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Podcast: Collaborative Coach on Women Mean Really Business

Earlier this year, Melissa Sulkowski, R.N., M.A., L.P.C., of Erie, Pennsylvania, appeared on the Women Really Mean Business Podcast.  Melissa is a Collaborative Coach, what we in Florida call a “Collaborative Facilitator.”  She helps families who are going through the Collaborative Divorce Process remain focused on what is most important to them rather than the arguments of the past.  She helps clients work on the emotional aspects of divorce and get through the tough moments so they can move on with their lives.  Melissa also helps families develop parenting plans that are tailored to their children’s needs and developmental stages.

Additionally, Melissa is trained as a mediator and works with families in various forms of alternative dispute resolution.  Her goal, regardless of which process is utilized, is to help families amicably reach agreements and stay outside of the adversarial court system.

You can find the audio of Melissa’s appearance on Women Really Mean Business at the following link: https://womenreallymeanbusiness.com/2019/09/melissa-sulkowski-women-really-mean-business-048-dont-let-a-crisis-force-you-into-self-care

Below is a partial transcript, edited for clarity:

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Article: Collaborative Lawyer Discusses Holiday Custody Schedule

The Patch of West Hartford, Connecticut, recently ran an article where Susan Busby, a Collaborative Family Law attorney, discusses the difficult topic of custody during the holidays.  The article, titled “Collaborative Divorce: A Route to Happier Holidays,” urges families to learn about the Collaborative Process as way to keep children out of disputes between parents.  You can read an excerpt of the article below:

The holiday season is often stressful, and for those going through or having just gone through a divorce or separation, the season can induce even more stress, intensify negative emotions, and accentuate how much their lives have changed. But it is entirely possible to have a joyous and peaceful holiday season, even during a big change in family structure.

By choosing a collaborative divorce, separating parents can create the holiday plan together to determine best options for everyone, focus on the well-being of the children, develop new cheerful traditions, and lay the foundations for having a good working relationship post-divorce.

Connecticut Collabortative Divorce Group“By coming to an agreement collaboratively, both parents have input into the holiday schedule instead of having a judge telling parents what the holidays will look like,” said Susan Busby, an attorney with the Connecticut Collaborative Divorce Group (CCDG). CCDG is a Hartford-based group of professionals that aims to keep divorcing couples and their children out of court using a method of family conflict resolution called Collaborative Divorce. “In a Collaborative Divorce, the values and traditions of the parents and the children can be honored and not used as leverage between the parents to get something else, which can happen in traditionally litigated divorces. Working out the holiday plan together is better for the children and for parents. Then everyone can relax and enjoy the holidays.”

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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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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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Video: Therapist Discusses Collaborative Divorce and Kids

Kids are often caught in the middle of divorce. Their parents are fighting, and many times the kids’ needs get ignored.

Fortunately, not all divorce processes are the same.  Collaborative divorce gives parents the opportunity to work in a non-adversarial setting and develop a parenting plan tailored to meet children’s needs.

In the video below, therapist Jacquie Lamb, LMHC, discusses collaborative divorce and children.  This video was produced by the Florida Academy of Collaborative Professionals.

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Video: Collaborative Divorce – A Good Way to Separate

There’s no getting around the fact that divorce is difficult and painful.  And yet, not all divorces are the same.  To the contrary, some methods to separate are designed to be adversarial and others are designed to be holistic.

In the short video below, produced by the Florida Academy of Collaborative Professionals, social worker Gary Direnfeld discusses collaborative divorce, which he views as a good way to separate.  Direnfeld filmed this clip at the 7th Annual Conference of the Florida Academy of Collaborative Professionals.

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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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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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