- Are you ready for divorce?
- Do you want to work through the process as amicably as possible?
- Do you and your spouse have financial assets that you need help in figuring out how to divide?
- Could you and your spouse use a neutral third party to help you get through the divorce process?
If you answered “Yes” to all of these – The Collaborative Law process may be for you.
What is Collaborative Law and Collaborative Divorce?
Collaborative Law is a unique non-adversarial process in which you and your spouse, your attorneys, and a neutral third party financial person and a neutral third party facilitator work together as a team to resolve your disputes in a positive and amicable way. The purpose is to help you resolve your disputes without litigation and without using the Court system. Because divorce usually includes legal, financial, and emotional issues, all of the professionals assist in helping you and your spouse reach an agreement. These professionals are called a Collaborative “Team”. Everyone works together for the same goal – an agreement.
Collaborative Law focuses on helping you reach an agreement by deciding on what your interests are. The Team works to reach an agreement through informal meetings. In these informal meetings, the attorneys hope that clients are able to speak their minds, focus on their needs, and ask the questions they need to come to an agreement. Clients need to be heard and an informal meeting with all professionals present helps everyone understand the bigger picture. Most importantly, collaborative divorce allows you and your spouse (not a judge) to determine the best way to address children, assets, liabilities, and financial support.
Collaborative Divorce also focuses on personal privacy. It empowers you and your spouse to craft an agreement that is in your family’s best interest. Who knows your family better than you and your spouse?
What happens next?
- Find and retain a Collaborative Attorney. An attorney trained in Collaborative Law can help you understand the process, answer your questions, and assist in getting your spouse on board with the process also.
- Get Your Spouse on Board. You and your spouse must both be on board in order to use the Collaborative process. Similarly, if you or your spouse no longer want to use the collaborative process, you do not have to. However, it is important to understand that if you leave the collaborative process, you must leave your attorneys behind either. That’s the law. If you sign a collaborative law agreement and change your mind later, neither you nor your spouse can use the same attorneys. You would have to start over with new attorneys. One way that you can get your spouse on board is to have your attorney send your spouse a letter. We can introduce them to the Collaborative Process, provide some information, and even suggest collaborative attorneys who they could consult with.
- Work with your attorney to create the Team.
- The neutral third party financial person, usually an accountant, helps create the financial forms you need for your case. This includes Court-required Financial Affidavits and summaries/charts for you to see and understand your financial picture, including debts and assets.
- The neutral third party facilitator, usually a mental health professional or counselor, helps everyone understand each other and the process. The neutral third party facilitator also plays a large role in making sure everyone is heard.
- Schedule your Meetings. The informal meetings of the Collaborative process are how spouses get from “I want a divorce” to “We have an agreement”. Because the process usually involves 2 attorneys, an accountant, and a counselor, coordinating everyone’s schedules can be a difficult task. Scheduling at least five (5) meetings makes sure everyone is on track and that everyone’s calendar is clear for the meetings.
- Gather your documents. In each meeting, you will focus on a specific item. However, gathering all your documents for the first meeting can cut down on looking for that information later. These documents include:
- Bank Statements
- Brokerage Account Statements
- Pay stubs
- Tax Returns
- Real Estate Deeds
- IRA/401k/Retirement Statements
- Credit Card Statements
- Medical bills
- Pre-marital agreements
- Any other documents you believe will be helpful in addressing your issues
- Have your first meeting. At the first meeting, the facilitator will discuss the collaborative process, the Team’s expectations, and what everyone’s role is. You will also have an opportunity to discuss your goals and interests, as well as any matters that need immediate attention.
- Create your agreement. You will continue your meetings and possibly in-between meeting homework, to get closer to your agreement. This could include negotiations, counseling sessions, and continued discussions on interests. Because of the type of negotiations that often take place during the collaborative process, everyone can explore all alternatives to resolve their situation. The Team can address options based on what is working and agreed upon or provide alternatives if something is not working. The Team also has good examples of what may have worked in other situations and other cases. Experienced professionals are invaluable.
- Sign the agreement. Once you and your spouse reached an agreement, the attorneys will draft and review the settlement agreement. This will also be shared with you and your spouse so you can review, check for any corrections, and approve the final copy. Once it is approved, it is ready for you and your spouse to sign.
- File the Collaborative Divorce Case and have your Final Hearing. In the collaborative divorce case, the paperwork that is necessary for your case is filed. This is usually limited to a Petition for Divorce, Notice of Related Case, Non-Military Affidavits, Notices of your Social Security Numbers, and Financial Affidavits. If you have children, a Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) Affidavit and a Parenting Plan will need to be filed. These are the required forms to be filed. Your Marital Settlement Agreement is not required to be filed. The spouse who filed the petition will have to go to court for a five (5) minute final hearing to prove their identity and establish their residency in Florida (through proof of your Florida Driver’s License or Florida Identification card).
If you are considering a collaborative divorce, find an attorney trained in collaborative law who can guide you through the process.