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Governor Christie signs 2 major laws changing family law in NJ

by Bruce Matez, Esq.

Governor Christie signed into law two important bills that were sent to him by the NJ Legislature which have a significant impact on the practice of family law in the State of NJ.

1.  The alimony reform bill  changes “permanent” alimony, limits alimony in marriages under 20 years (unless there are exceptional circumstances), codifies modification of alimony upon retirement, and more clearly defines how alimony may be terminated or modified pursuant to changes in circumstances. Under the new law, there will be a rebuttable presumption of limited duration alimony for all marriages of 20 years or less.  Marriage is defined as the date of the marriage until the date that one of the parties files a complaint for divorce with the court. This is the first major change in NJs family laws in several decades.

2.  The Collaborative Divorce Act legitimizes and formalizes the use of the Collaborative process in divorce. Collaborative Divorce is an alternative to the traditional lawyer/litigation model of divorce, which has been the norm in our country for decades.  It is a process that has been utilized in many states, including New Jersey, for about 25 years and is gaining national attention and acclaim.  Collaborative Divorce can be a less costly, non-adversarial and more civilized approach to divorce and can help couples preserve a better relationship, which benefits them, their children (adult and under the age of 18), extended family, friends.  For more information about Collaborative Divorce, visit njfamilylaw.net.

Collaborative Family Law Helps Take Litigation Out of Divorce

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Bill Mooney | May 2, 2014

Pending legislation could mandate use of process, easing crowded court calendars and reducing stress and strain on families

John Caroli knows what it is like to go through a divorce.

About six years ago, after 24 years of marriage, the Atlantic Highlands financial planner and his wife, an attorney, parted.

And however else the experience transformed him, one change was completely unexpected: He became a champion of a practice generally known as collaborative family law, a procedure that requires parties to a divorce to negotiate face to face and in good faith.

“My attorney said, “Listen. This process is going to save you time, it is going to save you money, it is going to save you whatever is left of your relationship with your wife, and it is going to minimize toxic stress on your children,” Caroli said.

His attorney was right, so much so that Caroli now serves as a neutral advisor on financial matters to other couples using collaborative family law to negotiate their divorce.

He feels that if he can provide a neutral viewpoint to help parties equitably settle on support and alimony then he has provided a needed service that helps the divorcing parties and the children involved.

He also prefers not to work as a financial advisor on more litigious cases.

Now, collaborative family law may be codified in New Jersey — if pending legislation passes.
If the bills — S1224/A1477 — become law, New Jersey will join approximately 39 states that utilize this approach as an alternative to conventional divorce.

The collaborative family law movement began in the 1980s and is practiced in some form in about 29 countries.
In New Jersey there are more than 500 lawyers practicing it in varying degrees, according to Linda Piff, a Wall Township attorney who has been involved in family collaborative law since 2005. She is president of the New Jersey Council of Collaborative Practice Groups and trains others in the practice.

“Often litigation starts out with a declaration of war and children are the victims,” she said. She believes that the collaborative process not only saves wear and tear on the participants, but also can relieve crowded court dockets.

According to her estimates, the average family collaborative law divorce takes about 6.9 months, compared with anywhere from 12 to 18 months for contested divorces.

In addition, Piff said that the collaborative approach is generally a third of the cost of litigating a divorce case.

The way such a process works is that the divorcing parties hire lawyers to assist them but negotiate face to face about dissolving the marriage and dividing assets.

The direct contact makes a difference, according to Caroli.
“If you go to litigation,” Caroli said, “You’ve got a lawyer lobbing letters and the other lawyer lobbing them back. In our process, you have to negotiate in good faith and stay on track.”

In a traditional divorce Caroli said that the people involved run the risk of a judge making a decision that will just anger one of them even further. In his case, the process ended up taking over a year, but it did save money in the long run.

Taking his and his ex-wife’s education and income levels into consideration, Caroli said, “I think if we had litigated . . . we could have turned it into a spectacular income stream for the lawyers.”

Not every family collaborative process ends successfully. If the parties cannot come to an agreement, they can proceed to the regular divorce court, but the lawyers who helped with the unsuccessful collaborative negotiations are not allowed to represent the parties in the traditional divorce litigation.

