The Professionals' Roles
In the collaborative process, each spouse is individually represented by an attorney of his or her own choosing. The lawyers work separately and together to identify and to address the relevant legal issues, to explain the law to their clients and to advocate for their need. This is done while maintaining the collaborative integrity of the process with the other interdisciplinary members of the professional team. At the initiation of the divorce, everyone signs a Participation Agreement which is a promise and commitment between the parties and their respective attorneys that they are committed to a settlement process and agree NOT to go to court. It further states that should the parties chose to change to a litigation model, their collaborative attorneys will not represent them in the litigation and new litigation counsel will be retained. They also agree not to call any of the professionals into court to act as witnesses during trial.
The attorneys help to facilitate a mutual understanding of the law to inform the decision-making of the parties. Rather than being adversarial, reactive and staunchly locked into his or her client’s position, as is often the case in a litigated divorce, the collaborative attorney will be open-minded to alternative possibilities, creative in the approach to problem solving and mindful of the feelings and positions of all involved. They also utilize their legal skills and expertise to draft the documents that the court requires in order to finalize the divorce.
A true collaborative attorney is consistently focused on advancing the well-being of all family members, with the best interest of the children at the forefront, as they navigate through this often complicated and challenging restructuring of the family unit. The attorneys help their clients thoroughly evaluate all of their options, not only in the context of the law, but also in the context of the values and interests of the parties. The end goal is to craft an agreement that makes sense for their particular family, at the time of the divorce and well into the future.
To maintain the integrity of this process and to ensure the best possible outcome for all, it is strongly recommended that the parties select attorneys that are collaboratively trained and committed to upholding the ideals of this unique practice.
Family Support Specialists
Divorce is first and foremost an intensely emotional experience. It is estimated that over 75 percent of the legal decisions made related to finances, property settlements, and custody issues are significantly influenced by the strong feelings of the couple. Moreover, even when parties eventually settle out of court, the hurt, resentment and anger experienced during the process often significantly increases financial and emotional burdens on family members. In the Collaborative Process, all parties benefit from a Family Support Specialist, also known as a Divorce Coach, who manages the emotional and psychological issues impacting the settlement process. As a licensed mental health professional (typically a psychologist or social worker), the Family Specialist works both with the couple and with the other professionals involved to ensure a healthy, productive, and cost-effective settlement process. Specifically, the Family Specialist:
Recognizes and prioritizes the concerns of each spouse
Enhances communication skills and reduces misunderstandings between the spouses, the lawyers and other professionals
Introduces effective conflict resolution skills which can be utilized during the settlement process and by the couple in the years following the divorce
Identifies and addresses potential obstacles to settlement
Provides emotional support and encouragement to promote constructive settlement meetings
By working directly with the divorcing spouses and with the entire team of professionals, the neutral Family Specialist provides assurances that the process stays collaborative and that the settlement reached serves all parties emotionally and financially. When issues related to parenting are involved, a Child Specialist may be part of the process to assist in identifying the children’s needs, to bring their voices into the process, and to give input into the development of an appropriate parenting plan. In this capacity, the Family Specialist will educate parents and other professionals regarding the emotional and developmental needs of the child or children. Such a child-centered approach safeguards the well-being of the children and promotes the resilience of all family members in the years following the divorce.
The financial professionals of the Collaborative process are frequently referred to as the “financial neutrals” because they are not advocates for either client, but rather work with both parties, the attorneys, the family specialist and other team members to help evaluate the couple’s finances and develop solutions that work best for the family post-divorce. Financial neutrals will hold various professional designations within their field of expertise. They may be Certified Public Accountants, business appraisers, fraud examiners, Registered Financial Consultants, Certified Divorce Financial Analysts or Certified Financial Planners, among other designations. In addition to their professional continuing education, these team members have been trained in the Collaborative model and have vast experience in working with divorcing couples. Each financial professional offers a distinct skill set that can be matched to the particular needs of each family. These professionals are dedicated and invested in the Collaborative process, because they have experienced the turmoil of litigation.
Full transparency is critical to the Collaborative process. Therefore, the financial neutral assists in gathering and organizing financial documents, identifying accounts or statements that may be missing, then uses the information to provide a balance sheet of assets and liabilities. The financial professional may also provide budgets and cash flow analyses for pre- and post-divorce life. Unlike in a typical court setting, the financial neutral has the opportunity to work with each of the parties individually, thus addressing everyone’s concerns and providing various scenarios for maintenance, child support and property divisions, always working in the best of the family. More importantly they present the data in a comprehensive and educational manner, giving the parties a full and complete understanding of their finances, before they make any decisions.
The financial professionals of the Long Island Collaborative Divorce Professionals group have a mutual respect for the specific discipline strengths and will work with each family to assemble the best team possible.
Once you have determined that the Collaborative process is a viable alternative for you, feel free to reach out to any of the financial experts in our group, so they can assist you by aligning their skills with the specific needs of your family.