Since its inception in Minnesota 30 years ago, the Collaborative Divorce process has helped families in all 50 states and more than 25 countries find a healthier way to end their marriage without going to court.   However, this respectful alternative to contested divorce has largely remained unavailable to families in greater Minnesota.  The recent advent of virtual practice and Zoom meetings has changed this landscape and opened up new possibilities for the statewide availability of Collaborative Divorce. The Collaborative Divorce process was created in 1990.  Minnesota attorney Stu Webb, discouraged by the emotional and financial side effects of adversarial divorce, piloted a new approach in which attorneys would be involved for settlement purposes only.  Because Collaborative divorce attorneys were disqualified from going to court, these attorneys needed to become effective and creative negotiators and problem solvers.  The result was a process in which divorcing couples could design customized outcomes for their families and not go to court. As the Collaborative Divorce concept grew throughout North America and the world, it evolved into a team process.  By using specially trained neutral experts in child development, family systems and divorce-related finance in addition to their Collaborative attorneys, clients are able to bring this added expertise to their parenting and financial resolutions, and likely reduce the financial cost of their divorce.  The process is tailored to the needs of the family using professionals based on the skills and expertise they need. It has been an unfortunate reality for accessibility that specially trained Collaborative professionals are typically concentrated in metro areas, including in Minnesota.  But with the social distancing required by the pandemic, almost all divorce professionals are working with and representing clients online, typically through Zoom meetings.   This means that a couple’s distance from Collaboratively trained professionals is no longer an obstacle.  Individuals in greater Minnesota, can now have access to a full Collaborative team without leaving their homes. To learn if a Collaborative Divorce is right for you and your family, please visit the website of the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota at www.collaborativelaw.org.  There you will find detailed information about the Collaborative process, as well as names and bios of Collaborative professionals who practice this family-friendly, problem-solving, and future-focused process.  Collaboratively trained professionals will be happy to offer you free informational meetings via teleconferencing to help you make the decision about whether this process, and a particular attorney or neutral professional, feels right for your needs. Collaborative Practice Highlights:
  • The entire process is legally and ethically done outside of court
  • The result of the process is customized to the particular needs of a divorcing couple and/or family
  • Clients can build a team of Collaboratively trained attorneys, neutral financial experts, mediators and mental health professionals (coaches and child/family specialists) who focus on problem solving and dispute resolution
  • Collaborative professionals can offer specialized ala carte services in specific areas of particular need for clients, e.g., financial plans, parenting plans, conflict resolution, preparation and review of legal documents, and more.
  • Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota (CLI) website: collaborativelaw.org
  • Find a Professional: https://www.collaborativelaw.org/find-a-professional/
  • CLI Blog: collaborativedivorceoptions.com
  • CLI Mailing address: 4707 Highway 61 N, #217 | White Bear Lake, MN 55110
The Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota and the North Dakota Collaborative Law Group are nonprofit organizations focused on transforming the way families divorce by helping them create customized solutions and stay out of court. For more information or to find a Collaborative professional near you visit www.collaborativelaw.org (CLI) or www.nddivorce.com (NDCLG) About the Author: Shared by the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota Public Education Committee    
        Divorce is never an easy topic, nor should it be an easy answer – but what about during a pandemic? Is disrupting your family’s life to separate into two households the right thing to do when a pandemic is taking place? There is never going to be a “right” time to divorce.  Once a couple figures out either on their own or through counseling[1] that their problems cannot be solved, a constructive divorce is often the next step. Courts are open and those cases that can be resolved without any court hearings are moving more rapidly than ever through the now virtual court system.  The collaborative divorce model has been around for awhile, but using it now during the pandemic can make your divorce more efficient, while still bringing in the professionals as needed for your particular situation, including financial planners, mortgage brokers, child specialists, divorce coaches or mediators. Collaborative may be the right process for you if you want the following:
  • To stay out of court,
  • To work things out on your own,
  • To make a plan for the future for both parties looking at your family’s interests and needs,
  • To maintain a private, safe environment to exchange ideas and options,
  • To put your family first.
