Minimize Conflict Between You: Choose Collaborative Divorce

by:  Stewart L. Applerouth, CPA

Co-Founder of Appelrouth Farah & Co, stewart@applerouth.com

We are experiencing public conflict through protest at this time in history. Conflict, at times, may be useful and needed, and can bring about positive change.  However, in emotionally charged marital matters, conflict is a negative emotion that rarely creates a positive outcome.  Divorce can cause irreparable harm to relationships that affect the ability for spouses to be civil involving matters that affect adult children or growing children involving their school or social events.

The Collaborative Process can reduce conflict in divorce and enhance the lines of communication through honest discussion.  When spouses are separated and have new significant others in their lives, the Collaborative Process can avoid litigation arising from negative memories and emotions during the marriage.  Such matters may also have complex financial issues involving high net worth individuals, real estate development and rental activities, valuation of business entities and assets, business litigation, and budgeting for adult children.  

I recall a matter having the potential for high conflict from a long separation and complex financial issues where the Collaborative Process was selected. This peaceful and structured process enabled the spouses to work together and amicably arrive at fair outcomes for both of them, even when a spouse proposed a solution to his or her personal detriment.

I encourage individuals who have decided to end their marital relationship, to consider whether the Collaborative Process makes sense for their situation.  Always remember that reducing conflict sustains your emotional wellness and other relationships that endure beyond the divorce.

AVOID THE SHADOWS: CHOOSE COLLABORATIVE LAW TO DIVORCE

by: Brenda B. Shapiro, Esq. 

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

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.” 

Inspiring Adult Interactions: Modeling Behavior Through the Collaborative Process

Collaborative Teams and the Collaborative Process influence spousal behavior and team dynamics through their interactions with each other.

by:  Susan M. Keyes, Esq.

Divorce Without War,® smkeyes@bellsouth.net

Years ago, I was visiting my sister in NJ, riding as a passenger in her car with my three-year-old niece sitting in her car seat next to me. My brother- in- law slammed on the brakes, forced to stop suddenly when the car in front of us stopped. As our car lunged forward, my niece shouted, “YOU MORON,” and we all looked at her with shock. What caused her to say this? How many times had she heard a parent yell “YOU MORON” while driving?  We know that children may not be very good at listening to their elders, but in these moments, we realize they are listening, and they never fail to imitate us. 

When a person observes the behavior of another and then imitates that behavior, he or she is modeling the behavior.  Modeling also applies to adult interactions.  Collaborative Team members model behavior for others in the Collaborative Process, including the clients and other team members.  We risk serving as models for inappropriate and undesirable behavior, such as swearing, losing our temper, interrupting, and speaking disrespectfully.  Appropriate behavior can be modeled by speaking calmly and respectfully, setting the tone for all of the participants at a Team meeting. Listening and not interrupting, even when what is being said, is displeasing or seemingly incorrect, requires restraint, but leads to respectful dialogue. Participants in the Collaborative Process will be more inspired to behave in this way if they view the professionals maintaining this decorum. Outside of Team meetings, do you promote blame, propose that the other attorney is difficult or that the other spouse is unreasonable.  Venting, in this way, is modeling negative behavior. Alternatively, sharing information without disparagement or judgment leads to better understanding and improved outcomes.

In the Collaborative Process, the Team will demonstrate how to speak, listen, and perhaps even understand another perspective- thus creating an atmosphere of respectful communication. Against this backdrop, the parties will reach more holistic resolutions, with improved communication patterns in the relationship after the divorce.  As Collaborative professionals,  we must model the behavior we wish our clients to display.  Lead by example.

AFTER COVID-19: NOW WHAT?

After COVID-19, spouses under stress should consider using the Collaborative Process to resolve their marital disputes.

by:  Robert J. Merlin, Esq.

The Law Office of Robert J. Merlin, Esq., rmerlin@merlinlaw.com

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced people to live in close quarters under stressful circumstances. Sometimes, that will lead people to decide to get divorced. If you are thinking about ending your marriage, here are some things you should know.

Getting divorced should be the last resort. The first place to start is to talk with your spouse about what is bothering you about your relationship. That could be a difficult conversation many people are not willing to have, but it is the fastest and least expensive choice. If that does not work, there are therapists who can help you and your spouse to discuss the problems you are having. The investment of that time and money can possibly save your marriage.

If you still want to end your marriage, you should know your choices for handling your divorce. Most people only know about fighting in court, but there are other ways to address the problems in your marriage.

Sometimes, simply entering into a Postnuptial Agreement is enough to calm things down. This type of agreement enables the couple to agree how to handle things if the marriage ends, such as how to divide assets, how much alimony and child support will be paid and how the family members will live together. This choice is not for everyone, but it may be an inexpensive way to resolve your differences with your spouse.

