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Typical Steps in a Collaborative Divorce

Divorce is tough.  Your marriage is falling apart and the foundation upon which you thought you could depend is no longer there.  Rather than fling yourself into the chaotic and adversarial divorce court system, you have alternatives.  One structured alternative is Collaborative Divorce.

In Collaborative Divorce, you and your spouse retain separate attorneys to guide you along the way.  Unlike litigation lawyers, these attorneys’ only purpose is to help you reach an agreement as amicably and efficiently as possible.  In fact, the process prohibits Collaborative Attorneys from engaging in contested court proceedings.  Because of this, you do not have to worry about motion practice, depositions, or dirty trial tactics.  You can just focus on reaching a resolution that is best for your future.

Here in Tampa Bay, a neutral Collaborative Facilitator usually aids you.  The Facilitator has a specialty in communications, family dynamics, and childhood development.  When you and your spouse seem to get stuck in the arguments of the past, the Facilitator will help get things back on track and focused on the future.  Further, if you have children, the Facilitator will help you craft a parenting plan tailored to your children’s specific needs.

To ensure transparency, you may retain a neutral Financial Professional.  The Financial Professional helps you and/or your spouse understand the extent of your estate.  He or she will then help you develop options for best dividing it.  He or she can also help you develop budgets so you know that you will have a financially sustainable future after divorce.

Every Collaborative Divorce is Different

Every Collaborative Divorce is different.  However, as a trainer, many of my students (who are lawyers, financial professionals, mental health professionals, mediators, and others) find it helpful to have a step-by-step guide to Collaborative Divorce.  This is meant only as a sample.  The more Collaborative Cases I am involved with, the more they deviate from this guide; in truth, just as there is no “typical” family, there is no “typical” Collaborative Divorce.

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Collaborative Family Law: The 4 D’s of Resolution

Collaborative Divorce, also know as Collaborative Family Law, Collaborative Practice, and the Collaborative Process, is a structured form of dispute resolution where you and your spouse/partner can reach agreements privately and amicably.

J. David Harper, who is a forensic accountant and Collaborative Financial Neutral in Tampa Bay, refers to the structure of Collaborative Divorce as the “Four D’s.”  Harper writes in his article, Traits and Skills of a Highly Financial Neutral, published in Mosten & Cordover, eds., Building A Successful Collaborative Family Law Practice (ABA 2018), the following:

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Explanation of Collaborative Process

Explanation of Collaborative Process Consent Form

When you come into my office to learn about collaborative divorce, I want to make sure that you understand the process.  Yes, collaborative divorce helps families day in and day out, but there are potential negatives that you need to know, as well.  Further, Rule 4-1.19 of the Florida Bar Rules of Professional Conduct requires me to help ensure you have informed consent before entering the collaborative process.

Accordingly, I will sit down with you to discuss all aspects of collaborative practice.  At the end, I will provide you with an Explanation of Collaborative Process Consent Form to sign.  I have designed this form, but it is based on one created by Robert J. Merlin, an attorney in South Florida who was the point person for the adoption of Rule 4-1.19 by the Florida Supreme Court.

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Sample Collaborative Divorce Participation Agreement

If you are considering or going through divorce, there are two terms you should become familiar with:  collaborative divorce and collaborative divorce participation agreement.

Collaborative divorce is a form of private dispute resolution where you, your spouse, and your attorneys agree from the beginning that they will not fight in court.  You agree that you do not want to subject yourselves, your children, your business, and your friends and family to an adversarial, hostile, and public court system.  You just want to move on to your better future in the least painful way possible.

Though there are statutes and rules that interact with the collaborative divorce process, it is mainly governed by a contract, known as a collaborative divorce participation agreement.  This is an agreement that you and your spouse sign.  Because the collaborative divorce process is very different than the traditional divorce process, it is important that you have a complete understanding of your collaborative divorce participation agreement and walk through the agreement thoroughly with your attorney.

Below is a sample collaborative divorce participation agreement that I often use in my cases here in Tampa Bay.  Keep in mind that there are a lot of variations of this agreement, and different communities use different participation agreements.  In fact, I use different participation agreements depending on the circumstances of the family and what type of resolution they are trying to reach (i.e., divorce, post-divorce, prenuptial agreement, or postnuptial agreement).

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Introductory Collaborative Training

Has Your Divorce Lawyer Completed an Introductory Collaborative Training?

If you are in the market for a divorce lawyer, you should know that not all divorce lawyers are the same.  Some specialize in fighting in court, while others focus on resolving disputes outside of court.  One way to help determine which strategy your divorce lawyer focuses on is to find out whether he or she has completed an Introductory Collaborative Practice Training.

What is An Introductory Collaborative Practice Training?

An Introductory Collaborative Practice Training is one of the first steps a lawyer or other professional takes before offering collaborative divorce services.  Collaborative divorce is a process where the spouses agree that they will not use their attorneys to fight in court; rather the attorneys and any other professionals will focus solely on helping the family resolve their disputes and move on to their better future.

