by: Brenda B. Shapiro, Esq.
The Florida Probate and Family Law Firm, firstname.lastname@example.org
One hundred years ago, when I was a little girl, (litigation has aged me) on Sunday night, my family would gather in the living room around the radio (I said one hundred years) to listen to our favorite program, “The Shadow.” Hear low murmuring organ music, and a resonant male voice asks, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” Crescendo, crashing chord. “Only the Shadow knows!” Not only did he know, when he had to expunge those evils, he always knew exactly what to do. How haunting.
Today, as a family lawyer, I am still haunted by the Shadow. Now, however, the Shadow is not always successful, just schooled by life’s experiences and eager to share those experiences with my clients. You know who they are. Your friend who had a bad divorce. Your sibling, who never really liked your spouse. Your parents who only want what is best for you and who have a very clear idea of what is best. Each has advice that is freely given. Each is there for you. The problem, of course, is none of your shadows is you.
Collaborative law offers you an alternative, an alternative that brings light and understanding as you walk the unfamiliar path to divorce. No shadows here. There are four professionals selected to assist you along the way. Each professional has training and experience in the collaborative process to help you make the important decisions you must make.
Start with your family lawyer, a lawyer specifically trained in Collaborative Law, who will collaborate with your spouse’s collaboratively trained lawyer. Your Lawyer explains the law to you and tells you the options you have within your state family statutes. The written law often says “may” rather than “shall.” You want to understand what you may do under the law. The two lawyers select an MHP, a mental health professional who facilitates the collaborative process for the team and helps you draft a Parenting Plan if you have children. The fourth member of the team is the Financial expert who helps you decide what to do with the assets and liabilities you have acquired, the “stuff” of the marriage. You and your spouse are at the center of the team, setting the agenda for the meetings, and addressing the issues that matter most to you. At the end of each meeting, you accept a task to complete for the next meeting. The six members of the team meet every three weeks until there is an agreement resolving the issues that need to be resolved during the divorce process. When you reach your final agreement, then and only then do you go to Court and give the Judge the agreement. He or she asks if you are a resident of Florida, is your marriage irretrievably broken, and did you sign the agreement voluntarily. You answer, the Judge tells you your marriage is dissolved and wishes you well. Your day in Court takes about fifteen minutes. The Collaborative process usually takes six to eight months instead of the twelve to eighteen months it takes to litigate your case. Yes, time is money.
What holds you together during the process? The fact that it is all confidential. No member of the team, not you, not your spouse or anyone of the four professional members of the group, can talk about your business, your dissolution of marriage, outside of the team. You sign a binding contract that says that. Your best response to your shadows when they ask, and they will ask is, “Thank you for asking. I know you want to help, but I am working on it with a professional team, and the best help you can give me is to trust me to help myself.”