Tag Archive for: Collaborative Divorce

 

Effective communication with your Collaborative Attorney is crucial to the successful completion of your case.  In order for your attorney to successfully advocate on your behalf, you must be able to clearly communicate your goals, and provide the factual details your attorney needs to help you reach a settlement.

  • Agree on a Communication Protocol.  At your initial consultation or soon thereafter, have a conversation with your attorney about how you will be communicating with them.  Let them know if you have a preference for email, phone calls, or office meetings.   Ask about the best way to schedule a call or meeting, either through your attorney directly or through an assistant who manages their calendar.   Some clients prefer to keep a running list of questions for their attorney and schedule a meeting or phone call to go over all of them at once.  Others prefer to send questions to their attorney via email as the questions arise.  Email can be very efficient, especially if you are able to organize your thoughts succinctlyConsider using bullet points or numbered lists if you are writing about several different issues. Depending upon the complexity of the issues, your attorney may ask to schedule a call or meeting to advise you.  If you don’t check your email regularly, let your attorney know to contact you by phone if they need a response quickly.
  • Keep Your Attorney Informed of the Facts. Over the course of your Collaborative Divorce case, you should keep your attorney updated about the facts of your case.   I like to check in with my clients before each Collaborative Four-Way Meeting to find out how things are going, what is working, and what is not working.  Identifying problem areas in advance of the Four-Way Meeting allows me to ensure the issue is on the next meeting’s agenda, to brainstorm possible solutions in advance, and to check in with your spouse’s Collaborative Attorney on the issue when appropriate.  If an urgent issue arises, you should let your attorney know right away.  Generally, I want my clients to keep me informed of the following:
    • Job changes for you or your spouse
    • Significant income changes for you or your spouse
    • Change of address, telephone number, or email address
    • Identifying an asset or debt that was not previously discussed, including the receipt of an inheritance or sizeable gift
    • Whether bills or support are being paid as agreed
    • How your children are responding to the parenting schedule
    • Whether you are having trouble producing documents requested for your case
  • Keep Your Attorney Informed of Your Goals. One of the first conversations you will have with your Collaborative Attorney will be to determine your goals—what you want at the end of your divorce case; where you want to be in five or ten years after your case is concluded.  It is not unusual for a client’s goals to change over the course of a case, but it is important to let your Collaborative Attorney know when this happens.
  • Use Legal Staff. If your Collaborative Attorney has a legal assistant, paralegal, or other legal staff, learn how to use that person effectively. Legal staff cannot give you legal advice, but they have a wealth of knowledge about the procedural aspects of your case.  Many attorneys prefer clients to copy their paralegal on all correspondence into the office so that the paralegal can maintain records for the client file.  Paralegals often manage the document gathering phase of a case (known as “discovery”) and can answer questions you have about that process at a lower hourly rate than your Collaborative Attorney.  Work with them to determine the most efficient way for you to send in your financial and other documents.  More and more attorneys are going paperless and may prefer to receive documents electronically rather than hard copies, and are able to receive them via email, memory stick, or file-sharing program.  Be sure to promptly respond to questions from legal staff and always treat them professionally.
  • Respond in a Timely Fashion. Try to respond to emails or phone calls from your attorney reasonably quickly.  Your case cannot progress without you, and the Collaborative process can fail if you are unresponsive for too long.
  • Confidentiality.  Everything you communicate to your Collaborative Attorney or their legal staff is protected by attorney-client privilege and cannot be disclosed without your permission.  However, you should always let your attorney know if you are not ready for them to disclose something to the other side.   Remember that the Collaborative Divorce process is centered around transparency, and that if you are unwilling to allow your attorney to disclose certain material facts, they may have to terminate the case.  For example, if tell your attorney about something your spouse needs to be aware of in order to make informed decisions regarding settlement, that fact will need to be disclosed to your spouse in a timely manner or your attorney will be forced to terminate the Collaborative case.   Note that your attorney will never disclose privileged information without your permission, but that you may need to choose between maintaining a secret versus maintaining a Collaborative Divorce process.
  • Communication with Additional Team Members. If your case involves an allied professional, such as a child specialist, financial neutral, or divorce coach, be sure you understand how best to communicate with that individual and the team as a whole.  Remember that anything you disclose to an allied professional remains confidential to the Collaborative Divorce process but is not protected by attorney/client privilege and may be disclosed to your spouse at any time.
  • Ask for Help. Your attorney and their staff are there to guide you through the divorce process.  When in doubt, ask them for help.  For example, if you don’t have the time or technology needed to download financial statements, your attorney or their staff may be able to take care of that for you.  If you are unable to locate a particular document or piece of information, let your attorney know right away so they can help find a way to obtain it.

