These are uncertain economic times for all of us. Daily news updates toss around scary catch phrases like “double-dip recession,” and “double-digit unemployment.” But for those facing a divorce or a post-divorce modification suit, the sour economic forecast can make an already painful and uncertain future feel more like a double-looped roller coaster.
Take heart, because you still have options. The current soft economy has served to highlight several important reasons why Collaborative Law is the right tool for these times:
No Trial means No Trial Expenses
In traditional divorce litigation both the husband and the wife can waste thousands of dollars preparing for a contested final trial that usually does not take place. Why? Because the vast majority of litigated divorce case wind up settling prior to trial.
In collaborative cases, 100% of every dollar spent is dedicated toward achieving the goal of settlement. 0% is spent preparing for trial.
Producing Documents is Minimized
In traditional divorce litigation both the husband and the wife can waste hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars with their lawyers fighting over what documents will or will not be produced to the other side. Why? Because the goal in litigation is to beat the other side; and one way to do that is to resist producing documents and information during discovery in the hope of bushwhacking the other party at trial.
In collaborative cases, the parties exchange documents freely, informally, and inexpensively. Transparency is paramount.
No “Expert” Witnesses to Pay
In traditional divorce litigation both the husband and wife can waste thousands of dollars by hiring competing expert witnesses to value businesses, trace assets, or make recommendations regarding custody of the children or possession of the children. Why? Again, the goal is to beat the other side and another way to do that is to hire experts to do battle either at the negotiating table or at trial.
In collaborative cases, experts are jointly engaged and serve as neutrals. They don’t take sides or play favorites. For most cases no more than one neutral financial expert is needed. So there are generally no competing opinions do battle. If a second opinion is desired, they too can be jointly engaged.
Control over the Process
In traditional divorce litigation neither you nor your spouse exercise much control over the process. You have virtually no control over the outcome. Why? Because the judge or jury makes the decisions at trial; and frequently the cases that settle short of trial actually settle as a result of emotional or financial exhaustion.
In collaborative cases, the spouses control both the process and the outcome. Texas was the first State to pass a Collaborative Law statute that actually strips the courts of the authority to make decisions in a collaborative case. As a result both spouses share an incentive to operate efficiently and effectively. If they can agree on nothing else, they can usually agree that they don’t want the lawyers to make off with their estate.
These are just a few of the economic advantages the Collaborative Law model offers over traditional divorce lawsuits. Even within the collaborative case there are ways to use the model more efficiently and cost-effectively in this soft economy. If you are considering a collaborative divorce or modification, you might consider discussing with your attorney ways to fine tune and streamline the process to make it even more efficient and cost effective. Here are a few options to consider:
Agree – In Advance – to use the Collaborative Model
Have everyone review and sign the Participation Agreement (and other documents needed to enter into the collaborative model) in advance of the first joint meeting. Why? It saves time (i.e. It saves money). And this leaves more time to discuss substantive matters during the joint meeting.
Stay Focused on the Process: Use a Neutral Communications Coach
Insist on the use of a neutral communications coach (a mental health professional with special collaborative training). There are several advantages to this approach: (1) This person proctors the joint sessions instead of the lawyers. As a neutral who is specially trained in the art of effective communication, this person can foster greater confidence in the process, more constructive dialogues between the spouses, and higher productivity both during the meetings and outside of them. Increased productivity leads to a shorter process, thereby saving both spouses money. (2) This person can work with you and your spouse in offline meetings without the attorneys to explore and develop and parenting plan. Once again, this is a potential time-saver and – that’s right – a money saver.
Use a Financial Expert who understands the Collaborative Process
If property identification or valuation will be an issue, agree to use a single, collaboratively-trained neutral financial expert. This person can serve as the focal point for all document exchanges and can both assimilate and analyze financial data more effectively than the lawyers. And, unlike the communication coach, the financial neutral may not need to participate in every joint session. For example, if the topic of the joint session focuses on the parenting plan, the financial neutral can be given a holiday.
Capture Unused Joint Meeting Time
Plan ahead to capture any unused joint meeting time. Usually, there is a set agenda for each joint meeting and each meeting is scheduled to last for a fixed period, such as two hours. If you get through the agenda early, with a little planning and coordination you can reclaim the remainder of the budgeted time by moving directly into an offline discussion with the financial neutral, the communication coach, or even your own attorney to discuss substantive matters needing attention. This is yet one more way to maximize the efficiency of any already efficient process.
Gather and Organize your own Documents
Do some of the legwork in your case. Gathering and organizing documents take time. Lawyers charge for time. Save them time and save yourself money by helping them with your case. As an added benefit you will learn more about your own case than you would otherwise.
The current economic climate may be tenuous and the future unknown. But if you are facing a divorce you need not climb aboard the litigation roller coaster. Consider keeping control over the process, the costs, and the outcome by choosing the Collaborative Law method. If you would like more information about Collaborative Law please feel free to visit my website, or you can contact me by email.
Curtis W. Harrison, Collaborative Attorney
Board Certified – Family Law – Texas Board of Legal Specialization
Albin | Harrison | Roach; 5601 Granite Parkway, Suite 400; Plano, Texas 75024
Telephone: 214.423.5100 Facsimile: 214.423.5111
Curtis Harrison is a collaboratively trained family law attorney working for the law firm of Albin | Harrison | Roach in Plano, Texas. He is board certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and serves on the Board of Trustees for the Collaborative Law Institute of Texas.