A Florida collaborative family matter is a dispute, a transaction, a claim, a problem, or an issue for resolution. The matter is described in a “collaborative law participation agreement” and arises under chapter 61 or chapter 742, Florida Statutes. Such matters include:
(a) Marriage, divorce, dissolution, annulment, and marital property distribution.
(b) Child custody, visitation, parenting plan, and parenting time.
(c) Alimony, maintenance, and child support.
(d) Parental relocation with a child.
(e) Parentage and paternity.
(f) Premarital, marital, and postmarital agreements.
Collaborative Divorce is an option you can choose to resolve your divorce without fighting in court. Each spouse has an attorney. The sign a collaborative law participation agreement. They commit in writing to full disclosure, honest communication, confidentiality, and to engage in no litigation during the process.
In a Collaborative Divorce, the clients and each lawyer signs a binding “collaborative participation agreement.” Under this agreement, the lawyers can’t participate in contested court proceedings on behalf of those clients. That means everyone focuses on resolving the matter. No one has an eye on the litigation door. This disqualification commitment makes Collaborative Divorce different from mediation or litigation.
Collaborative practice uniquely allows couples to achieve creative, flexible, private settlement of family law matters without fighting in court.
Most couples who choose Collaborative Divorce reach agreement. They’re not drained emotionally and financially. At the end of the process, they still respect each other. Further, in collaborative, they keep painful and sensitive details and financial records out of public court records. Collaborating parents protect their kids from costly tug-of-war and negative jockeying.
People who choose Collaborative Divorce want to decide how they’ll resolve their family matters. Many couples’ lives stay connected after they part. That’s especially so when they have minor children together.
More specifically, people choose Collaborative Divorce when they want to:
• build for their kids long-term parenting plans flexible to accommodate their development;
• avoid confrontation, time, stress, pain, and expense litigation can cause;
• keep sensitive financial, business, and personal information confidential; and
• decide how their family moves forward, not leave decisions to a judge who’s a stranger.
1. The couple and their professional team set the pace and resolve issues respectfully, out of court.
2. The couple controls the tempo of the process.
3. Each person’s interests and the family’s needs are considered and valued.
4. Couples can achieve flexible solutions by contractual commitments, including some a judge couldn’t order without such contracts.
5. A neutral facilitator helps the couple and team work through emotions and, for couples with children, tailor parenting plans to their specific family needs.
6. A neutral financial expert guides the couple about their current financial situation and what’s possible and practical.
7. Attorneys don’t wage war, but are legal guides who work towards creative, flexible, and long-lasting solutions.
8. Emphasis stays on the present and future, rather than on past slights, wrongs, and pain.
9. Couples keep delicate family issues private, rather than airing them out in court.
10. Couples move through Collaborative Divorce efficiently and typically spend less time and money than they would in adversarial litigation.
The Florida Academy of Collaborative Professionals (FACP) statistics from surveyed Florida collaborative professionals showed:
• 30% of collaborative cases in Florida cost $12,500 or less per person ($25,000 or less total to the couple).
• 53% of collaborative cases in Florida cost $20,000 or less per person ($40,000 or less total to the couple).
• 68.8% of collaborative cases in Florida cost $25,000 or less per person ($50,000 or less total to the couple).
• 18.1 % of collaborative cases in Florida cost between $25,000 and $50,000 per person (between $50,000 – $100,000 total to the couple).
Collaborative Divorce is not a bargain resolution. The cheapest divorces happen when couples sort out their issues on their own. They may look to lawyers to draft the agreement and wrap up the divorce. But these “kitchen table” deals don’t always result from complete information. Sometimes the spouses’ bargaining position is unequal. One may control the financial information or have more power than the other. And, even well intentioned couples may overlook important legal issues.
Retaining attorneys and neutral professionals for a collaborative team means a cash outlay up front. Many couples pick a joint account or credit card for paying the professionals. For couples with reduced means, collaborative professionals may offer pro bono or “low bono” programs.
Maybe even more valuable than money can quantify are intangible things Collaborative Divorce offers. For example, concluding your Collaborative Divorce with respect and the ability to communicate for your children is hard to measure.
In a Collaborative Divorce, each professional is paid to do what he or she is best qualified to do. This is usually a more efficient, cost-effective way to resolve family disputes than litigating them would be.
