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Softening the Edges of Divorce in Florida

Can collaborative divorce smooth the way for uncoupling in Florida?

Divorce is never pleasant, but the relatively recent concept of collaborative divorce (sometimes known as advanced mediation) has been designed around the idea that couples can restructure their lives while limiting both acrimony and expense. After years of combative divorces throughout the country, many professionals, from lawyers and judges to psychiatrists and counselors, have looked for ways to make the dissolution of a marriage less traumatic for all involved. This is particularly important when there are children in the mix, who so often lose their footing in the undertow of parental dispute.

In Florida, increasing interest in the process has recently developed. One of the factors that has kept collaborative divorce from becoming more of a trend is that only a small number of Floridian lawyers are trained in the technique. Those who are not, are unlikely to recommend a process that will result in them losing clients. If you reside in the Tampa region of Florida, you are fortunate to have Blair H. Chan, III, PLLC available. He is not only a versatile divorce attorney, but is well-versed in the process of collaborative divorce.

The concept of Collaborative Dispute Resolution (CDR) was introduced in the Midwest back as 1988, as a means of coming to a negotiated settlement of all relevant issues without becoming adversarial. The idea was, and still is, for the spouses and their attorneys to work together to formulate a plan that will be agreeable to all parties. Important to the process is that all members of the negotiating team promise not to pursue litigation during the collaboration, thus ensuring that everyone is fully committed to arriving at a fair settlement. If the process should fail, however, the spouses may proceed to trial, but must hire new attorneys for the litigation.

Collaborative Divorce Comes to Florida

This past May, the Florida Supreme Court approved rules for collaborative divorce which took effect in July: [1] that both spouses must voluntarily agree to go collaborative route and [2] that collaborative divorce can’t be used in cases of domestic violence, unless the client requests it and the lawyer reasonably believes the client’s safety can be protected.

Some attorneys tout the benefits of collaborative divorce, while others are more skeptical. At this point, only a relatively small percentage of divorces use the collaborative approach, but that number is growing as couples realize that they may be able to part more amicably, with less pain and less long-term animus. While collaborative divorce is clearly not always an option, there are cases in which it may result in couples and families remaining linked by some degree to a combined history that was not all bad.

How the Process Works

Generally speaking, the splitting spouses in a collaborative divorce come to the negotiating table for three or four 2-hour meetings. The group includes a lawyer for each spouse, and neutral financial and mental health professionals.

Which is more expensive: collaborative divorce or ordinary divorce?

In addition to the legal fees for a collaborative divorce, the financial and mental healthcare professions each charge several thousand dollars as retainers. Though it seems that this is costly, the expenses of an adversarial divorce are typically more than twice as high as those of a collaborative divorce.

Other Benefits of Collaborative Divorce

Besides the financial savings, there are several other advantages to a collaborative divorce. For one thing, a collaborative divorce is a private process and so does not require the filing of financial affidavits. Also, because a collaborative divorce is not part of the judicial process, there is much more flexibility in terms of ways the various aspects of divorce can be settled. This means that the individuals involved have much more freedom to craft solutions that, though unconventional, may work well for their particular family.

Accentuate the Positive

Where adversarial divorce has traditionally focused on the negative, with each spouse and his or her attorney attempting to prove the faults and misbehavior of the other, collaborative divorce is a way of getting both spouses to work together to put together a workable agreement that fulfills the wishes of each party as much as possible.

Although it may seem counterintuitive, professionals who have been involved in both types of divorce report that collaborative divorce can be particularly helpful in cases where there has been domestic violence. This is apparently due to the effect that instead of another traumatic confrontation in a court of law, the victim can have the option to tell his or her side of the story in a safe, compassionate environment. Instead of being coerced to back down again in fear of the abuser, the spouse who has been victimized may now get the chance to stand up to the marital bully. This time, the victim will get the chance to affirm his or her own position, this time with outside support.

Furthermore, since all concerned parties are working toward agreement in a collaborative divorce, and because a mental healthcare professional is on the premises to assess any potential problems in the immediate future, not only is the victimized party in a safe environment, but decisions regarding, for example, transportation to and from visitation and safety during the parental visits themselves, will be decided with a team of experts who know how to diffuse tension and who are practiced in negotiating terms that seem fair to all.

There are also possibilities available to the professionals on the team to suggest financial and logistical arrangements that would not have been permitted in a court of law, such as requiring one spouse to purchase an annuity for the other so the other spouse will be guaranteed a monthly stipend for the rest of his or her life.

Overall, the concept of collaborative divorce is a sound one, built as it is on the model of diplomacy and peace rather than war. If you live in Tampa,Hillsborough, Pinellas, or Pascoe County and are interested in learning more about collaborative divorce as a means of extricating yourself from a dysfunctional marriage, remember to call the office of Blair H. Chan, III, PLLC. He will be more than happy to assist you in getting your life back of the right track.

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