Collaborative Divorce is not going to be about winning, revenge or punishment.  Rather the collaborative process requires both attorneys and parties to focus on interests and goals instead of positions through a series of joint meetings.  Traditionally these meetings were held in person, but the same meetings can now take place virtually and everything can be handled online.  Starting the process now may be just as good as any other time. You can find more detailed information about collaborative practice and look for professionals to help get you started at the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota. [1] Discernment Counseling is a type of limited scope counseling that helps couples or individuals determine whether to work on their marriage or keep moving towards divorce. See University of Minnesota Couples on the Brink project. Author:  Angela Heart, Heart Law, LLC Angela is a collaborative family law attorney at Heart Law, LLC. Her mission is to enable and empower divorcing couples to have a smooth transition that is family focused during a life changing event. To find more information about Heart Law go to www.heartlaw.net.
woman reminiscing There has been some buzz about the new film on Netflix called Marriage Story about a couple, Charlie and Nicole, with a son, Henry, going through divorce. I decided to watch it since this is my area of practice and a prospective client referenced it last week in a consultation.  It started with the couple stating all these things they loved about the other person with pleasant images of life together.  I was ready for an uplifting movie, until about 8 minutes in, when I learn that the couple is in a divorce meditation session and Nicole refuses to read her list out loud of what she loves about Charlie.The mediator says he likes to start mediation with a “note of positivity” to set the stage for working together.   Noble idea, but is that the best way to start? I don’t know any mediators that start that way.  I wondered if people now think that is how all mediations start.  While I too try to start from a more positive place, I start by asking clients to identify the goals they each have for the process and outcomes so we can see if they have any common visions for the future in separate homes.  I am amazed how often people have common goals around their kids and other outcomes and many times support goals that are specific to one person.  But I don’t think I would start by asking them to share a written list of qualities they love about their soon to be former spouse.  That is more appropriate for marriage counseling. What a different dynamic that sets in mediation.  When one person wants the divorce and the other one doesn’t, it starts the process from a place of internal conflict.  It was visible in the movie.  I just don’t think mediators do that and it paints an inaccurate picture of the process. But, I appreciated how Charlie and Nicole were trying to work together in mediation.  Unfortunately, the film spent very little time on the topic of mediation. Instead, at the 20 minute mark, the story moved in the direction of the Nicole, played by Scarlett Johansson, hiring the LA attorney Nora Fanshaw, played by Laura Dern, a sexy, savvy attorney that you want to trust, but your gut tells you, “Not too fast.”  When Charlie, played by Adam Driver, goes to find his own attorney, feeling distraught that Nicole suddenly switched directions and hired an attorney, the first attorney he talks to recognizes that Nora is on the other side, clearly knowing how she operates, and says his rate is $900/hr, he needs a retainer of $25,000 and they will need to do forensic accounting for $10,000-$20,000.  Everything indicates an expensive, high stakes fight.  He then starts asking all these questions to elicit information so he can immediately start strategizing about all these angles to take and “Win!” Charlie realizes what he is walking into, leaves and eventually lands on hiring Bert Spitz at $400/hr, played by Alan Alda, after there is no one else to hire because Nicole has met with all the other “good attorneys” in order to get them disqualified from being able to meet with Charlie.  But in the end, reasonable sounding Bert isn’t tough enough against Nora so, Charlie decides to go with the $900/hr attorney afterall. Well, the whole thing devolves into a knock down drag out court battle over money, custody (including a custody evaluation), and the attorneys revealing every dark secret about the other parent and “slinging mud,” in order to convince the judge to rule in their favor.  Your heart breaks for Charlie and Nicole, but especially for Henry, caught in the middle. And then I heard my own voice say, “That is exactly why I am a Collaborative attorney, instead!”  It is clear that neither Nicole nor Charlie ever thought they would go down that vicious road but what is clear, is that the divorce took on a life of its own.  Nicole left everything to Nora to handle and decided not to question how she operated. What was also clear to me was who they each chose to represent them had everything to do with how things went.  Charlie and Nicole were not asked what was important to each of them or what they wanted for Henry.  From the moment they met the attorneys, the attorneys were building their case, setting up the chessboard and thinking about what moves to make to win the game despite the casualties. Why does that matter?  When an attorney can only think in the win-lose mind frame, that they have all the answers and that everything has to follow what they think is the right path, you are giving up all power over your family and your life. Most people I meet with want to be in charge of these major decisions that will impact their life and family.  It is important to stop and think about what is important for you, your kids, and your family.  You are still part of a family system, even when you are getting a divorce.  You are just changing the family configuration, setting new boundaries and expectations, and figuring out how to divide the assets and manage cash flow living separately.  Working with attorneys who understand this, who are focused on problem-solving and reaching a win-win outcome out of court, makes all the difference for clients and their family.  And if you have two attorneys who trust each other professionally, that is an asset to you and your spouse.  The Collaborative Divorce process offers just that: a respectful, transparent, child-focused, problem-solving out-of-court approach for divorce.  Ask yourself what story you want your children to say about their parents’ divorce when they are 25? Choose wisely.