According to Piff, there is an 88 percent success rate nationally and in New Jersey — based on one study of about 250 cases from a random sampling over two years — there is about a 91 percent success rate.

But if the process is growing and is proving so successful, why is legislation necessary?
“So there is no misunderstanding about the parameters of what this is” said Sen. Loretta Weinberg, (D-Bergen), who sponsored the Senate bill that cleared the Judiciary Committee 12-0 in March. The Assembly version has not been heard yet.

The Senate bill has been sent to the Budget Committee for consideration because it could represent a savings to the state in reduced court costs.
The legislation will provide uniformity, according to Piff, as well as mandating full disclosure of all relevant information when the parties employ this process. In addition, she said it will extend confidentiality privilege to neutral third parties.

The lawyer-client relationship is privileged already, “but we often have mental health professionals assisting, Piff said. “They can only get the privilege against disclosing communications by statute. The bill is to give that confidentiality.”

Under the bill, the parties sign an agreement to use this alternative to the courts, and then, with the assistance of lawyers but without a judge presiding, negotiate toward a resolution.

Once all matters are agreed to, the completed document will be presented to a judge who will question the parties to ensure they understand and agree to it. The legislation is based on recommendations from a 2013 New Jersey Law Revision Commission report.
“It seems like an appropriate way to handle what are usually emotional and sensitive issues,” Weinberg said. “It seems like if we can avoid courts and avoid extra bureaucracy that comes into all that and antagonistic issues that always result from that, this is a good way to do it.”

But no one is presenting family collaborative law as a cure-all.

Make no mistake, said Caroli, “It was painful. You are sitting facing the person and making a decision. You have to sit there and think it through, and it’s different than hiding behind an attorney.
“On the other hand,” he said, “I do own the outcome. I don’t love it, but I can live with it.”

Conscious Uncoupling- NOT really a new concept.

By:  Bruce P. Matez, Esq.

By now most everyone who follows popular culture or watches the news has heard about Gwyneth Paltrow’s plan  for “conscious uncoupling” from her husband, Chris Martin of Coldplay.  Many are asking what “conscious uncoupling” is.  People have been doing this for many years without the fancy nomenclature.  My partner Gary and I have been helping couples “consciously uncouple” for many years through mediation and collaborative divorce, both generally friendlier and gentler methods of divorcing.  These alternatives to the traditional litigation and adversarial model for divorce have been around for decades and have been gaining in popularity over the last 10 years.  These methods typically help people spend less money on legal fees, maintain good communication and co-parenting, create far less stress and anxiety during the divorce and after, and allow couples (especially parents) to remain respectful toward each other and have a good relationship beyond the divorce.  The decision that couples make about HOW they will divorce can be the most important decision they make because it sets the tone for them, their children, grandchildren, extended families and others for the rest of their lives.  I hope that more couples will take the same route that Gywneth and Chris are going and choose to divorce in a more respectful and “conscious” way.  As Robert Frost said “two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”  When you are divorcing you can choose which road you’ll take, the traditional litigation road or one that is less contentious and more “conscious.”  Choose the one that will make all the difference like Gwyneth and Chris.

Bruce P. Matez, Esq. Interviewed on Mediation and Collaborative Divorce

CHERRY HILL, NJ, March 10, 2014 – Bruce P. Matez, Esq., a partner at Borger Matez and one of South Jersey’s leading family lawyers, was recently interviewed by Dr. Vicki Handfield, Psy.D. on the program “Mind, Body, Spirit,” which airs on Talk Exchange Radio (WTER), a business internet radio show broadcasting from South Jersey. Mr. Matez discussed mediation and collaborative divorce, and how each can be used as an alternative to traditional divorce litigation.

Collaborative Divorce is an alternative to litigation for divorcing couples seeking to end their marriage with dignity and mutual respect. Mr. Matez is one of the leading attorneys in Southern New Jersey encouraging divorcing spouses to consider Collaborative Divorce instead of the traditional adversarial and litigation process, since it generally allows couples to resolve issues with less acrimony, less pain, less cost and generally better results overall for the entire family, especially children.  Mr. Matez has over 24 years of experience helping husbands and wives successfully divorce through litigation, mediation, arbitration and now Collaborative Divorce.

