Collaborative Divorce featured Thursday, Aug 18 on Real Talk San Diego Radio

San Diego based family law attorney Shawn Weber, member of the Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego, will talk about Collaborative Divorce and other family law issues during his upcoming appearance on the ESPN 1700 AM Radio program “Real Talk San Diego” with hosts Ryan White and Karen Kaseno on Thursday, August 18, at 1 p.m.

Shawn will discuss the advantage of a Collaborative Divorce over a litigated divorce, and the reasons your family will benefit, especially if you have minor children. Shawn Weber flyer

You can listen online on the Real Talk San Diego website.

Do You Need A Child Specialist For Your Divorce?

Working with a Child Specialist through the Collaborative Divorce process can help your children move forward without lasting emotional damage.
Working with a Child Specialist through the Collaborative Divorce process can help your children move forward without lasting emotional damage.

Working with a Child Specialist through the Collaborative Divorce process can help your children move forward without lasting emotional damage.

by Frann Setzer, Esq.
MBA/Certified Family Law Specialist
Lewis, Warren & Setzer, LLP

The holidays can be a stressful time of the year, but for those going through separation or

Attorney Frann Setzer

Family law attorney Frann Setzer

divorce that stress can be magnified. This is especially applicable for children, whose reactions to changes in holiday and family traditions may be difficult to measure. Perhaps this is the right time to add a Child Specialist to your divorce team.

Along with their attorneys and a financial neutral working with clients during the Collaborative divorce process, clients also have their coaches to lean on. Coaches are licensed mental health professionals who help clients identity intense feelings and play a key role in keeping emotions from derailing the process. While clients have strong feelings tied to finances, in my experience as a family law attorney, it is often the parents’ emotions surrounding the children that result in the most intense feelings and correspondingly, the most intense conflict, during the divorce process.

Parents worry about how their children are dealing with the divorce. They worry about establishing a routine that will work for their children. They worry about differences in parenting styles. Situations where the children might have special needs or where a child has a troubled relationship with one parent can cause particular concern. A Child Specialist is a licensed mental health professional with special expertise working with children.

A child specialist can help with these issues in a number of ways:

  1. Resolving differences in parenting styles or skills. A Child Specialist can help parents understand the impact of the divorce and their children’s developmental needs. While the Child Specialist will not make recommendations, he or she can convey the potential risks and protective factors unique to their children. This information can help you make parenting decisions and adapt your parenting style to the situation.
  1. Establishing an optimal schedule. The Child Specialist can also help parents by meeting with the children and then conveying to the parents an understanding of their children’s stress tolerance, developmental needs, as well that their hopes and wishes. This information can be used to help parents craft a parenting plan that works for their children, taking into consideration various factors such as how often the children should transition, whether the children stay together on the same schedule, how flexible the schedule should be. The specialist can also provide examples of schedules that might work well for the children.
  1. How are the children doing? Children often will open up to a neutral trained Child Specialist- someone who is focused on their needs and has no bias. The specialist can assess how the children are coping with the divorce. If the children need further support, the Child Specialist can make referrals to therapists in the community who specialize in divorce-related child therapy.
  1. Working with children who have special needs. Children with special needs such as autism, chronic illness, or learning disorders may benefit from the input of a Child Specialist. The specialist can help parents understand the unique needs of their child and how to structure a parenting plan that will keep the child stable and safe.
  1. Some children may have a difficult relationship with one parent. Sometimes children are drawn into loyalty conflicts and feel they must choose to align with one parent. These children are caught in the middle of their parents’ conflict. The Child Specialist can meet with the children, assess the situation, and help the parents understand the dynamics that are harming the child, the emotional needs of the child, and how the parents can co-parent successfully to support their children. The specialist can help develop a plan to heal or reconnect the estranged child and his/her parent and can make outside referrals as appropriate.

Working with a Child Specialist to address your childrens’ needs during a divorce is one of the advantages of the Collaborative Process. By recognizing and addressing the impact on your children and the outcome moving forward, family relationships can be preserved and everyone can emerge from the experience with a healthy outlook toward the future, avoiding the pain and conflict of a contentious litigated divorce. Contact the Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego to learn more.

Top Nine Collaborative Divorce Tips for Success

By Shawn Weber, CA State Bar Certified Family Law Specialist
Past President, Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego
Board Member of Collaborative Practice California

My life as a family law attorney changed with my first Collaborative Practice case. I was moved by the idea of leaving the adversarial process that I found so harmful to families and children and engaging in the solutions-oriented, mutual and respectful collaborative model for families transitioning through the divorce process. I had seen too many situations in court where I felt we were doing more harm than good. While litigation is necessary for some, Collaborative Practice is a powerful tool to reduce the serious pain and collateral damage, from which families suffer in court.

