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!
BLD077218In the Twin Cities, many family law attorneys offer a free consultation to learn about your options.  This is a time to meet your potential new attorney and ask your questions.  The consultation can serve three main purposes. First, you can learn about your divorce options.  There are four general processes for divorce:
  1. pro se/unrepresented where you go through the process without legal guidance;
  2. mediation where a neutral third party helps you come up with the agreements;
  3. collaborative divorce where both parties commit to a respectful out of court process with lawyers and other professionals guiding the process; and
  4. litigation, the court-based traditional process.  A good consultation should educate you on all of these options.
Second, the consultation allows you to learn some basic information about the issues in a divorce.  The attorney can discuss the main legal issues that need to be decided during a case – such as child custody, parenting time, spousal maintenance, or property division.  Clients often have specific questions about these categories and what may or may not be relevant to their situation. Third, the consultation allows you to get to know someone and see if it is a good fit for legal work.  One of the most important aspects of a consultation is the opportunity for you to meet a potential attorney and see if you will be comfortable working with them. Your attorney is your guide. You may cry or express anger in front of this person – you need to feel comfortable doing so. In addition to legal adeptness and zealous advocacy, you also must be comfortable and trust your attorney. This is perhaps the most important element of the relationship. You should know that when you are just meeting an attorney for a consultation, the attorney cannot give you legal advice or answer legal questions with certainty. Because the consulting attorney does not have a client relationship, you and your spouse could meet with the attorney together. This is often a good way for you both to hear information together. When you receive the same message, you often feel less adversarial and more like you are both seeking a guide for the process. Please contact a collaborative attorney for a free consultation to learn more about your options.
494322995-business-people-shaking-hands-in-meeting-gettyimagesIf you are facing the possibility of a divorce, choosing a divorce lawyer could be one of the most important decisions in your life. Divorce is unfair. It forces you to make some of the most difficult decisions in your life at a time when you might be least able to do so. Having someone you trust to advise you is important. There are hundreds of lawyers in the Twin Cities with significant experience handling divorce cases.  Regardless of what you may think of lawyers (and surveys would suggest that may not be overly positive) lawyers are, for the most part, like the rest of our society. They come in all shapes and sizes, and have varying degrees of skill, honesty and effectiveness. If you work hard and do your homework, you can find one of the really good ones. Perhaps more importantly, you want to the best attorney for you. The key is to know how to investigate and interview so that you find the right fit. Investigating Lawyers to Interview. The first step is to find attorneys to interview. The best way to start is to talk with people you know who have had a positive experience with their divorce attorney and find out what it is about their attorney that they liked. The other option is to research the internet carefully, at least to make sure you understand all of the process options available. While it would be reckless to choose an attorney from online information alone, the internet can be an effective way to find someone to interview. It is also a good way to learn about the main process choices that exist in our community; namely traditional representation; mediation and Collaborative Practice. Once you have found an attorney to interview (or ideally several attorneys), you should contact each attorney (by phone or email) and find out if they charge for the initial consultation. Many family law attorneys will provide consultations for free, or at little charge, in order to give you the opportunity to meet them and learn how they work. When you do interview the attorneys, do not be afraid to ask them difficult questions to help you determine if they are a good fit for you. Many books include guidance on questions to ask your attorney including, The Collaborative Way to Divorce. Make sure that each attorney that you interview provides a description of the main process choices described above and make sure they describe their experience and training in each of these areas. Attorneys, like most people, have preferences and biases and their description of the three basic options can be filtered by their own preferences, rather than being based upon actual experience. If, for example, your attorney has not had significant experience in mediation or Collaborative Law, their recommendation may be based on third hand accounts of information or bias, rather than actual expertise. To find attorneys who have experience or expertise in Collaborative Law and mediation, go to or
186816463I am often asked what a “drafting” process for divorce entails. While a full process often has 3-5 professionals, a process for clients who have worked out most of the resolutions on their own, can be much more streamlined. Using an attorney for legal advice and drafting can be a cost-effective and quick way to proceed. Here is how the process typically works: 1. Client hires attorney. In a drafting process, the client should hire an attorney who is willing to take on a drafting role – drafting the agreement and advising the client of his/her legal rights. 2. Client and attorney meet to discuss the resolutions reached. In a drafting process, the clients have typically already reached agreement on property division and cash flow. They have disclosed everything to each other and made decisions about how to divide the property (assets and liabilities) and agreed upon child support and/or spousal maintenance if needed. In this initial meeting, the client provides the attorney all supporting documentation and discusses the agreements reached. The attorney advises the client of the legal implications of the agreements and either confirms the agreements or discusses potential revisions. Sometimes, the attorney brings up ideas or questions that the client has not yet contemplated. If so, the client can go back to their spouse and discuss these additional matters. 3. Once the final agreements are discussed, attorney can draft the documents. In Minnesota, the substantive divorce document is a Stipulated Judgment and Decree. There are other supporting documents needed, but this is the main document needed. This Judgment and Decree outlines all resolutions that have been agreed upon. 4. Client reviews the documentation. 5. Spouse reviews the documentation and has an attorney review and advise him/her of the legal implications. 6. The attorneys and clients can communicate and revise the documentation as needed. 7. Once finalized, the documents are signed by clients and attorneys and filed. While a drafting process can be efficient and cost-effective, it works best when clients have all agreements in place and do not waiver from their original positions. If the clients learn more about their legal rights and wants to further explore options, it is often best to enter into a collaborative process, where more options can be explored.