Borger Matez is one of Southern New Jersey’s top divorce and family law firms and is a leader in bringing Collaborative Divorce to the region. Located in Cherry Hill, NJ, Borger Matez, P.A concentrates its practice in divorce, custody, parenting time (formerly called “visitation”), alimony, child support, equitable distribution of marital property and debt, post-divorce disputes (i.e., custody/parenting time, alimony and child support modification and enforcement), adoptions, domestic violence, cases involving the NJ Division of Child Protection and Permanency (formerly DYFS), and all types of family law issues. The attorneys in the firm regularly prepare and negotiate all types of pre-marital, cohabitation, and divorce-related settlement agreements. An extensive list of questions and answers which regularly are asked by family law clients can be found at their website. For more information, please contact Mr. Matez at 856-424-3444 or by e-mail at BMatez@njfamilylaw.net.

Bruce P. Matez was the guest speaker on the topic of Collaborative Divorce on “Voices in the Family.”

July 2011

Bruce P. Matez was the guest speaker on the topic of Collaborative Divorce on “Voices in the Family.” Collaborative Divorce is an alternative to litigation for divorcing couples seeking to end their marriage with dignity and mutual respect.

The radio program is a highly celebrated public radio show covering topics on personality, psychology, and inter-personal relationships. Dan Gottlieb Ph.D, host of “Voices in the Family,” is a family therapist in private practice. He is a nationally recognized lecturer in the field of mental health, and a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Mr. Matez, Esq. shared the discussion with Sanford Portnoy, PhD. Director of The Center for the Study of Psychology and Divorce at The Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology. Listen to the program on the WHYY website

Bruce Matez Bio

Gary Borger, Esq. Interviewed on Collaborative Divorce

CHERRY HILL, NJ, December 17, 2013 – Gary L. Borger, Esq., partner at Borger Matez and one of South Jersey’s most respected family law attorneys, was interviewed by Dr. Vicki Handfield on “Collaborative Divorce – a Kinder and Better Way to Divorce” on November 21, 2013. The interview aired on Talk Exchange Radio (WTER), a business internet radio show broadcasting from South Jersey. The station “broadcasts segments hosted by prominent, local, regional and national business professionals on industry-specific topics. Guests are local and regional business professionals ranging from employees to CEOs.”

Gary L. Borger has concentrated on family law since entering private practice in 1977, gaining substantial experience in handling complex divorces involving alimony claims, child custody and parenting issues, child support, relocation applications to the court for a parent to move out of state with children, property and debt distribution, and applications to the court for protection from domestic violence and abuse. Mr. Borger also has extensive experience in preparing and negotiating pre-marital and cohabitation agreements. Trained in mediation at Harvard Law School, Mr. Borger offers clients the option of mediating rather than litigating family law disputes between spouses, domestic partners, or significant others. He also has been trained in and practices collaborative divorce, a gentler, less expensive, and quicker way to resolve divorces by agreement reached by the parties directly but in the presence of and with the assistance of their attorneys who commit to settlement rather than litigation of each aspect of ending the marital enterprise and beginning life anew on their own. Mr. Borger is an active and dedicated member of the Family Law Bar serving as a member of the New Jersey State Bar Association, Family Law Section member (former member of the Executive Committee), the Camden County (NJ) Bar Association, Family Law Bench-Bar Committee, the Burlington County (NJ) Bar Association, Family Law Bench-Bar Committee, the Gloucester County (NJ) Bar Association, Family Law Bench-Bar Committee, the Early Settlement Panel (ESP volunteer member) and the American Bar Association’s Family Law Section. Mr. Borger also lectured in family law for 15 years as a guest lecturer in family law at Temple Law School, his alma mater (J.D. 1976) and at educational programs hosted by the American Bar Association, Family Law Section; NJ Institute for Continuing Legal Education (ICLE); the Burlington and Camden County Bar Associations; and The Sharper Lawyer. Mr. Borger is a member of the South Jersey Collaborative Law Group. He received his undergraduate degree from Rutgers University (B.A. 1972).

