Facing Divorce in an Uncertain Economy with Collaborative Law

First Posting:  Huffington Post on 2/5/11

By Curtis Harrison

These are uncertain economic times for all of us. While the outlook is slowly improving, news updates still occasionally toss around scary catch phrases like “double-dip recession,” and “double-digit unemployment.” And for those facing a divorce or a post-divorce modification suit, the fragile economic forecast can make an already uncertain future feel more like a double-looped roller coaster.

Take heart, because you still have options. You don’t have to raise the debt ceiling just to survive this period of transition in your life. It is a matter of enlightened self-interest. You and your spouse may not be able to agree on anything else, but most couples can agree that they don’t want to bankrupt themselves in the process of getting a divorce.

While some may be able to achieve a “kitchen table” solution, for most folks, the issues are too complex to resolve without guidance. But that guidance doesn’t have to come from a trial attorney. You and your spouse can choose to keep your divorce out of the hands of judges through a process known as Collaborative Law. There are several compelling reasons why Collaborative Law may be the right tool for those concerned with their financial resources:

1. 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 cases 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. In traditional divorce litigation, neither you nor your spouse exercises 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 some of the economic advantages the collaborative law model offers over traditional divorce lawsuits. 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 learning more about the collaborative law method.

Curtis W. Harrison, Collaborative Attorney
Board Certified – Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization
Albin | Harrison | Roach; 5601 Granite Parkway,Suite 400; Plano, Texas 75024
Telephone: 214-423-5100; Fascimile: 214-423-5111
www.ahrlawfirm.com

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Logic doesn’t drive the Divorce Train

We’ve all seen news accounts about the financial nightmare called divorce. You may have heard tales of woe that go something like this: “The Smiths just got divorced and John told me it cost over $100,000 – for each side!”

Such a price tag might draw a yawn or a snicker from the blue-blooded family dynasty members, the technology titans, and the Hollywood elites. But for the vast majority of the so-called “working wealthy” (i.e. those who have been labeled by the taxing authorities as “rich” but who still have to work five to six days a week to pay the mortgage) an expensive divorce would devastate the family’s financial future.

Divorces don’t have to cost the equivalent of a college education, nor should they. So why is it that some do? Why do otherwise rational people consciously choose to put their financial future and their children’s into a potentially terminal nose-dive? The simple truth is that they fail to take ownership of the fact that divorce is not a rational process for the participants. It’s an emotionally-driven one.

People in the midst of a divorce make emotional (read “irrational”) decisions almost as frequently as you or I might accelerate through a yellow light – and with about as much forethought. For example, a judge recently told me about a trial in which the husband took a gallon of white paint and literally walked up and down the wife’s closet pouring paint all over her shoe collection. What was the logical reason for that?

In another case the parties argued over every knife, fork, and spoon in the house, and even placed values on the picture frames – separate from the pictures themselves. At the conclusion of the trial one of the parties filed a motion for new trial because she wanted a lamp that the judge had awarded to the other party. What was the logical reason for that?

Examples like these defy reason because the decisions are rooted in emotion – negative emotion. Left unchecked, these negative emotions tend to manifest themselves in every-increasing acts of lunacy that divorce lawyers call the “crazy cycle.” Once the spouses step onto the crazy cycle the legal meter starts spinning faster than your electric meter. Phone calls, emails, letters, motions, depositions, hearings and trials – they all take the lawyer’s time, which means they all cost you money. What is the logical reason for that?

To make matters worse, the traditional method of getting a divorce, which is called litigation, actually exacerbates the problem by intentionally pitting the spouses against each other in an arena we call a courtroom. In some cases the arena seems to more closely resemble an M.M.A. grudge match than a crucible for truth. Litigation, by its essence, encourages the parties to attempt to destroy each other emotionally and financially. What is the logical reason for that?

Logic doesn’t drive the divorce train. It’s an irrational, emotional process from start to finish. But that doesn’t mean it has to be ugly or costly. Even some of those Hollywood elites are choosing to step off the crazy cycle: http://tiny.cc/zoof0.

If you are facing a divorce, beware of the crazy cycle, beware of litigation, and beware of divorce lawyers who seem a little overly eager to wage war on your behalf. You do have options and you can avoid or at least minimize all three dangers briefly outlined above with a little foresight, quality solution-oriented professional guidance, and some self-discipline. Properly trained and experienced family law attorneys can serve as professional guides through the minefield. They can match clients with financial experts, counselors, or pediatric therapists as appropriate in order to minimize the collateral damage typically wrought by divorce.

If you would like to learn more about those options, including the non-adversarial Collaborative Law approach to resolving family law disputes, please contact us by email or call me at 214-423-5100.

Curtis W. Harrison, Collaborative Attorney
Board Certified – Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization
Albin | Harrison | Roach; 5601 Granite Parkway,Suite 400; Plano, Texas 75024
Telephone: 214-423-5100; Fascimile: 214-423-5111
www.ahrlawfirm.com

Divorce – Rights vs. Results, by Curtis Harrison

People facing divorce usually want to know what their rights are. Who will get the children? How much child support can be expected? Who is responsible for the credit card debt? What happens to the house? The 401(k)? The list of questions goes on and on.

Yet, the core of these questions is not really about rights. Rather, it is fear of an unknown result. This distinction highlights one of the many advantages of the collaborative method of resolving family law issues:  Spouses become the decision-makers instead of a judge.

It is a novel approach, but it is also supremely intuitive. After all, who better to make decisions regarding a divorcing couple’s children and their finances than the spouses themselves? Even through the pain and the other negative emotions that accompany a divorce, divorcing couples can still make better choices for themselves and their children than a judge or jury. This is where the professional team comes in to help guide the couple through an otherwise overwhelming process. And when the question turns to “What are my rights?” the trained collaborative team of lawyers and neutrals will be there to restore the focus to achieving a result that both spouses find acceptable and in their children’s best interests.

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