172708699A friend of mine who knows I am intricately woven into the divorce-planning and alternative dispute resolution circles in the Minneapolis St. Paul metro recently asked me if I knew a certain divorce attorney.  He knew of a person who was not feeling too well about their choice of a divorce attorney.  I told my friend that I did not recognize the name. Being a little curious, I searched the web for this individual. What I found was that family law was one of about eight other areas of law this person practiced.  I wondered just how much family law this attorney does in relationship to all the other practice areas listed.  Little does my friend know, his question inspired my writing this blog post. Would you go to a painter if you needed a new roof?  Would you go to a heart surgeon for a fractured arm?  Hardly, you say. Why is it then when people have decided to end their marriage they first choose to see someone who is not a subject matter expert in the areas causing conflict between them and their spouse?  They want this person to fix all their problems when that person probably does not have all the skill sets to solve all of the issues that present themselves in a divorce.  I would submit that there is no one person who has all the skill sets necessary to effectively deal with all the intricacies of a divorce. Perhaps the conflict is about co-parenting the couple’s children.  Would it make sense to seek out a neutral child specialist to help the parents sort out the rough spots and more importantly benefit their children for years and really for their lifetime?  Maybe the conflict is over financial matters.  You would think a neutral financial specialist would be able to offer the most value to the couple in those situations.  A couple not able to communicate effectively may benefit the most by seeing a neutral divorce relationship coach who can help both spouses manage their emotions which in turn frees up the flexible thinking they will need as they work through getting unmarried.  If legal questions arise, you would think an attorney who primarily works in family law matters would be the best resource. What I have described above is the client centered team model approach to a collaborative divorce.  A team of professional experts in their own subject matter areas working for you and your family’s behalf.   If you would like to learn more about this respectful and dignified way to divorce without court click on to check it out.
Former litigators who now practice exclusively collaborative law have varied reasons for that decision. Many revolve around better outcomes for clients or more peaceful processes. A reason that is less commonly talked about is the well being of the practitioner. A litigated divorce is often ripe with conflict and animosity. There is built in adversity and the very structure often leads to more anger and frustration. And, this is between the clients who are only going through this once. A divorce lawyer or other divorce professional deals with hundreds of these cases. They are often in the middle of many divorces and the animosity and anger can take a toll. A collaborative divorce, on the other hand, can be a more positive and less stressful experience. It is an out-of-court, non-adversarial process. The pacing of a collaborative divorce is controlled by the parties so no one is at the whim of a court’s schedule. Clients in collaborative divorce maintain control of the outcomes. Discovery (exchange of information) is done in an informal manner with full disclosure of whatever either party requests.  Because of these reasons and more, some collaborative professionals find a higher level of satisfaction and well-being in their work. Now, some may wonder why a potential client should care about their lawyer’s well-being? The professionals on a collaborative team are the guides and support for clients. A client going through divorce wants an attorney who is in the best position to guide them through that process. Collaborative divorce is a more respectful and peaceful option for clients. It is the same for the professionals. Doctor martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “The happier we are, the better we work.” I stopped litigating cases for many reasons. My personal well-being may be the most important one.
182954950 This may sound like a joke . . . but it’s not. What do UPS trucks and collaborative divorce have in common? Both use innovation and creativity to solve standard problems in unique ways.   Almost all turns (90%) made by UPS truck drivers are right turns. According to the Washington Post, UPS drivers intentionally make three right turns, instead of one left. The company has found that left turns are inefficient due to waiting in traffic and there is more likelihood of accidents when crossing lanes of traffic. The company has saved money and lives by making three right turns for every left. UPS has used a unique (but relatively easy) solution to provide better outcomes. Collaborative divorce does the same thing for families. People divorce every day. Couples going through divorce have a choice, just like UPS drivers, to head straight into traffic or take a different path. In divorce, “turning left” and heading into traffic is often less efficient and potentially the more harmful route. Couples, however, can choose to head down a more unique and creative path – collaborative divorce. Collaborative divorce is an “outside of the box” option. Collaborative divorce solves the same problem as any other process – a divorce ultimately is a divorce regardless of how one gets there. But collaborative divorce is a different path. By engaging in interest-based negotiations, keeping goals at the center of the process, locking the courthouse doors, and working with trained professionals, couples can come up with unique and creative options that work for them. UPS has found a way to make the greater community safer and run its company more efficiently. Couples going through divorce can similarly influence our greater community. Innovation and creativity can lead to better outcomes for families.  Some particular areas often addressed in a collaborative divorce, include:
  • Unique child support or expense sharing arrangements based on historical costs/expenses
  • Tax consequences of support options and property division
  • Creative financing options for a second home (or two new homes)
  • Parenting plan that addresses communication about the children, introduction of significant others, in addition to parenting schedules
  • Tracing of non-marital property (pre-marriage ownership, inheritances, gifts, etc.)