Borger Matez is one of Southern New Jersey’s top family law and divorce firms and is a leader in bringing Collaborative Divorce to the region. Located in Cherry Hill, NJ, Borger Matez, P.A concentrates its practice in divorce, custody, parenting time (formerly called “visitation”), alimony, child support, equitable distribution of marital property and debt, post-divorce disputes (i.e., custody/parenting time, alimony and child support modification and enforcement), domestic violence, cases involving the NJ Division of Child Protection and Permanency (formerly DYFS), adoptions, and applications to relocate children from New Jersey incident to or after separation or divorce. The attorneys in the firm also regularly prepare and negotiate all types of pre-marital, cohabitation, same gender, and divorce-related settlement agreements. An extensive list of questions and answers which regularly are asked by family law clients can be found at their website. For more information, call (856) 424-3444 or visit http://www.njfamilylaw.net.

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Gary Borger Bio

Bruce P. Matez, Esq. Interviewed on LUNCH WITH THE BOSS about Collaborative Divorce

CHERRY HILL, NJ, December 12, 2013 – Bruce P. Matez, Esq., one of South Jersey’s leading family lawyers, was a guest on the internet radio/video show, LUNCH WITH THE BOSS, hosted by Scott Tanker. Bruce discussed mediation and Collaborative Divorce in New Jersey; increasingly popular, non-combative ways for couples to end their marriage.

Collaborative Divorce is an alternative to litigation for divorcing couples seeking to end their marriage with dignity and mutual respect. Mr. Matez is one of the leading attorneys in Southern New Jersey encouraging divorcing spouses to consider Collaborative Divorce instead of the traditional adversarial and litigation process, since it generally allows couples to resolve issues with less acrimony, less pain, less cost and generally better results overall for the entire family, especially children.  Mr. Matez has over 24 years of experience helping husbands and wives successfully divorce through litigation, mediation, arbitration and now Collaborative Divorce.

Borger Matez is one of Southern New Jersey’s top divorce and family law firms and is a leader in bringing Collaborative Divorce to the region. Located in Cherry Hill, NJ, Borger Matez, P.A concentrates its practice in divorce, custody, parenting time (formerly called “visitation”), alimony, child support, equitable distribution of marital property and debt, post-divorce disputes (i.e., custody/parenting time, alimony and child support modification and enforcement), adoptions, domestic violence, cases involving the NJ Division of Child Protection and Permanency (formerly DYFS), and all types of family law issues. The attorneys in the firm regularly prepare and negotiate all types of pre-marital, cohabitation, and divorce-related settlement agreements. An extensive list of questions and answers which regularly are asked by family law clients can be found at their website. For more information, please contact Mr. Matez at 856-424-3444 or by e-mail at BMatez@njfamilylaw.net.

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Bruce Matez Bio

Gary Borger and Bruce Matez Featured in Story on Collaborative Divorce in South Jersey Magazine

April 17, 2013, Cherry Hill, New Jersey: Gary Borger, Esq. and Bruce P. Matez, Esq. are featured in an article in the April issue of South Jersey Magazine entitled “Divorce Without Disaster: South Jersey Collaborative Law Group offers Less Painful and more Cost-Effective Alternative to Divorce.”

The article describes the group formed by leading South Jersey family law attorneys, including Borger and Matez, to assist New Jersey families with the Collaborative Divorce (CD) option—meaning divorces that involve a team effort by specially trained lawyers, financial advisors and mental health experts serving as divorce coaches or child experts—all designed to end a marriage in a non-adversarial, dignified, and private way on terms that work for that particular family without going to court for a judge publicly to make those decisions for the people and their children.

The article quotes Matez as saying that his “25 years of experience have shown him that the method of going through the courts does not always work well for families. “Over 98% of all divorces settle before going to trial. Oftentimes, the settlement comes at the end of the process when a lot of money has been spent and emotions have been exhausted. If they had just sat down in the beginning of the process and worked for a resolution, they would have avoided all the painful things that come with litigation.” He adds, “The CD process is especially beneficial to families when children are involved.”