You can negotiate a settlement with your spouse. If you have minor children, you will need to agree how to make decisions about their education, medical care, religious upbringing and extra-curricular activities. You will need to decide how to share time with the children. You can agree to any timesharing system that you and your spouse feel is in your children’s best interest. You will also need to decide how to divide your assets and liabilities and you will need to decide whether one of you will pay alimony to the other. You need to decide how much alimony will be paid and for how long. Once you and your spouse sign a written settlement agreement, one of you must file a petition in court to ask a judge to approve your agreement and to dissolve your marriage.

If you cannot negotiate a settlement with your spouse, you can use a mediator to help you settle everything. A mediator is a neutral person who will help you and your spouse negotiate a settlement. The mediator cannot give you or your spouse any legal advice but can suggest ways to settle your differences. Using a mediator can be relatively inexpensive and can minimize the arguments you have with your spouse, but unless you have an attorney during the mediation, you may not know what the law is and what choices you have to resolve your differences with your spouse.

You can file a divorce action in court with or without an attorney. Once you file in court, children, family, friends, co-workers and competitors can see the details of your divorce. When you file in court, you empower a judge to make decisions for your family. The judge does not necessarily have the education, training or experience to know how to resolve differences in the best interest of your family. A judge must make decisions based upon laws, rules and appellate decisions, so the judge does not have the flexibility to be creative in resolving contested. Typically, litigating in court is the most expensive way to get divorced. Sometimes, the attorneys fight each other, and some attorneys have been known to cause more problems than they resolve. It is difficult to get hearings before a judge, especially now. Some courts in Florida are closed, but you may be able to get hearings that will be handled by phone or Zoom.

Perhaps the best way to resolve differences with your spouse is to use the Collaborative Process. The Collaborative Process is a private way for couples to negotiate everything related to their divorce with the help of a team of experts. Everything done in the Collaborative Process is private, so no outsiders should know what is happening until simple papers are filed in court. Instead of family attorneys fighting each other, Collaborative professionals work together to help the couple determine their future and the future of their children. This makes sense because you and your spouse should be in the best position to determine what is in your family’s best interest, as opposed to a judge making decisions for you.

            The distinguishing characteristics of the Collaborative Process are:

  • You have the freedom to create a settlement that meets your family’s needs, rather than a judge dictating that to you.
  • There is a constant focus on the best interest of the children. We use a neutral mental health professional as a facilitator or child specialist. The Collaborative Process is the only process where such an expert is part of the team to help your family. The facilitator helps the couple focus on resolving their differences, rather than battling each other.
  • Each party has their own attorney, who is specially trained in the Collaborative Process. The attorneys do not work against each other, as in litigation. They work together to help you and your spouse settle everything.
  • When appropriate, a neutral financial professional is used. This is important when there are significant assets and income or complicated financial issues. In litigation, each party’s attorney usually retains their own forensic accountant, thereby doubling the cost of a financial professional.
  • The Collaborative Process is confidential and privileged, so no one should discuss what happens during the process with anyone else. Information and documents are voluntarily exchanged, and the couple commits to transparency. There is no need to go to court to ask a judge to order someone to produce a document or to provide information.
  • The couple and professionals meet together. As a result, the Collaborative Process should take much less time than litigation.
  • The Collaborative Process is voluntary, so either party can terminate it at any time, but if they do, the attorneys cannot represent them in contested litigation against each other.  The termination of a Collaborative matter is rare, with approximately 90% of Collaborative matters in Florida resulting in a settlement.
  • Few people who have used the Collaborative Process ever return to court after obtaining their final judgment. In litigation, it is very common for one of the parties to return to court, thereby causing more conflict between the couple.
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The goal of every couple getting divorced should be to resolve their differences as quickly as possible, always focusing on the family’s particular needs. Florida Statutes Section 61.55 states:

“It is the policy of this state to encourage the peaceful resolution of disputes and the early resolution of pending litigation through a voluntary settlement process. The collaborative law process is a unique nonadversarial process that preserves a working relationship between the parties and reduces the emotional and financial toll of litigation.” (Emphasis added)

Attorneys have an ethical duty to ensure that their client makes an informed decision about their matter. This includes explaining the options for handling their divorce and the advantages and disadvantages of each option. Most family attorneys only talk about litigating and possibly mediation. Very few discuss the Collaborative Process. Before meeting with an attorney, you should ask if they use the Collaborative Process. If the attorney does not use the Collaborative Process, you should consider consulting with an attorney who can provide the Collaborative Process to help you resolve your differences in a peaceful, respectful and private way.

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.

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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. 

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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.