Orlando Collaborative Process (Practice)

Even under the best of conditions divorce is a stressful event,and it frequently is overwhelming, confusing and expensive. Traditionally, each spouse retains an attorney to engage in a highly adversarial process played out in the public venue of a courtroom before a judge. Each spouse may hire their own financial professional to defend their interests. Litigated divorces commonly take six months to, in some cases, years to resolve,with divorce expenses constantly spiraling upward. Mature or retired couples are increasingly facing the challenge of a divorce. Although divorce rates have generally declined over the past thirty years, for those 55 years old or older, this is not the case. A moderate rise in divorce rates has been observed in this demographic group. Also, long-term marriages continue to account for a surprising percentage of all divorces.

In 2008, one quarter of all divorces was made up of couples married for over twenty years. Clearly, maturity and experience with a long-term marriage are no guarantee of immunity to the threat of divorce.


The Collaborative Divorce Alternative

Collaborative divorce offers couples an option preferable to adversarial litigation, by sidestepping the tendency of divorcing spouses to denigrate each other in order to win an advantage before a judge, resulting in less long-term damage to the postdivorce relationship. Many veterans of traditionally litigated divorce attest to the rancor and loss of dignity associated with it. In collaborative divorce, participants sign an agreement committing to full disclosure. Failure to fulfill the terms of the collaborative agreement may result in the deceptive party having to fire the attorney and to start the process anew. A single financial professional is designated as a neutral, collaborative team member responsible for gathering all relevant information pertaining to marital assets, liabilities and valuation of possessions.


Often marital assets are better preserved by not hiring two opposing financial experts, and paying them to negotiate with each other. Of course, each divorcing spouse retains their own attorney, one trained in the collaborative process. The attorneys, along with all other team members, agree to share all relevant information and foster transparency as the process unfolds. Each attorney continues to guide and advise their client, but does so under the collaborative framework. If the collaborative process irrevocably breaks down and one, or both, divorcing parties withdraws, all professionals, including attorneys, are then prohibited from providing further divorce-related services to the clients. This provision is intended to heighten motivation for clients, as well as other team members, to stay with the process.


The Role of the Menta/Health Professional


The cohesiveness of the collaborative process and its desirable outcomes are attributable to a specific series of steps. The one designated as the "keeper of the process" is a neutral mental health professional who has received specialized training in this area of practice. The mental health professional functions to maintain the focus of the clients and team on a five-step model. First, clients' goals and interests, both individual and shared, are specified. Typical goals may be: equitable distribution of marital assets, or provisions for continued; nursing home care for an elderly parent, or establishing a trust fund for a child. In the second stage, solution-generating stage, information gathering and where options are identified. Then through the third step, options are evaluated for costs, practicality, acceptability and consequences. Finally, negotiation ensues with the input of all parties. This process is applicable to issues ranging from decisions pertaining to dependents and to financial, educational, and retirement goals.


The mental health professional normally leads the team meetings, bringing skills and a fund of experience derived from psychotherapy to the collaborative process. Calming, clarifying and reframing are techniques familiar to mental health professionals and ones that have high applicability to collaborative divorce. Clients sign a "Code of Conduct" wherein they agree to focus on the future, not to interrupt or to disparage others, speak only for himself/herself, and refrain from arguing. The mental health professional is essentially a coach, rather than a therapist, but may call for individual meetings with clients as needed in additional to team meetings.


The Advantages of Collaborative Divorce


Thus far, collaborative divorce has been especially appealing to divorcing parents of minor children, because it helps focus efforts on what is in the best interest of the children. Naturally, collaboration best preserves the parents' solidarity, respect and open communication lines more so than adversarial confrontations. Similar to the protectiveness parents feel towards their bonds with their children, a divorcing mature couple may

express the same concerns over their extended families. After sometimes decades of marriage, various bonds and allegiances among divorcing spouses, in-laws and extended families may be seen as valuable and worthy of preserving, despite a divorce. Often, there is a sense of two families having married, and now divorcing. Just as with dependents, extended families benefit when equanimity and good will are preserved during the divorce process. Another advantage of the collaborative process is that clients can immediately agree on financial relief without waiting for a judge to do so. In litigated divorce, parties must attend mediation before receiving temporary spousal support and attorney's

fees. In general, the pace of collaborative divorce is determined by the clients rather than by a judicial calendar, resulting in a speedier finalization. Often this time savings translates into financial savings as well. Collaborative divorce may take four to six months, whereas a litigated divorce usually lasts well over six months.


For many, increased control is a very attractive aspect of collaborative divorce. In litigated divorce, the clients do not control the outcomes. The law places restrictions on a judge's options for problem-solving. Moreover, all that transpires before a judge becomes public record. For those desiring the dignity of personal privacy, collaborative divorce is a natural choice.

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