Setting ground rules about how you will communicate with your attorney, their staff, and other allied professionals in a Collaborative Divorce case early on ensures that everyone stays in the loop, and that your case can continue to progress forward in a timely manner.

 

Jim O’Connor set the stage for negotiation by focusing on the future rather than the past in his recent blog – https://bridgesdivorce.com/negotiating-with-your-partner/

            Let’s carry that forward using the steps of a collaborative or mediation process.

High End Goals

We start with goals for the process and for yourselves.  What matters most to you? Take some time.  Do this in a quiet setting with a quiet mind if at all possible.  To come back to your heart will be an important skill for this exercise.

  • Why did you pick a peacemaking process?  What are your goals for the process?
  • What is it you want for your future relationship together?
  • What do you want for the children? What is most important?
  • What are your values about money? What are your priorities?
  • How about personal and emotional goals? How do you want to feel, during the process and afterwards?
  • What are your concerns about ongoing relationships with family, friends, work?
  • What do you need for self-care? Balance of life?
  • What does a positive future look like for you? How do you want to feel?

Negotiation Is Mindful Listening to Yourself and Others.

Negotiation is shared listening.  That is, listening with attention and without judgment.  Attention generates new, fresh thinking.  Mindfulness deepens the quality of attention.  This type of listening helps coherent intelligence unfold.  So better ideas are the result.

We communicate with ourselves this way to unearth our dreams, wants, needs and what’s important to us.  We express this to the other in an environment of mutual respect met with uninterrupted attention.  This is the ideal.  We can come close to it with intention, awareness and discipline.  It’s not easy to do but will make the divorce easier and more fruitful.  It’s a primary requirement of a peaceful process.

Practices of connecting with the heart, meditation and other activities that balance the nervous system assist in making this type of communication possible.  Working with a divorce coach also helps build tolerance and gives practice in better communication to make negotiation at the table much more productive.

Brainstorming Options

When options are proposed, it’s important to consider the interests and needs of the other person as well as your own.  To do this takes courage and letting go.  Relaxing into a process that is not intimidating is important.  Flexibility to listen to and consider options you don’t think would work or don’t think you could agree to requires moving into our higher selves with dignity, patience and understanding.  To listen and not react.

Deciding

Making decisions requires a lot of the same skills.  Know that everything decided upon will not be comfortable.  Any combination of things that constitutes a settlement will require giving up something.  How flexible are you or can you be to accept what is possible or the best possible scenario for your family?  How strong have you made yourself through taking advantage of practices of the heart and other techniques that lead to acceptance.  Acknowledging that you have done the best you can under the circumstances and accepting the result will make a smoother transition moving forward.  It will be a continual practice of releasing and sharing control.  How flexible are you or can you be?  Longevity and happiness require flexibility, acceptance, forgiveness and letting go.

Committing

What does it take to commit to the result and work towards honoring your agreement with good faith, good nature and willingness to adjust to a new normal?  How much can you forgive the past and look forward to a future of cooperation?  These are all skills that can be practiced and mastered.  It’s what makes a better life for us anyway.  This is an opportunity to make life smoother for ourselves and others.

When you go through the divorce process, you will need to address all of the same issues regardless of the process you choose.  When you are choosing between mediation and Collaborative Law, you are choosing how you want to discuss those issues.

