For the first several years of my family law practice, I represented clients who were looking to the judicial system to make decisions regarding their children, finances and property. These clients felt it appropriate to provide a judge who didn’t personally know anything about them with complete control over their future and that of their family.
A release of such control never seemed natural to me.
As I slowly transitioned my practice to only Alternate Dispute Resolution (“ADR”), I saw a much higher rate of satisfaction with the dissolution process among my clients. Until 2013 my ADR practice focused mostly on mediation. At the suggestion of my friend and colleague Shawn Weber, CFLS, I took the Collaborative training.
The training showed me that the Collaborative process and its outcome better reflected reality. In the artificial environment of a courtroom, a judge is limited in his or her decisions by the Family Code and case law. However, these code sections and court opinions often do not allow a judge to mirror reality.
I instantly realized during my first Collaborative case that it is a process which understands the needs of the parties. The key moment of this realization was during the meeting addressing the issue of spousal support. Instead of plugging in numbers into a computer program to come up with an artificial support payment, we reviewed in detail each individual’s monthly budget, and allocated the combined net income appropriately.
This process insured each spouse’s necessary expenses were met, and even allowed some discretionary expenses to be covered. The spousal support number was based on reality, and each person walked away from the meeting feeling confident he or she could financially survive post dissolution.
Best of all, their fear about the future was replaced by a sense of relief, which resulted in having control over how their lives would progress.
The team approach of the Collaborative dissolution was an invaluable tool for working with this family. As in any case, each had their own attorney for legal advice, but both also had the benefit of a financial expert providing knowledge and insight, and a mental health professional to address their emotions during the process. These are two key components which are often missing from the traditional divorce process.
The ultimate agreement and outcome of the case was one that in fact mirrored reality, allowing each individual to have control of his or her future – control that was never handed over to the impersonal judicial system.