Collaborative Divorce Enables Divorcing Parties To Resolve Their Issues

In Florida, the words now uses for “divorce” are “dissolution of marriage”. While these words seem gentler in some respects, they don’t eliminate the fact that two people, once so in love and promised to be so “until death do us part” are now locked in a battle to try to undo their years together. This battle has, until recent years, been fought with the help of attorneys who, though well meaning, have taken the stance of winning all they can for their client without benefit of compromise wherever possible. Florida now requires mediation before a dissolution of marriage case can go before a judge. Both parties and their lawyers meet with a state certified mediator and in the course of several hours attempt to, and sometimes do, settle their litigation. If both parties agree to the decided outcomes and sign a settlement agreement, the judge will usually grant the dissolutionment as per agreed. When a mediation is successful it is much better for each party as they, as individuals, have participated in deciding their futures and have eliminated the stressful “day in court” as well as saving additional attorney fees and court costs. But so often a few hours is just not enough time for a couple to dissolve years of marriage, especially when minor children are involved and there are significant marital debts and assets to be divided equitably. (Florida is an equitable, not equal, distribution state). It is for this reason the idea of a “collaborative divorce” has, in recent years, come into prominence. In many ways it can be said that that this idea is an extension of the mediation process, the main difference being a collaboration takes place over an extended period of time with several or even many meetings with both parties and their attorneys present. There is also a different tone. While mediation still has the desired outcome of each party trying to gain what’s best for the individual, in a collaborative divorce, each party is encouraged to consider a resolution which is best for all, each individual including any minor children. In other words the final outcome is a win, win solution rather than an I win, you lose solution. Some of the guidelines surrounding a collaborative divorce include: Both parties need to understand fully the concept of collaborative discussions, particularly the fact of compromise, kindness to each other, and working together to resolve the issues surrounding their divorce. If minor children are involved, remembering to look for parenting arrangements that are in the best interest of the children. This includes agreeing to encouraging their children to love and respect each parent and not using the children as pawns following the divorce or putting them in the middle of a spousal disagreement. Each meeting should have an agenda so all can come to the meeting prepared and stay on track once there. Each party will be represented by a specially trained attorney of their choosing and specialists such as a counselor or financial expert can attend as well. No changes in affairs such as life insurance, loans, selling marital assets and/or acquiring debt may be made during the time the collaborative Participation Agreement is in effect unless both parties consent. If either party gives false information or withholds information the representing attorney must tell the other party and withdraw from the process. When, or if, the collaborative participation fails, the attorneys representing the clients must resign and cannot be hired to proceed with taking the litigation as a regular dissolution of marriage case. Sometimes, if there is just one issue that can’t be resolved, a judge will make that decision without having the whole case start over with different attorneys. The bottom line philosophy to making a collaborative divorce work is to think positively, be constructive, not destructive, in problem solving, and use creative thinking in designing conclusions beneficial to both sides. Once a final proposal is arrived upon by all, the attorneys will draw up a legal settlement which will be signed and presented to a mediator who will then draw up the final settlement to be signed and presented to the judge for final dissolution of the marriage. As can easily be seen, if two people are willing to end a once meaningful union in a personable, fair way, hopefully then being able to continue as friends, especially when children of all ages are concerned, a collaborative divorce is best for all.

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