Borger Matez is one of Southern New Jersey’s leading family law and divorce firms and is a leader in bringing Collaborative Divorce to Southern New Jersey. Located in Cherry Hill, NJ, Borger Matez, P.A concentrates its practice in divorce, custody, parenting time (formerly called “visitation”), alimony, child support, equitable distribution of marital property and debt, post-divorce disputes (i.e., custody/parenting time, alimony and child support modification and enforcement), domestic violence, cases involving the NJ Division of Child Protection and Permanency (formerly DYFS), adoptions, and applications to relocate children from New Jersey incident to or after separation or divorce. The attorneys in the firm are also divorce and family law mediators. In addition, they regularly prepare and negotiate all types of pre-marital, cohabitation, same gender, and divorce-related settlement agreements. An extensive list of questions and answers which regularly are asked by family law clients can be found at their website. For more information, call (856) 424-3444 or visit http://www.njfamilylaw.net.

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Collaborative Divorce in New Jersey

Collaborative Law offers divorcing couples an alternative to litigation which is based upon mutual problem solving. The parties and their attorneys, along with other professionals involved (e.g., custody experts, forensic accountants, etc.) agree in writing to work together toward an agreement without litigating in court.

 

Collaborative Law provides divorcing couples with a viable, meaningful, less contentious alternative to litigation which is all too often expensive, time consuming, emotionally draining and devastating to families. Gary Borger and Bruce Matez attended advanced training in December 2010 and are founding members (along with a small group of other South Jersey divorce attorneys, family therapists, and forensic accountants) of the South Jersey Collaborative Divorce Professionals (the first of its kind in the area). Deena Betze Esq. has also acquired training and is a member of the South Jersey Collaborative Divorce Professionals and the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals. BorgerMatez  offers Collaborative Divorce in addition to mediation as alternatives to traditional divorce litigation for its clients.

Collaborative Divorce – What is it and how does it work?

By Gary L. Borger, Esq.

Divorce traditionally has involved each spouse engaging an attorney who negotiates settlement of custody and a parenting plan or schedule, spousal support (alimony), child support, division of marital property and debt, insurance, and other related topics with the client’s authority. (Although some separating couples can negotiate settlement directly between themselves, most spouses are too emotionally charged to be able to negotiate a rational settlement directly.) Negotiating through attorneys can be time-consuming, expensive and protracted as each communication between the attorneys in the negotiation process first involves communication between the attorney and the client, with the same delay occurring at the other end as everyone tries to touch base while the clients work and/or attend to children and attorneys are in court or meeting with other clients or are otherwise unavailable when the client is available. Also, the manner of communication between attorneys takes on the personality of the attorneys, not those of the clients. Thus, when what a client tells his attorney is worded differently to the other attorney, a very different response may be forthcoming from the other spouse than might have occurred had there been direct communication between the spouses. (Of course, the opposite sometimes is the case, that is, the attorney can soften what the client has said so as not to enflame the other side and drive the spouses farther apart in the negotiations.) While an attorney-negotiated settlement certainly is much less costly than litigating (trying the case), there are other options.

Alternative dispute resolution is the name given to various vehicles for resolving disputes other than litigation (using the court process). This article will discuss two, namely, mediation and the collaborative divorce process and how they are similar and how they differ.

Mediation involves the spouses retaining a neutral mediator as a facilitator of settlement negotiations. The spouses meet together with the mediator, often on a weekly or bi-weekly basis (although sometimes more time is needed between meetings for “homework” to be done, documents gathered, etc.). During those mediation sessions the spouses negotiate directly with one another in the presence of the mediator who keeps them on track and makes sure they touch all bases that must be covered in their settlement negotiations for no stones to be left unturned. If at the conclusion of the mediation process the parties have reached an agreement the mediator drafts a memorandum of understanding or a draft settlement agreement which memorializes the settlement terms that came out of the mediation. Although many mediators are attorneys with family law experience, the mediator does not represent either spouse and should not be giving legal advice. The smart way to mediate is to meet with an attorney first to find out the parameters of a likely outcome under state divorce and custody law were the dispute to go to trial. This way the spouses have an idea in their settlement negotiations with one another how far the proposed settlement terms being discussed are from the likely outcome if a judge were to make the decisions for the spouses under the applicable state law. (In mediation the spouses are not bound by the law but can fashion their own settlement terms without regard to what a judge would be compelled to do after trial under the law. This gives the spouses much more latitude than they would have in court where the judge must apply the law to the facts of the case as he or she determines those facts after hearing the testimony of both spouses and all other witnesses and reviewing all relevant financial and child-related documents.) While mediation is fine for some couples, where there is an imbalance of negotiating power between the parties, where there is a psychological dynamic of subtle intimidation between the parties, and/or where one party is much more financially savvy or more knowledgeable about the family finances than the other, or due to myriad other situations, the result can be a “lopsided” settlement as it is not the mediator’s job to help either spouse but rather to keep the negotiations moving forward and to make sure all bases are covered in the spouses’ direct negotiations with one another. Neither is it the mediator’s job to force the parties to settle on terms which the mediator feels are fair as only what the parties determine is fair to them is what matters. When mediation is complete, the mediator drafts a memorandum of understanding or settlement agreement. Ideally the spouses will take that memorandum or draft agreement to their respective attorneys with whom each will discuss the proposed agreement. My experience has been that there are cases where, after mediation is complete, one or both attorneys will “urge” changes which can derail the entire mediation process, forcing the spouses into litigation and making the mediation process a waste of time, energy and money. While this doesn’t happen in the majority of mediated cases, it is a risk of mediation..