Photo Credit: Pexels.com
Photo Credit: Pexels.com
Wouldn’t it be great if families could complete their divorce in a conference room rather than a courtroom? That’s the thinking behind the Collaborative Process and what makes the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota so helpful to divorce professionals and divorcing families. Because of TV shows and just our general culture of “fighting” for our rights, we often think that we have to spend endless amounts of money and fight in court to get a divorce, but that simply isn’t true. In the Collaborative Process, we help families reach agreements without ever setting foot in a courtroom. The Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota (CLI) trains professionals in areas of law, finances, relationships and mental health to work with families outside of court to reach durable and understandable divorce agreements that work for their families. Law school is focused on training attorneys for inside the courtroom. That’s why we need CLI to train attorneys and other divorce professionals to help clients outside the courtroom. This is a major paradigm shift for the legal profession, but it shouldn’t be so surprising that this is the help and advice that families need and want. Because, let’s be honest, who really wants to go to court?
If you want a respectful, affordable and uncontested divorce without breaking the bank, you’ll want to consider a Collaborative Divorce. blur-ceramic-close-up-161010 Do you have a reasonable level of trust and ability to work together with your spous if you have the help of professionals? Does your family makes $60,000 or less per year? If so, then you should apply for the Sliding Scale Fee Program of the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota. One of the most frustrating topics when thinking about divorce is “How much will this cost?” Thankfully, when you come to agreements in our Sliding Scale Fee Collaborative Divorce program you will almost certainly pay a fraction of what you would pay with any other professionals charging full price for their divorce services. Collaborative Divorce saves you money. How is that? First, we apply best practices to help you make the most of the time each professional spends working on your case. We think of this as using the right tool for each step of your divorce. Each of you will have your own attorney for legal adivce and advocacy, but you will do most of your work with specialized mediators to make efficient progress. This makes the process less polarizing and more focused on finding win-win solutions that meet both spouse’s needs as best as possible under the circumstances. Since our professionals don’t have to worry about fighting in court on your case, they can focus on helping you find the best solutions. They don’t waste time drafting time-consuming, hurtful and wasteful affidavits and other documents for contested court hearings for clients who are fighting. Second, in the Collaborative Divorce Sliding Scale Fee Program each professional works at a significantly reduced hourly rate. If your family makes $60,000 or less per year, then our Sliding Fee Scale provides that each professional will help you at a significantly reduced hourly rate (often a fraction of their normal hourly rates). For example, outside of the Sliding Scale Fee program, an attorney in the Minneapolis area will typically charge around $250-$350 per hour. In our program, the highest hourly rate is only $60 per hour. Our attorneys and mediators do not go to court in this program. They are here to help you get everything done in your divorce without setting foot in a courtroom. That frees them up to provide an exceptional Collaborative Divorce process to clients. There isn’t any other program like this in Minnesota. What makes this program different? There are only a few sliding scale fee attorney programs and they only provide one attorney on a sliding scale fee. There are no other programs that provide each spouse with a sliding scale fee attorney and specialized mediators to work with the couple on financial and parenting schedule issues, all in one package. In summary, this Sliding Scale Fee program provides a team of professionals so that we can apply the right professional for each step in the uncontested divorce process. Who is this program designed for? We can help couples who have income within our sliding fee scale and who are willing to pay a reduced hourly rate. This is not a pro bono program with free attorneys. It is significantly less expensive but it is not free. Also, you will need to be willing and able to communicate with your spouse and work together with mediators to resolve your financial and parenting time issues in your divorce, with the help of your own attorneys who will be assigned as part of this program. Who will you be working with? You will be working with attorneys, mediators and other professionals who are members of the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota who volunteer to take part in this program and accept a lower hourly rate for these cases. What’s the first step? What should I do next? The first step is for one spouse to submit a Sliding Scale Fees Intake Form (found on the Sliding Scale Fee page of our website). Then the Sliding Scale Fee Committee will reach out to you within a few days to help decide if your case is a good fit for the program and what you can do next to move the process forward.
