an alternative to conventional divorce litigation

by: mara bernstein
posted: monday, february 9, 2015


After years of witnessing the often devastating fallout contested divorce litigation takes on the emotional and financial well-being of families, a group of committed lawyers, and mental health and financial professionals knew there was a better, more humane way to resolve family and marital issues. The method -- Collaborative Divorce, a voluntary dispute resolution process where parties commit to settling their disputes without resort to litigation.

Spearheaded by Kim Nutter, Esq., Dr. Sheila Furr, Julia Wyda, Esq., Debra Welch, Esq., and Charles Cohen, Esq., the South Palm Beach County Collaborative Law Group is an association of more than sixty five (65) attorneys, financial professionals and mental health professionals trained in the collaborative process of dispute resolution.

The mission of the group is to familiarize the South Florida community with the benefits of collaborative law over litigation and to introduce collaborative professionals who can assist community members through collaborative divorce, separation, modifications, and other family matters.

Why Collaborative Divorce?

In a conventional divorce, the parties look to the court to resolve their differences. The result is that the parties lose control of the process and view each other as adversaries in a win-lose battleground. This conflict often takes on a life of its own, causing devastating emotional harm to the children, a financial toll on the family and, sadly, irreparable damage to the family unit as a whole. At the end of the day, there are no winners.

There are "survivors" who have spent months and often years battling it out only to obtain results that could have been foreseen and settled at the outset. Collaborative Divorce is by definition a non-adversarial process which eases the emotional strains of a breakup and protects the wellbeing of children in the process.

Unlike the Court process, Collaborative Divorce allows parties the opportunity to address emotional issues and consider more creative and effective financial solutions. The parties work together along with their own lawyers and collaborative team to come up with solutions that meet their needs and the needs of their children.

They are involved and invested in the process knowing that they are in control of their destiny. This makes for more satisfied clients and less damaged relationships.

How Does the Collaborative Process Work?

The collaborative process starts with a mutual pledge by the parties not to go to court. The collaborative team consists of the clients, their respective collaborative lawyers, a neutral financial professional, and a neutral mental health professional. All lawyers and professionals have specific training and experience in the collaborative process.

The goal of the team is to work together to resolve the case, taking a comprehensive, holistic approach by assessing the legal, financial, emotional, and individual needs of family members. The parties and the collaborative team commit to resolving their disputes based on full disclosure in a transparent and open process.

Because all parties, lawyers, and professionals pledge not to go to court, the team ensures a safe platform for full-disclosure discussions and negotiations between parties. This is solidified by each lawyer's agreement to withdraw from further representation if a settlement cannot be reached or one of the parties opts out of the collaborative process. This eliminates the risk that information can be used in any way if the dispute goes to court.

The entire collaborative process is done outside the courtroom, eliminating the need for hearings, filing of pleadings, and formal discovery. Decision-making rests with the parties not a judge.

Is Collaborative For Everyone?

Probably not, but it is certainly for those who:

  • Value their privacy and do not want any of their dirty laundry hung out in the legal system
  • Do not want to destroy their role as co-parents
  • Have seen and heard about divorce war stories and do not want that to be their story
  • Are concerned about the welfare of their children during the divorce and after
  • Do not want to spend precious resources of time and money fighting
  • And/or come to the table in good faith with the intention of settling their case.

Is Collaborative Divorce Cost Effective?

Litigation is generally the most expensive way to dissolve a marriage. There is the expensive discovery process, motions, and court appearances to obtain the documents that were not produced. There are usually numerous pleadings filed in the court, which require responses by the opposing attorney and sometimes court appearances.

There is often considerable downtime, waiting in the court hallways for a case to be heard or travel time to court. In a collaborative practice, each of the professionals involved receives a retainer and future services are billed against them. The commitment to fairness and cooperation saves vast amounts of money by avoiding motions and court appearances. The use and efficiency of expert neutrals, rather than adversarial experts, saves money and the overall costs at the end of the process are generally less in collaborative practice.

How Our Legal Community Can Support the Growth of Collaborative Divorce in South Palm Beach County?

  • Spread the word about the benefits of Collaborative.
  • To learn more about collaborative law, to find a collaborative professional or for membership information: Visit South Palm Beach County Collaborative Law Group's interactive website: choosecollaborative.com.
  • When referring family and marital law cases, mention the collaborative divorce alternative to friends, family members and clients. You will be supporting the South Palm Beach County Collaborative Law Group's efforts and promoting a means to provide families closure without the casualties of war.