The vast majority of divorce attorneys in Tampa Bay and around Florida are good, hardworking people with their clients’ best interests always at mind. However, there is one divorce option that more and more financial and mental health professionals agree is the best way to handle a family law matter, and yet many attorneys will not tell their clients about it: collaborative divorce.
Collaborative divorce is a private form of dispute resolution where each spouse hires their own attorney only for the purposes of helping to negotiate a marital settlement agreement. Collaborative attorneys are contractually prohibited from going to trial or bringing any contested issues to be decided by a judge.
Trial Divorce = Big $$ for Attorneys
This is one reason why there are a lot of divorce trial lawyers who are against collaborative divorce: attorneys make a lot of money billing time for trial-related activities such as depositions, interrogatories, witness preparation, exhibit analysis and selection, and trial itself. Trial attorneys bill this time even though they know that 95% of all divorce cases end in settlement, even sometimes after trial but right before a judge issues a ruling.
Since collaborative attorneys are prevented from going to trial, they do not engage in or bill for any of these trial-related activities. What is more, nationally, collaborative divorce has about a 90% success rate, so collaborative attorneys tend to be very successful at helping their clients reach a divorce resolution without having to go to trial (and around 2% of collaborative cases end with the parties reconciling). In those rare instances when the collaborative process is not successful, the collaborative attorney must resign, and trial attorneys may be retained by the clients to go to court.
Collaborative Divorce Training is an Investment
To become proficient at collaborative divorce, attorneys must, at a minimum, attend a 2-day basic collaborative family law training which meets the standards of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals. These trainings teach attorneys to work with therapists, counselors, psychologists, social workers, accountants, and financial planners to help their clients respectfully, healthily, and efficiently transition from married life to single life. Basic collaborative law training also teaches attorneys how to help clients focus on their needs and interests rather than on rigid positions that might be based on emotion or the desire to “win” and make his or her spouse “lose.”
These collaborative trainings can cost a lot of money to attorneys, and, as they keep the attorneys out of the office for two days or more, there is no billing for time during those two days. Accordingly, many Florida attorneys are simply not willing to invest the money to learn a new method for helping clients go through divorce. And yet those attorneys who have gone through the training and resolved a case collaboratively will confidently tell clients that, although any divorce is difficult, in most cases the collaborative divorce option is the single best way for clients to end their marriage without destroying their family.
Specialists are More Efficient than Attorneys
The trainings also emphasize that other professionals can do some of the work much more efficiently than attorneys. So, in collaborative cases, both attorneys tend to hand over the gathering and analysis of financial information and the development of financial options to a neutral C.P.A. or financial advisor. The financial professional can do these tasks better and more quickly since they are in their field of specialty, and at one billable rate rather than at the two billable rates of each parties’ attorney (which tend to be higher than the financial professional’s rate). Again, this means less billing on the part of attorneys compared to contested cases, and thus less money for them.
Similarly, the trainings point out that most contested court litigation is only 20% legal and 80% emotional. When you bring in a neutral collaborative facilitator, who generally has a mental health background, you can cut through the clutter of emotionally-charged issues and get to the heart of what is important, such a parenting plan in which both spouses are heavily involved in the children’s lives, or a distribution of assets that permits both parties to be safe and secure in their future. Thus, the inclusion of a collaborative facilitator generally means less money wasted on attorneys going back and forth in fruitless negotiations.
So, Why Would a Lawyer Offer Collaborative Divorce?
Now, you may ask, why would an attorney ever choose to offer collaborative divorce as an option given that they are likely to make less money as compared to a trial divorce? First, believe it or not, lawyers are people, too. After seeing what court battles can do to families, many attorneys just want to do the right thing, and they see that the collaborative process is a much healthier, non-adversarial manner of resolving family law issues.
Further, in a courtroom-based process, the judge has limited time and limited information and is making a binding decision after seeing the parties at their absolute worst (with trial attorneys emphasizing the other party’s faults). Usually, both parties are miserable by the time the trial divorce is over. In the collaborative process, the parties are the ones who decide their future and how they want to resolve their marital issues. Collaborative divorce clients tend to be much happier with the results of their case. Happy clients tend to tell other people about the process and refer friends and family to their collaborative attorney.
It May not be Too Late
Even if you started your divorce through the court process, it may not be too late. If you are going through a divorce, and your attorney has not discussed with you the collaborative option, ask if he or she has gone through a 2-day basic collaborative training. If not, you should encourage him or her to do so. You may also want to get a second opinion from a collaboratively-trained family lawyer to determine whether the collaborative process is right for you.
If you have questions regarding collaborative divorce in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Sarasota, or Manatee Counties, schedule a consultation with The Law Firm of Adam B. Cordover, P.A., at (813) 443-0615 or fill out our contact form.
Adam B. Cordover is president of Next Generation Divorce, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and Florida’s largest network of collaboratively-trained professionals.