In a collaborative divorce, both parties retain specially trained attorneys. Other professionals, including coaches, financial specialists, therapists and child specialists, are called upon to join the team and offer their unique expertise.

An important distinction of collaborative divorce is the agreement that the attorneys and other experts make to resign from the case if it veers toward litigation. This ensures that all who are involved are committed to a nonadversarial resolution of the case.  I love that it frees me, the attorney, from the temptation to posture and spin and moves me into a mode where I am working with the other professionals across varied disciplines to find solutions.

Since my first Collaborative Divorce case, I have learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t work.  Following are my top nine tips for success in a collaborative divorce.

Teamwork
1. Use a full team model.  It can seem daunting to think of adding multiple professionals to one’s divorce case. A full collaborative divorce team would be a coach for each party, two attorneys, a child specialist and a financial specialist. There is a temptation to think, “I don’t need all of these people.” Sometimes people fear that having a full team is cost prohibitive.

In reality, the different professionals bring efficiency through specialization. In other words, you aren’t paying an attorney at his higher rate to do mental health work that he is less qualified to do. Rather, you pay a mental health professional to provide coaching services with much greater skill. Use a qualified and well-trained accountant or financial planner for financial work. Specialization gives you a better product more efficiently obtained.

The shortcut of only using attorneys may seem cheaper or less complicated in the short-run. But in the long run costly mistakes can be made. The coaches and child specialists are excellent in helping parties and parents focus on the important things in the divorce process rather than on the “emotional noise” that is ever present in every family law case. Financial specialists are adept at watching for costly tax planning mistakes.  They do a tremendous job of making complex financial issues more accessible. Going into a collaborative case with only part of a team is like mountain climbing with only half of your gear. You might be able to get to the top of the mountain, but it will take longer and be a more miserable journey. You might not make it at all.  So, be sure to have all the tools available.

Once you have your team in place, make sure you use your team members. Use the coaches to help when things are emotional. Use the financial specialists to figure out the money. Use the child specialist to make sure that your kids are OK. Don’t set up the team and then not use it. It’s like filling up a tool box with a full socket set, but only using one wrench.

See “Collaborative Practice Saves Money” by attorney Sandra Joan Morris.

2. Make sure that you are working hard. Getting divorced is very hard work.  I advise my clients that they will work harder than they ever have at anything in their lives.  Divorce is complicated and extraordinarily emotional work. You will get a lot of homework to complete between collaborative meetings. This may involve producing financial records or learning how to work out parenting disagreements with the other parent. Just sitting in a room and trying to be constructive with a spouse you are divorcing can be exhausting both emotionally and physically.

I can predict failure in a collaborative process when I am working harder to settle the case than my client. There should be no illusions. A lot will be asked of you. Don’t expect your team of professionals (as capable as they are) to do all the work for you. Ask often what you can do to move the ball down the field.

Do your homework

3. Get your homework done on time (maybe even early). You will be given assignments between sessions like gathering financial data, preparing forms or working with your children. If the homework required for a scheduled meeting hasn’t been done, the meeting will be a waste. Your divorce will take longer. If you get your tasks completed on time, or even early, the meetings will go smoothly and your case will likely conclude on time.

4. Disclose Everything.  That we are trying to be more informal and friendly does not relieve you of the responsibility to be completely truthful and open. The legal requirements for disclosure remain whether the case is collaborative or litigated. That means you disclose everything. That’s EVERYTHING.

Trust is the great lubricant of settlement. Collaborative practice relies on mutual trust and consensual resolution making openness essential. Completing the financial disclosures on time enables better trust. Without trust and openness, you probably won’t be able to settle and you will end up in court. Besides, the law is very clear that disclosure is required. Suffice it to say that the California Courts have broad power to punish a non-disclosing party. (For a primer on California’s strict disclosure rules, click here.)

5. Be patient.  You will not solve every issue in your first meeting. The first several meetings often only set the stage for settlement later. There is a reason for this.  Information needs to be gathered. Emotions need to be controlled. Children’s concerns need to be addressed. Divorces are complicated with many legal issues and difficult emotions. If you are patient, stick to it and rely on your team, your chances of success increase.

6. Relax and don’t panic. Legal disputes are frightening. Legal disputes about your family are paralyzing. Sometimes individuals succumb to “fight or flight,” that tremendous adrenaline response that saved our ancestors from being eaten by the saber tooth tiger. That’s great when you are trying not to be eaten. It’s not so great when aiming for a peaceful settlement.

When things get difficult, it’s easy to panic and run to court. Instead, engage your team when things get difficult. A skilled collaborative team can help you find a solution to a difficulty much faster and more creatively than court ever could.