The collaborative divorce process has many of the attributes of mediation. It involves the parties negotiating directly with one another toward achieving a settlement on terms that the parties themselves have fashioned and which they feel are fair. However, in the collaborative process there rarely is a mediator present; rather, both attorneys attend all negotiating sessions to counsel the client and to take the client aside from time to time to discuss what is going on in the negotiation session to make sure the client is aware of the legal effect of what is being discussed and to try to prevent the client from sabotaging or undermining him- or herself as people sometimes do in emotionally charge divorce negotiations. The presence of attorneys can help to prevent one spouse from overpowering or taking advantage of the other. It also helps make sure that the necessary exchange of financial documentation (tax returns, W-2s, 1099s, pay stubs, bank account statements, investment account statements, credit card statements, real estate and business documents, etc.) takes place so that any settlement achieved is based on a sound financial foundation rather than merely based on the “trust-me” principle. (In a good mediation, ideally the mediator will urge the parties to engage in the same financial document exchanges but one spouse can prevail upon the other to “trust me” and waive the right to see documents to show that what the other spouse is saying is backed up by documentation.)

The attorneys also take on a different role than they would in litigation or negotiation while you are in divorce litigation. While each attorney still represents his or her client in the process, each attorney is trained to collaborate in the process, to look for solutions that the spouses may not see and to offer the spouses as many options as each attorney can come up with so that you have more options on the table for your settlement. This is one of the most unique concepts of the collaborative divorce process.

Another very different aspect of the collaborative divorce process is that, although each attorney represents only one spouse, contrary to traditional adversarial attorney negotiation, attorneys trained in the collaborative divorce process are constantly looking for options to “put on the table” for discussion as the attorneys pick up cues from the spouses during the negotiation process that highlight what really seems to be important to each spouse (beyond what the spouses are saying).

You also should be aware that the attorneys in the collaborative divorce process are at all times focused on settlement not litigation. In fact, in the collaborative divorce process both spouses and both attorneys sign a participation agreement which states, among other things, that if the process is aborted because someone wants out of it to pursue the dispute through court, neither attorney can represent his/her client in the litigation process. You should be aware that litigation is a dispute resolution model in which each side fights for his or her client against the other side toward the impossible goal of “winning.” While that model may work for criminal cases, car accident cases, malpractice cases, consumer fraud cases, and even some contract disputes, it is inappropriate, in this writer’s opinion, for family disputes such as divorce where the parties will have an ongoing relationship in the future. Litigation is inefficient and wastes your financial resources. Although over 95% of all divorce cases filed in court ultimately settle, settling your case in litigation with the attorneys fighting each other and proceeding through the cumbersome and inefficient court process not only wastes money, it also produces a lesser-quality agreement that may not meet your individual needs and those of your spouse as you have less control over the content of the agreement.