Instead of using competing experts facing off in litigation, one neutral financial expert in Collaborative Divorce can:
• gather information,
• analyze financial documents,
• educate the divorcing spouses, and
• explore alternatives with them.
One neutral collaborative mental health professional may work with you and the other parent on a Parenting Plan. That relieves the parents from having their lawyers spend time at their hourly rates working on the Parenting Plan. That can result in substantial savings.
In contrast, in litigation, parties may hope the judge punishes the vanquished and rewards the least bruised. As a result, aggressive “barracuda” or “bulldog” lawyers may magnify even petty disputes. They may spend time and your money fighting over discovery, kids, money, accounts, and property. At their hourly rates, they might fire nasty emails back and forth. They may demand and pore through bank statements, credit cards, tax returns, business records, and many other documents.
Before trial, they may prepare for and participate in depositions and court hearings. If the case doesn’t settle at mediation – although the good news is most cases do – an expensive trial may take place. Trial may not happen until many months after the initial papers were filed. The party who “loses” (or both parties) may appeal the trial judge’s rulings. If the appellate court finds the judge was incorrect, the couple may find the case sent back (“remanded”) to the trial judge for even more work.
For a chart comparing tasks typically done in litigation but that don’t take place in Collaborative Divorce, read Sampson Collaborative Law’s cost of collaborative v. litigation comparison chart.
The Florida Academy of Collaborative Professionals (FACP) statistics from surveyed Florida collaborative profesionals showed:
92% of collaborative cases in FL completed with full agreement.
95% of collaborative cases in FL completed within 1 year.
84% of collaborative cases in FL completed in less than 9 months.
Full disclosure and open communications assure that you cover all issues timely. Parties say what they need to say. They hear each other directly without an intermediary spinning their words to advance a position.
Settling issues out of court means no waiting for time on a judge’s calendar for a trial.
Each Collaborative Divorce is unique. How fast your divorce goes depends on your personality, your spouse’s personality, cooperation, the issues, availability of information, each person’s health, and the family’s functioning.
Collaborative Divorce is voluntary. So both spouses must agree. A judge can’t force your spouse to collaborate.
If your spouse doesn’t want to agree to Collaborative Divorce, try finding out why. Is your spouse uncertaint about the process? If so, it may help for your spouse to get more information from a collaboratively trained professional with no stake in the divorce and who won’t charge to spend a few minutes explaining the process. Is your spouse skeptical or afraid? If so, materials from the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals or the Florida Academy of Collaborative Professionals may help allay fears.
Collaborative Divorce isn’t the same as mediation. In mediation, a neutral third party helps you and your spouse (with or without lawyers present) negotiate a settlement. Your mediator can’t give legal advice. As a neutral, your mediator can’t advocate for one spouse and not the other.
Mediation gives you and your spouse more control of the deal you strike than you’d have if a judge were to decide the issues after trial. In mediation with represented clients, their lawyers and the mediator control the process, what’s presented, how it’s presented, and the strategy for resolving the issues. Mediation usually takes less time than the collaborative process.
In Collaborative Divorce, you and your collaborative team stay creatively, jointly focused on solutions from the beginning. In contrast, in mediation, parties typically continue positional bargaining. That often happens from separate caucus rooms. Many mediation unfold with spouses, communicating through their lawyers, making high and low offers. You may “horse trade” and assert legal positions in mediation, rather than explore what might best achieve your family’s goals.
Further, even if mediation succeeds, positional bargaining can leave both parties bitter and feeling they’ve “lost.” Divorce mediation is often just one step courts mandate in an adversarial process. Once that “box is checked,” you, your spouse, and the lawyers may forge ahead in the lawsuit.
Another key difference is, in mediation, unlike in Collaborative Divorce, there is no disqualification requirement if the case doesn’t settle. So, if mediation fails, lawyers know they may resume billing for post-mediation discovery. They will resume fighting and moving the dispute to trial.
By contrast, if the Collaborative Divorce lawyers and focused, team efforts result in no signed agreement, they can’t stay on as the litigation lawyers. They have no economic stake in litigation if settlement efforts fall short. That means the Collaborative Divorce lawyers direct all energy on achieving a resolution that meets the couple’s goals.