pexels-photo-256485 There is a “new” way of going through divorce that puts clients in charge.  It’s called “Unbundled Legal Service” and it means that the clients get to have legal advice without having the lawyers take over the full case.  This allows clients to get legal advice, and whatever else they truly want, without having to pay lawyers to do things they could do themselves. The word “unbundled” may seem like a strange phrase if you did not realize there was a bundle in the first place.  Most clients do not realize that, when they retain a divorce lawyer in the traditional model, the lawyer is authorized (sometimes even required) to engage in the full range of services, from information gathering, to responding to all relevant communications, to reviewing all documents related to the case. Unbundling lets the client choose which things the lawyer will do for them; and which things they will do for themselves. This provides an opportunity to have more control over cost and, sometimes, acrimony. Lawyers charge high hourly rates. When they are providing important legal advice or analyzing complex issues, these hourly rates can be a very wise investment. The decisions you make during your divorce can impact your finances by tens of thousands of dollars and, helping you make important decisions regarding your children may be priceless. On the other hand, paying your lawyer to wait at the courthouse, or drive downtown, or gather your bank records, does not make economic sense. In addition to helping clients save some of their resources for themselves, unbundling can free up funds for clients to spend on other important resources, such as a child specialist to help them co-parent their children, a financial expert to help them make good financial decisions, a coach to help them with communication, or a therapist to help them adjust to the emotional impact of the divorce. While unbundling of legal services is being heralded as a brave new trend, it is, in many ways, a throwback to an old idea; the attorney as “legal counsel” – a concept that was much more common in earlier days.  It is only recently, in the more adversarial climate of the past century, that the notion of lawyer as “hired gun” has become widespread. Frustration with both the acrimony and expense of the adversarial approach have caused many divorcing people to forego getting legal advice altogether.  Unbundling, or the renewal of attorneys as legal counsel, is allowing people to have the best of both worlds; sound advice combined with control over cost and acrimony. Unbundled divorce has many different variations.   One popular form of unbundled divorce is called Collaborative Divorce, where clients choose to have the lawyers focus solely on settlement.  Because 97% of all cases settle, hiring lawyers to focus only on settlement helps clients make sure that their legal fees are spent on things that matter to their future.  To learn more about Collaborative Divorce go to www.collaborativelaw.org and www.ousky.com.
house for sale Divorce has a way of completely upsetting one’s expectations for the future.  One day things are moving along just fine, and the next you are making decisions that will impact the rest of your life.  One of the big decisions is whether or not to keep the family home.  It may really be two questions: “Should I keep the house?” and “Can I keep the house?”.   Let’s consider both in turn. Whether you “should” keep the home is more of an emotional question.  What does the home represent to you?  Often it is an emotional safe haven full of good memories that you have spent years getting just right.  It could also be an emotional roadblock to moving forward with your life. “Can I keep the house?” is more of a financial question.  Will your income post-divorce allow you to maintain the house?  Will taking the house in the divorce mean forgoing other marital assets such as retirement accounts, that may be more valuable in the long run?  Perhaps keeping the house will require keeping your ex-spouse as co-owner, do you want that? Due to its functionality, your house is an asset different from a stock or retirement account.  So, in many cases, the decision is a compromise focused on the question: “How long should I stay in the house?”. If you are unsure of the best way to handle the house, there are 3 exercises that you should go through to determine your best decision or when you should expect to sell.
  • Develop a post-divorce budget to see if you can afford to keep the home. Perhaps with child support it may make sense to stay. When the kids go, the house may need to go as well.
  • Run a retirement projection to see how keeping the home will impact your retirement and other financial goals.
  • Finally, list the benefits and tradeoffs of keeping the home. The benefits may be proximity to work and school. A tradeoff may be that you are now in charge of the upkeep.
There is no doubt that a house is treated different from a retirement account. Even so, it needs to be viewed with an honest and objective lens to determine how it will influence the unfurling of your new future as you blossom into the new you.
