a “bulldog” and explained she was angry and hurt. It took the skill and effort of her lawyer and the other Collaborative Team professionals to enable her to move beyond the negative feelings toward her husband and to listen to him as the Collaborative Process unfolded. The former wife later acknowledged that she had never really listened to her husband during their marriage. After their divorce, the former husband commented that he felt that the former wife finally respected, heard, and understood what he was saying.

The example I shared speaks to the value the Collaborative Process can provide to divorced spouses. Issues involving child support did not result in an argument between the divorced spouses but a frank discussion that enabled a satisfactory solution without acrimony. Although a Parenting Plan generally states that child support and timesharing changes requested by one parent should not be unreasonably withheld by the other spouse, those who litigated their divorce never learned to listen to the other spouse and work through unanticipated issues without fighting. Without developing the skills this couple received in the Collaborative Process, resolving post-divorce events related to the children could have disrupted their relationship with the children, with significant others, and with each other.  The Collaborative Process provides divorced spouses with the ability to engage in constructive conversations about co-parenting issues and to establish meaningful relationships with their children and other individuals.