Tampa Court Provides Guidance on Collaborative Divorce
The Thirteenth Judicial Circuit of Florida recently issued an order giving guidance for the practice of collaborative family law in Hillsborough County. Chief Judge Manual Menendez, Jr., signed the order codifying procedures for the relatively new method of settling divorce issues.
Collaborative divorce focuses on resolving disputes outside the courtroom, the open exchange of pertinent financial information, and the importance of common goals between the parties. This stands in stark contrast to the litigation-based method of divorce, in which the parties are often assumed to be completely adversarial and self-interested, with every reason to assign blame and be secretive.
Each party in a collaborative divorce hires a collaboratively trained attorney and agrees to make every effort to resolve personal and financial disputes without a judge’s order. A neutral facilitator, often a mental health professional, but sometimes a trained mediator, is hired. The facilitator’s job is to keep discussions focused on conflict resolution and common goals rather than past transgressions and opposing interests. If the parties have children, the facilitator plays an important role in keeping both parents focused on the needs of the children, helping them develop co-parenting skills, and fostering cooperation on issues of custody and visitation.
In most cases, the parties will hire one or more financial professionals such as accountants, financial advisors, or estate planners to assist in the divorce process. The extent of the services required depends on the scale and complexity of the assets and liabilities the couple shares. These advisors, like the overall facilitator, are neutral, and promote open exchange of information. They may be tasked with: formulating creative solutions to division of assets and debt; creating a method and schedule of child and spousal support that is agreeable to both parties; and assisting with estate planning.
Because the collaborative model emphasizes cooperation and disclosure, the process often results in a settlement that is faster, less expensive, and less emotionally taxing than a traditional litigious divorce.
One key aspect of collaborative divorce, which Judge Menendez included in his order, is that the parties and their attorneys must formally agree that if they are unable to reach an agreement and decide to go to court, the collaborative attorneys must withdraw and can no longer represent the parties. This creates a significant incentive to see the process through and keep the divorce out of court.
This official endorsement and the accompanying guidelines will help make collaborative divorce a viable option for local couples.