Family Law

A Solutions-Based Method to Resolving Family Law Disputes

Tampa Collaborative Family Law Attorneys

What is Collaborative Family Law

The collaborative family law process is an alternative to traditional litigation to allow parties to divorce (or going through other family law matters) without fighting in court.

Collaborative family law is a method utilized by parties that encourages a more civilized way of resolving family law disputes by negotiation and agreement thus avoiding court and the litigation process.  The collaborative process strives to dissolve the marriage or resolve other family law issues in a way that addresses everyone’s legal, financial, and emotional needs.

Collaborative family law is a way of handling a family law matter that intends to keep the parties out of court.  The main concept in either mediation or Collaborative Law is to “troubleshoot and problem solve” rather than to fight and win.   The collective goal of all parties involved is to come to an agreement, as opposed to winning the battle.

In collaborative family law, both parties retain separate attorneys who must work to help settle their matter rather than litigating the case.  Ultimately, if the matter is not resolved, the attorneys are not permitted to represent the parties in the litigation process.

A petition for dissolution of marriage may be filed prior to the initiation of a collaborative law agreement or after the matter is resolved or settled through the collaborative law process.  This may have an impact on the filing date for purposes of equitable distribution should the process fail.

If the case is not resolved, the collaborative law process terminates and both divorce or family law attorneys are disqualified from any further involvement in the case.  The parties must start from scratch.

The Benefits of the Collaborative Family Law Process 

Collaborative family lawyers work toward settling your case rather than preparing for and conducting a trial, resulting in financial and emotional savings to the parties and their families.  By treating each other with respect, working together towards settlement, and reducing stress created by litigation, the parties may create an environment where they can cooperate together in the future especially when the parties are parents of minor children.

In most situations, the parties agree to participate in the Collaborative Family Law process prior to filing any legal actions with the Family Court. There are many benefits to beginning a Florida family law case in a collaborative manner. Two of the greatest benefits of the pre-suit collaborative process are as follows. First, because court action is not immediately initiated, the parties oftentimes are not immediately in an offensive or defensive stance and feel more open and may be more willing to work with each other to resolve their legal issues. Second, the parties are not subject to the Family Court’s mandatory disclosure rules requiring each party to file with the court a Financial Affidavit and other documentation setting forth their income and assets. This is one of the main benefits over mediation that generally is scheduled only after court action is commenced and the Court’s mandatory disclosure requirements are triggered. The Florida family law collaborative process is an excellent method for attempting to resolve family law issues in a private and cost-effective manner and is especially useful in high profile cases or cases where the parties do not wish to file their financial information with the court.

One of the biggest benefits of the collaborative family law process is that most cases settle.  Most cases are resolved without a trial. In the Court system that resolution often comes more than a year after the divorce was commenced and after many hurtful statements have been made part of the public record in the form of affidavits and motions.

Certainly, collaborative law will not work in every case but if both parties are committed to the process Collaborative Law can lead to settlement within a faster timeframe than when litigation is required.

The most recently compiled statistics show that approximately 88% of Florida family law matters that begin the collaborative family law process settle.

The Requirements of the Collaborative Family Law Process

Each party in a collaborative case must have independent representation by a family law attorney who has been trained in the collaborative law method. In addition to the collaborative family lawyers, the collaborative professional team includes a collaborative facilitator, and often other professionals from other areas who have been trained in the collaborative process. This group is often referred to as the “collaborative team.”  The collaborative team often involves at least the following professionals:

The Neutral Facilitator who is a jointly retained team member that will assist everyone with communication and problem solving. The Neutral Facilitator is responsible for: 1) Helping the parties identify their goals, interests and concerns; 2) Teaching or assisting the parties in negotiation and problem-solving skills; 3) Teaching effective communication skills; 4) Helping the collaborative team members meet their responsibilities; 5) Assisting the parties in recognizing and coordinating their parenting styles to enhance their future co-parenting relationship; and 6) Assisting the Clients in making decisions that are based on their expressed goals, interests, and concerns, including decisions which address the best interests of their adult children.

The Neutral Financial Professional who is a jointly retained team member that will help gather financial information and help solve problems. The neutral financial professional’s role may include: 1) Helping the parties identify their goals, interests and concerns; 2) Helping the parties gather and organize their financial information; 3) Preparing a draft of an inventory of assets and liabilities; 4) Assisting the parties with developing budgets; 5) Assisting the parties with better understanding their financial issues; 6) Assisting the collaborative attorneys and parties to address separate property and reimbursement claim issues; 7) Assisting the parties with understanding options for property valuation; and 8) Assisting Clients with developing, evaluating and negotiating options for financial settlement. The collaborative team may also include mental health professionals (MHPs) who may help guide the parties through the emotional issues surrounding the loss of their relationship, provide neutral advice on issues such as child development and discuss the psychological impact upon minor children when considering different parenting plans.

The MHPs may include parenting coaches, mental health therapists and psychologists. Because both parties agree upon the selection of the financial advisor and mental health professional, the parties receive honest, neutral advice that also results in a cost savings compared to each party selecting and paying for their own team of experts.

To begin the process, the parties sign a Participation Agreement. The Agreement requires the parties to commit to joint sessions intended to resolve their family law issues amicably and without the necessity of court action. The Participation Agreement also requires the parties to voluntarily exchange all financial documents necessary for both parties to make informed financial decisions, to agree to confidentiality of all communications made during the collaborative process, and to agree that the collaborative lawyers will withdraw their representation and not represent their clients in court if the process does not yield an agreement.

After each party meets independently with the Mental Health Professional, the parties, their Collaborative Family Lawyers and the MHP will conduct joint meetings to work towards settlement of all outstanding family law issues. If an agreement is reached, a Marriage Settlement Agreement or other agreement is drafted and signed by the parties. Thereafter, the Miami Collaborative Family Lawyers would prepare a Joint Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, a Joint Answer to the Petition and would file the Settlement Agreement with the Court.

To summarize, there are three requirements that must occur in order to proceed in the collaborative family law process: 1) Both parties must retain their own attorney. Being represented by an attorney is mandatory for the collaborative family law process; 2) Both parties and their respective attorneys must agree that the attorneys will withdraw from the case if either party decides to litigate.  This rule, among other things, prevents lawyers from using information gained during the collaborative family law process against an opposing party in court.  It also  motivates the parties and the attorneys to continue to negotiate rather than litigate by keeping them invested in the process; and 3) The parties must sign a collaborative participation agreement.  The agreement outlines the structure and guidelines for the collaborative family law process.

Contact Us Today

Our team based in Tampa practices divorce and family law throughout Florida, but primarily represents clients in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, and Polk counties.  Wherever you need an expert attorney who is Board Certified in Marital and Family Law, we stand ready to help.  We thank you for taking the time to review our website. If you have questions, or would like to schedule a consultation at our Tampa office, please contact us at (813) 251-6222.

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