See “The Emotional Roller Coaster of Divorce” by Pauline H. Tesler, M.A., J.D., & Peggy Thompson, Ph.D.

7. Talk Less. Listen More. To find a settlement, it will be important to hear and understand what your spouse is saying and feeling. You should get your story out.  But don’t do it at the expense of missing your spouse’s point of view. Looking at the world from your spouse’s point of view will help you find a solution that works for both of you.

Importantly, don’t forget to listen to your professional team. They have been through a lot more divorces than you and will have suggestions that you may not think of on your own. Take time to hear and internalize what is being said.

Solutions

8. Don’t think win or lose. Focus on solutions.  The terms “justice” and “fairness” mean different things for different people. You don’t have to win everything. Divorce doesn’t need to be a competition. Rather, divorce presents problems for which there are solutions. The challenge is to find the solutions.

Instead of “fairness” or “winning,”  try to make good business decisions. Settling your case is its own victory. Taking the decision away from a judge and keeping it with the parties is empowering. Ending conflict is liberating.

9. Have an open mind.  It’s easy to get locked into preconceived notions. In all collaborative practice cases, time is spent brainstorming to find creative solutions.  In brain storming, there are no bad ideas. It’s a great way to find many possible and more creative options.

One old parable involves two women fighting over an orange. Foolishly, the two women simply cut the orange in half to settle their dispute without considering what each wanted from the orange. This was a poor solution as it failed to address each woman’s real interests. One woman wanted to use the zest while the other wanted the pulp for juicing. Had they sought a solution that truly addressed their needs rather than taking the most obvious option, they would have found a better way.

Collaborative Practice takes openness, hard work and a good team. Collaborative Practice helps people move forward with dignity. The strategies listed above can help you to successfully settle in a respectful and dignified process. Here are some links with more information about collaborative practice:

Why I absolutely love Collaborative Divorce

Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego

Collaborative Practice California (CPCAL)

 

 

 

Kids In The Courtroom: Good Idea Or Not?

 Children  often  want to be heard  when their parents separate and divorce.  How can children have a voice without  exposing them to courtroom battles?

by Nancy Stassinopoulos, Attorney and Certified Family Law Specialist,
Stassinopoulos & Schweitzer, LLP, San Diego, CA

Nancy Stassinopoulos

The traditional Family Court system, which is based on litigation with attorneys for each parent, tries to help families with children to resolve child-sharing disputes, but with mixed results.  Although mediation at Family Court Services (now called “child custody recommending counseling”) is required before a judge makes decisions on child custody and visitation, by the time parents walk into the court mediator’s office, they are often entrenched in their positions and unable to agree on a parenting plan.  So they end up in the courtroom, where the adversary process causes more acrimony between the parents, and where the children suffer from the toxic fallout.

The Family Court judge has the option to appoint an attorney for the children, called “minor’s counsel.”  This attorney will interview the children and represent their interests in court hearings. Usually, the court appoints minor’s counsel only in high-conflict cases, where the children need their own advocate.

The California Family Code requires the judge to consider the wishes of the child if the child is of “sufficient age and capacity to reason so as to form an intelligent preference as to custody or visitation.” Recently, the California Legislature has decided to give children more of a role in the legal process. If a child who has reached the age of 14 wishes to address the court regarding custody or visitation, the child shall be permitted to do so unless the judge determines that it is not in the child’s best interests. The judge can even permit a child younger than 14 to testify in certain circumstances.

Many family law attorneys think this new law is a bad idea, because it puts the child in the middle of the conflict and exposes him or her to the highly charged atmosphere of the courtroom. A parent who wants his or her child to testify in court may not be thinking of how harmful that could be for the child. The child may not realize that he or she will have to be placed under oath, sit in the witness box and be questioned by the attorneys for the parents, usually with the parents present in the courtroom.

The collaborative divorce process gives the children a voice in the decisions about where they will live, and how much time they will spend with each parent, while protecting them from the conflict of the courtroom.

In a collaborative divorce, the parents, together with their collaborative attorneys and coaches, may decide to use a “child specialist” as part of their Collaborative team. The role of the child specialist is to work with the parents and the children to provide each child with the opportunity to express their concerns, to give the parents information that will help their children through the divorce process, and to assist the Collaborative team in developing an effective co-parenting plan.

The goal of the collaborative divorce process is to help the family during their transition from one home to two homes. Children need to participate in the decisions made by the family, in a manner that is appropriate to their age.  They may have concerns about their pets, their bicycles, and their friends, and they may find it hard to share these concerns with their parents. The child specialist in the Collaborative team can listen to the children and make sure their questions are answered and their needs are met.

Collaborative divorce allows children to have a say in their own future and the future of their family, without feeling pressure to “choose sides” and without the intimidation of the courtroom setting – a healthier outcome for everyone.