A very different concept arose during the development of the collaborative process which began in Minnesota in the early 1990s by a family attorney after finishing an especially contentious divorce case, with its attendant emotional impact on him. He was working on developing a better, more friendly way for divorcing spouses to resolve their disputes. He came up with the concept of introducing neutral child and financial experts into the negotiating process. Financial experts sometimes are involved in both litigation and mediation where one or both spouses own or have an interest in a business or professional practice or where there may be an issue of cash income, and sometimes a child custody professional (such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, family therapist or the like) is brought in. However, it is not the norm to bring such experts into the mediation sessions (although sometimes a financial expert is involved where a spouse owns or has an interest in a businesses or professional practice or where there is cash income, and sometimes a mental health expert is consulted on child-related issues. By contrast, in many collaborative divorce cases the parties include a neutral financial professional to help them develop accurate budgets of their future support needs as consistent with the marital lifestyle as the combined incomes of the spouses will allow, to value interests in businesses or professional practices, and to clarify the true income (the total package of financial benefits flowing out of the business or practice) which such businesses or professional practices provide to the business owner or professional.

Another wonderful tool in the collaborative process is the use of a divorce coach. This is a mental health expert (psychologist, social worker, family or couples therapist, etc.) who sometimes meets with the parties (alone and/or separately) without the attorneys being present and who also may attend the settlement negotiation meetings (often called 4-way or 5-way meetings depending on whether just the spouses and attorneys attend or whether a financial expert or divorce coach attends as well). A divorce coach can work wonders in the process. As anyone who has gone through a divorce knows quite well, separation and divorce, and the negotiations that ensue during the separation, are highly charged emotional events, touching raw nerves of both spouses. The divorce coach can work with the spouses to get them to overcome some of their emotional reactions to hot-button comments which can impede settlement or make it much more protracted and thereby more costly. The divorce coach also can help the spouses learn to communicate on a more rational and mutually beneficial level (and for the benefit of the children). This can result in a higher level of settlement for both spouses. The spouses also may learn and carry with them into the future better communication skills so that they can discuss and resolves issues that come up in the future without the need to return to attorneys to work out such disputes. The divorce coach also can help immensely with child-related discussions as child development is an integral part of every mental health professional’s education and training. In this fashion, the divorce coach can offer invaluable advice to the parents on options which they might not consider on their own in terms of developing a parenting plan or to resolve other parenting disputes or issues tailored to the age, the level of emotional development, and emotional issues of each child.

A question often asked is whether due to having a divorce coach and/or financial expert will result in more expense to the family. My experience is that the benefit of having such neutral experts at the table results in a better, fairer settlement which focuses on the children’s best interests, and which, in the end, can actually save you money as the process is more likely to move along more quickly than if the emotional roadblocks are not addressed by an expert who can help the spouses move around, over or beyond them and on to a final settlement.
What do mediation and the collaborative divorce process have in common?

  1. You and your spouse control the outcome as opposed to litigation where the judge makes decisions for you.
  2. You and your spouse speak directly to one another, not through attorneys outside your presence or even in your presence, forcing you into a subservient role in the process.
  3. You work on communication skills, making it more likely that you’ll be able to work out future differences without having to return to attorneys and/or the court.
  4. The cost is less than litigation or even a negotiated settlement that comes out of litigation.
  5. Resolution is quicker than the court process.
  6. You and your spouse establish the pace of the process; in litigation the court system determines the pace of your case (which might be too fast but which usually is too slow for most people going through divorce.
  7. Meetings take place in attorney offices not at the courthouse.
  8. Both are confidential; court proceedings create a public record which anyone (even your children when grown) have public access to read.

How do mediation and the collaborative divorce process differ?

  1. Your attorney is by your side throughout the process.
  2. You can utilize a divorce coach who is trained and experienced in dealing with emotional hurdles which interfere with settlement.
  3. You can have a custody expert in the divorce coach or in another mental health professional to help assure you that your agreement is in your children’s best interests.
  4. The ultimate agreement is likely to be better as you have two attorneys collaborating in the process, not fighting each other, even though your attorney represents you and the other attorney represents your spouse.

In summary, the collaborative divorce process can be a wonderful means of resolving divorce disputes without giving up the right to have a lawyer involved in each step of the process (having your lawyer by your side as you negotiate with your spouse). It also affords you the opportunity of benefiting from the education, training and experience of financial and/or mental health experts as you negotiate a final settlement with your spouse.