There are many similarities between Mediation and Collaborative Law.  Both are premised on good faith, full disclosure, and creating mutually beneficial agreements.  There are several differences between the processes, but the main difference is which professional(s) you work with to resolve your case.  Both processes frequently use child specialists, financial specialists and/or divorce coaches.  This article focuses only on the role of the mediator and Collaborative attorneys.

Mediation

In mediation, clients work directly with a neutral third party – the mediator.  Mediation is usually a series of “three way” meetings involving both clients and the mediator.  The mediator does not represent either client and has an equal duty to both clients.  Mediators can provide legal information to clients, but they cannot provide legal advice.  Legal information includes what the rules are in Oregon, how they may apply to your situation, and (potentially) what a likely range of outcomes would be in your situation.  Legal advice is a recommendation about what you should do in your situation.  Mediators cannot provide you with legal advice (even if they are an attorney).

Attorneys are often involved in the mediation process, although they don’t have to be involved.  Clients often consult with attorneys prior to mediation or in between mediation sessions.  Attorneys will sometimes be present during mediation.  This happens more often when a case is litigated (i.e., going through a traditional contested divorce process), but that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.

You can learn more about the mediation process here.

Collaborative Law

 In Collaborative Law each client is represented by their own collaboratively trained attorney.  The collaborative team meets together in series of “four way” meetings, although these meetings may also include other professionals if you are working on a “full team” case.  Collaborative law usually does not involve a mediator, although sometimes it does.  The job of the Collaborative attorney is to educate and advise their client while also providing negotiation assistance.  You can learn more about the role of the Collaborative Law attorney here.

You can learn more about the Collaborative Law process here.

Which Process to Choose?  The main difference between the two processes is working with one neutral third party vs. each person working with their own collaboratively trained attorney.  There is not necessarily a ‘right’ process, but here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Legal Advice. Do you feel like you need legal advice as part of the process?  Mediators are prohibited from providing legal advice, although they can provide legal information.  You can still obtain legal advice as part of mediation; it’s just usually done in between meetings.  Your Collaborative attorney, on the other hand, is with you every step of the way and is there to provide advice if you need it.  There are differences of opinion amongst professionals about the role of the law in the Collaborative law process, but that discussion is beyond the scope of this article.
  • Negotiation Assistance. When you think of negotiating on your own behalf, what comes up for you?  Is that a comfortable idea?  Is it stress-inducing?  Anxiety provoking?  The job of the mediator is to facilitate the negotiation and to empower both people to effectively advocate on their own behalf.  A Collaborative Law attorney, by comparison, would be actively negotiating with you and for you as part of the Collaborative process.
  • Increased Support. Sometimes one person prefers mediation and one person prefers Collaborative Law.  In that case we usually recommend choosing the Collaborative process rather than mediation.  If one person prefers Collaborative, it is usually because they feel like they need a heightened degree of support or assistance that their own attorney can provide.  Generally speaking, we’d rather have both people get added support if there is a need for it by one client rather than have someone need an increased level of support and not get it (i.e., by selecting the mediation process).  You can still have the support of an attorney in mediation, it’s just that your attorney tends to be more involved in your Collaborative Law case than if they are just consulting in between mediation sessions.

One useful way of deciding between mediation and Collaborative Law is to schedule a joint process consultation with a member of Bridges.  A joint process consultation is an opportunity for both of you to sit down with one person to discuss which process will work best for your family.  These meetings are limited just to discussing these process options – you will not be negotiating at a process consultation.

The members of Bridges Collaborative Divorce Solutions offer both mediation and Collaborative Law services.  Many of us offer joint process consultations if you need help deciding which process makes the most sense for you and your family.

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Forrest Collins
Collaborative Attorney & Mediator
Forrest Collins, PC
Ste. 150
5200 Meadows Rd
Lake Oswego, OR 97035

As a Mediator and Collaborative attorney, I only work with clients who want to avoid court and resolve their issues themselves, on a mutually fair basis. This gives me a window from which to see and hear many interesting, touching stories of couples who are determined to be their best selves, while at the same time struggling with broken hearts, stretched finances and the many practical challenges of separating. Divorcing parents have the added task of managing their kids’ emotional adjustment to the family’s restructuring.