In parts 1 and 2, we defined vortex as: 1) a whirling mass of water or air that sucks everything near it towards its center; 2) a place or situation regarded as drawing into its center all that it surrounds, and hence, being inescapable or destructible. As discussed in previous months, the “divortex” can be avoided by choosing the Collaborative Process.  Prior articles describe what Collaboration is – it is a process that avoids court and may use a team of experts to help clients create the best settlement option possible.labyrinth-1738044_1920 The professionals on a team are, generally speaking, the two attorneys, a neutral financial professional, a neutral child specialist, and a neutral divorce coach.  Although the inclusion of financial and mental health professionals in the divorce process is nothing new, the manner in which they are used in the Collaborative process is unique.  The attorneys’ roles are different in Collaboration, as well.  While each spouse retains his or her own attorney, the attorneys work together to help the clients achieve an outcome that works for the entire family.  The attorneys give legal advice to their individual clients, but more importantly, they help their clients realize what their interests and goals are.  The objective of Collaboration is to get to a place where everyone is OK (a win-win) rather than a win-lose.  The attorneys are trained in the Collaborative model and interest-based negotiation. A financial neutral helps the divorcing couple with property division and cash flow. Financial neutrals are financial experts and are CPAs, CDFAs, and CFSs who are trained in the Collaborative process and who understand the legal process. A child specialist is a neutral who helps the couple with creating a comprehensive and viable parenting plan. The child specialist is a therapist who is also trained in the Collaborative process.  The child specialist is the voice of the children and not only helps the children during the divorce process, but helps parents help their children during this transition. A divorce coach is also a therapist and a neutral in this process.  The coach’s role is to the help the couple communicate better.  It is important for each spouse to have a voice in this process and the coach can help with that.  In high conflict cases, a coach helps the process move along more smoothly. Although it seems like there are a lot of professionals involved in Collaboration, every professional has a specific role.  In a non-collaborative case, the attorneys are acting as financial advisor, child specialist, and coach.  And while attorneys can help with those pieces of the case, attorneys are not experts in those areas.  In the Collaborative process, you get the best advice from the various professionals who are trained to help you reach a settlement.  Consequently, a Collaborative team CAN help you avoid the divortex!
aA collaborative law colleague recently wrote a lovely piece in the Boston Globe describing his reasons for leaving his litigation practice behind and representing clients only in alternative dispute resolution processes. His article resonated greatly with me. I too left behind a litigation practice to enter the world of peacemaking. While not an easy choice at the time, I look back six years later and realize that these years have been the most fulfilling of my career.  I have not stepped foot in a courtroom in almost six years. I am thankful for many things in my current “out of court” career, but here are just a few:
  • I spend my days working with clients on resolutions that meet their big picture goals.
  • My conversations and negotiations are fruitful, honest and genuine.  The teams I work with and clients who choose me are seeking this type of interest-based negotiation without gamesmanship or posturing.
  • My colleagues are professionals with passion and dedication to help people through transitions in their marriage – many are my friends, including attorneys who are on the “other side” representing my client’s spouse.
  • I can be creative in tailoring outcomes to meet my clients goals.
  • We can tailor my work to each client and what they need and want out of the process.
  • I am a peacemaker who is at peace.
Peacemaking professionals provide the best experience for clients.  I share my own story as a practitioner in the hopes that potential clients will read this and get a sense of who I am.  Knowing that, clients too may choose a path of peacefulness.
aMy family is going through Olympic withdrawal.  Well, O.K., not really.  But we watched the events we were interested in and rooted for Team U.S.A.  Of course, Michael Phelps stole the show, and Ryan Lochte stole the…well, let’s not go there.  At any rate, it was interesting. What continues to stick with me, though, is the catchy phrase in one of the commercials (I don’t remember which commercial) but it’s from Maya Angelou’s “Human Family” poem. As in the commercial, the poem ends with, “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”  This phrase is repeated twice in both the poem and the commercial.  The rhythm is undeniable, and the words unforgettable.  The truth is…we are.  This made me think back to one of my sociology classes in college, and those human traits that are universal, regardless of the country, village, or tribe in which a person lives: a smile represents happiness; crying signals sadness; and we all need food, water, sunlight, and air to survive.  As the poem goes, “In minor ways we differ; in major, we’re the same.”  Certainly, in our families we are, to some extent, the same.  So, when the “leaders” of a family decide to part ways, their differences should be relatively minor, right?  Sadly, depending on the divorce process the couple uses, those minor differences could blow up and out of control.  It doesn’t have to be that way. In the Collaborative divorce process, the goal is to find common ground and focus on the items the divorcing couple agrees on (the “alike” part). “Keep the children out of the middle.”  Check.  “Let the children attend the same school.”  Check.  “Make sure everyone’s needs are met.”  Check.  We focus on similarities, needs, and “alikeness”, and therefore interests, rather than differences and positions.  We aren’t that different.  At least we aren’t that different in major ways.  Unique, we are.  So, let’s not invent imaginary differences, which can create major conflict.  That takes so much negative energy.  Using a process that focuses on the positive, the “alikeness” of the two people ending the marriage is certainly more, well, human.