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Podcast: In-Depth Interview on Collaborative Divorce

Recently, author and collaborative attorney Adam B. Cordover appeared on the “Talking Brains” podcast for an in-depth interview on on collaborative divorce.

The podcast is hosted by Dr. Stephanie Sarkis, a therapist in Tampa specializing in ADHD, anxiety, and gaslighting.

In this wide-ranging interview, Stephanie and Adam discuss, among other things, the following:

  • The differences between the traditional court-based divorce and collaborative divorce;
  • The benefits of collaborative divorce for spouses;
  • The benefits of collaborative divorce for children;
  • The benefits of collaborative divorce for professionals;
  • The success rate of collaborative divorce;
  • What happens when spouses cannot reach an agreement;
  • Mosten, Forrest, & Cordover, Adam, Building A Successful Collaborative Family Law Practice (ABA 2018);
  • The International Academy of Collaborative Professionals;
  • The Florida Academy of Collaborative Professionals;
  • Next Generation Divorce; and
  • Tampa Bay Collaborative Trainers.

You can listen to the podcast below:

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Is There A Better Way To Divorce?

Divorce is never easy.  I oftentimes hear people going through the stages of grief when discussing divorce, as if a loved one has died.  And, in a very real sense, divorce does signify the death of a relationship.

But imagine if, when a loved one died, you then picked a battle and entered a very public adversarial court system.  Your every move is scrutinized by a lawyer looking to portray you in the very worst light.  You are subjected to depositions and court hearings and a wide-net fishing expedition through all of your personal and financial matters.  And, all of this could be exposed to public scrutiny, as hearings and the court file are open for public viewing.

All of this, while you are experiencing the grief and trauma of death.  In this case, the death of a relationship.

There has got to be a better way to divorce, right?  To avoid the public indignity of an entrenched fight, right?

Fortunately, there are alternatives.  One alternative, which in this lawyer’s opinion is best for most families, is collaborative divorce.

Non-Adversarial Process

Collaborative divorce is a non-adversarial process.  Each spouse retains a separate attorney, and the two attorneys are there solely for the purpose of reaching an out-of-court agreement.  In fact, the collaborative attorneys are prohibited by law, once a collaborative process is started, from fighting in court.

Imagine that, attorneys helping clients reach a peaceful resolution.  The attorneys spend no time, no energy, and no money on opposition research, motion practice, or demonizing either spouse.

Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

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Video: CPA Discusses Collaborative Divorce

Those who have been through the old-style divorce court may have trouble associating divorce with empathy.  This is especially true when it comes to financial issues.  And yet, collaborative divorce professionals see families act with kindness and empathy all of the time.

In the video below, Certified Public Accountant and collaborative financial professional Ari Harper discusses a recent case where empathy made all of the difference:

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“Building A Successful Collaborative Family Law Practice” Now Available

Today, the American Bar Association releases “Building A Successful Collaborative Family Law Practice,” edited by Forrest (Woody) Mosten and Adam B. Cordover.  The book includes experts from around the field in collaborative practice and out-of-court dispute resolution.

Below is a list of the chapters and contributing authors:

Foreword: Nancy Cameron

Prologue: Making Collaborative and Non-Court Practice Your Day Job – Forrest S. Mosten & Adam B. Cordover
Chapter 1: Lawyers as Peacemakers. Really?!? Yes, Really. – David Hoffman
Chapter 2: How Collaborative Practice Will Improve Your Profitability – Robert Merlin
Chapter 3: Redefining Your Practice Signature and Creating a Profitable Peacemaking Practice – Kevin Scudder
Chapter 4: How Many Hats Can You Wear? Assessing If You Can Be a Collaborative Professional and Still Litigate – Carl Michael Rossi
Chapter 5: Being A Client Leader: The Art of Gaining New Collaborative Clients – Rich Grof
Chapter 6: Effectively Marketing Your Collaborative Practice – Gary Direnfeld
Chapter 7: Creating Collaborative Office Space – Zanita Zacks-Gabriel
Chapter 8: Integrating Technology into Your Collaborative Practice – Brian Galbraith
Chapter 9: Getting Buy-In for a Collaborative Approach from the Other Spouse and Attorney – Enid Miller Ponn
Chapter 10: The First Client Meeting: Gateway to a Collaborative Case – Bev Churchill

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Pre-Order Cordover Mosten ABA Book Now!

Building A Successful Collaborative Family Law Practice by Forrest S. Mosten and Adam B. Cordover  is now available for pre-order on the American Bar Association website.  The book brings together experts in the field of collaborative practice to help professionals learn to make a living while helping families restructure in a better way.

Reviews have already started coming in:

I personally believe Woody Mosten and Adam Cordover have done the Collaborative Practice Community a tremendous service by bringing together this group of respected Collaborative Practitioners to share their experience and expertise. They gathered these voices to speak to the Collaborative Practice and peacemaking world, in an attempt to answer the call of the Community for more Collaborative cases and for a way to stop going to court forever. For those who want to devote their life and practice to changing how families resolve their disputes and to help them move forward in peace, this is the book for you.

Christopher M. Farish, Collaborative Lawyer

Dallas, Texas

President of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals

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