Here’s one impressive example I’d like to share:

In a Collaborative Divorce, each spouse has an attorney but agrees that neither lawyer will under any circumstances take the matter to court; if the process breaks down (which is rare), the attorneys are disqualified, and new litigation counsel must be retained. The Collaborative process looks and feels much like a co-mediated case, with the clients and both lawyers working together in group meetings as a “settlement team” to find the best possible win-win-win solutions for the family.

A while back, I was representing a wife in a Collaborative case with a very close colleague representing the husband.  Before we began, each spouse had developed some very beautiful goals to guide their work together. One of wife’s goals was that there would be no “sides” in the case, since she felt that everyone should be on the same side – that of caring for the whole family (especially their kids).

Our first meeting was at the other lawyer’s office, which has a rectangular table.  Husband was already seated on one side when we arrived. I sat across the table from him and wife sat down next to me.  After settling in, she then looked up, and realized that she was now on one side of the table, while husband was on the other. Without a word, she got up and moved across so that she could sit next to husband before we began our work. From that point on, the couple sat together for all of our team meetings. Wife had literally walked the walk to stick to her important family goal of avoiding taking sides.

This couple promised each other that they and their kids would always remain a family, now and in the years to come, despite their choice to divorce. That commitment required that, in addition to resolving their finances, these partners had to keep in mind this important relational piece of their work together. This sweet couple continued to hug, fist-bump, and occasionally bicker as they successfully worked through the issues of their separation and divorce in a series of team meetings. At the end, they laughed and cried in appreciation at what they’d accomplished together.

They taught me something very important:  In a family-centered divorce, there really, truly is only one side.  I’ll continue to share their important insight with all those I have the honor of helping divorce peacefully.

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Jim O’Connor, Collaborative Attorney / Mediator
3939 NE Hancock St., Ste. 309
Portland, OR 97212
503-473-8242

Jim’s Website
Email Jim

Child support is an important topic when divorcing couples have children under age 21. Parents have a lot of questions about why it must be paid and what the funds will be used for. One of the advantages of the Collaborative Divorce process is how we assist our clients so that they have a better understanding of the many facets of child support. First, we try to better understand a family’s goals, needs, and budgets. We can then collaborate to create an individual plan that will work for the entire family and that will be approved by the court.

Oregon Law, Child Support, and Creative Solutions

According to Oregon law, it is mandatory for parents to fill out a child support worksheet with the Uniform Child Support Guidelines formula attached to their paperwork. If a child support order is left up to a trial court judge, it will be limited to considering only incomes, spousal support (if any), work-related childcare, percentage of time-sharing with kids, health insurance premiums, and the base amount of child support itself. This does not always meet a family’s needs or goals.

Understanding child support

There are ways we can personalize the plan and provide the court with more details. We talk about the children’s specific needs and family budgets. There are different categories of expenses to consider when working to establish a monthly child support sum. For example, we take into account:

  • Special interests of the children, like swimming lessons, piano lessons, and other extracurricular activities.
  • Whether private school tuition is desired.
  • How sharing flexible time with the children might impact child support in a way that honors co-parenting, with a customized plan that fits both parent’s budgets.
  • What the long-term goals of parents and children are ~ Are they interested in establishing a college fund, or continuing to fund an already established plan?
  • Whether they want a more comprehensive healthcare plan than one required by the court.
  • Whether they agree that one parent should stay home to care for young children.

Determining resources and routine expenses (including tuition which may only come up once a year)

Our collaborative teams often use budget-based software called Family Law Software that has a lot of tools for us to use in assisting families who will now have two households to run on the same income they used to use for just one household. We want to be sure the plan we settle on is one that is going to meet the needs of the parents and the children.

To learn more about how to structure your child support agreement through the Collaborative Divorce process, contact one of our Professionals at Bridges Collaborative Divorce Solutions.

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Tonya Alexander
Collaborative Attorney & Mediator
Alexander Law, PC
1925 NE Stucki Ave Ste 410
Hillsboro, OR 97006
503-531-9109

Tonya’s Website
Email Tonya