  • Maximizing property for both spouses
With a collaborative divorce, you and your family can work innovatively and creatively to reach resolutions tailored to meet your needs.
With so much at stake in a divorce, it is tempting to think about how to “win”.  Yet, the grim irony of divorce is that “winning” often leads to poor results.   I know that seems like a contradiction, but most divorce lawyers who, like me, have spoken with “winning” clients after a divorce, know that it is true.  Almost every “winning” client I have known during the past 30 years of divorce practice has expressed severe disappointment with their “winning” outcome.   The real “cost” of a litigated divorce (or even a divorce that settles on the courthouse steps) is so great financially, emotionally and, particularly for children, psychologically, that there truly are no winners. Does that mean that, when facing divorce, you should simply “give up” and let your spouse have whatever he or she wants?  Of course not.  Because there is so much that matters, you need to get the best possible outcome for you and your family.  So, how can you achieve that, without trying to “win” in the traditional sense?  By finding a smarter way to get your spouse “to yes”. Getting To Yes is the whole essence of divorce.  More than 95% of all divorces end in an agreement (and not a trial), so your divorce is likely to end in an agreement of some kind.  Therefore, the entire divorce process is one of seeking ways to get your spouse to say “yes” to the things that really matter. So, how do you get your spouse to eventually “say yes” to the things that are important to you?   It is tempting to think that you will get your spouse to “say yes” by hiring an aggressive lawyer to make bold arguments in your favor.  Tempting, maybe, but does that really work?  Is your spouse the kind of person who will respond to arguments by giving in?  Probably not.  On the other hand, if you are like the rest of the world, you will need to be much more strategic. The chances are quite good that the best way to get your spouse to say yes is to help them see that saying yes meets their interests.   This notion of ”interest based bargaining” is a way to truly “win” without having to make anyone lose.   This method of truly “winning” without creating losers is rapidly growing in popularity and is commonly used by Collaborative Divorce lawyers.  To find a Collaborative Divorce Lawyer in Minnesota who can explain this to you go to
Minneapolis, MN
Minneapolis, MN
I just read a Forbes magazine article about the four methods of divorce: Do it yourself Divorce; Mediation; Collaborative Divorce and Litigated Divorce and it reminded of how lucky we are to live in Minnesota. Collaborative Divorce started in Minnesota in 1990 and is now recognized throughout the world as one of the four options. Collaborative Divorce is now being practiced in 24 different countries, on four continents and may be the world’s fastest growing alternative. Last week, I spoke to two divorce attorneys from Capetown, South Africa who will be coming to Minnesota for the entire month of May to study this new, groundbreaking method. Collaborative divorce is growing so rapidly for a reason; it works.  During my 30 years of practicing family law, I have handled thousands of divorces using every method available.  Today, I spend most of my time doing Collaborative cases because it gives my clients better results for less money; particularly when there are children involved. While I applaud the Forbes article for helping raise awareness about Collaborative Divorce, I do need to suggest one correction. The author suggests that Collaborative may not work as well when there are complicated financial situations or significant assets.  In fact, that is actually where Collaborative Divorce works best. I have handled many multi-million dollar Collaborative cases and those clients have generally obtained the best outcomes. Because Collaborative Divorce has a rule of full transparency and invites creative structuring of settlement, people with large amount of assets generally get even better outcomes. The rules of disclosure in a Collaborative case are more thorough than in other types of cases. The author of the article is correct in saying that Collaborative Divorce is not right for every case and that each person facing divorce should investigate each option before they choose. I completely agree with that advice and I would add one other critical element. In weighing each option, make sure that you speak with professionals who have substantial experience in each area. Getting information about Collaborative Divorce, or any divorce, from someone without training and experience in this area, can be reckless. To find an experience Collaborative attorney in your community who will fully explain Collaborative Divorce to you; go to
MoneyMost divorce attorneys charge between $200 and $350 per hour. That fact could become a real obstacle in your divorce (and can even drive you a little crazy), unless you find ways to deal with it effectively. Here are some tips that I think will help you come to grips with this difficult reality. Take a Macro Look at the Hourly Fees.     Charging by the hour creates an enormous misconception about how a lawyer’s time is used. For example, if an attorney charges $285 per hour, it creates the impression that each hour they spend on behalf of clients is worth $285. Nothing could be further from the truth. When I look back on my cases, even the cases where I think my clients achieved a priceless outcome, I realize that many of the hours I spent on the case were not worth anything near that amount. Much of the time on the case is spent reviewing documents, listening to the client’s story about what has happened, describing the process to the client, going over ground rules, etc. Very likely, my client could find people to do some of those things for  $15.00 per hour. Those tasks, by themselves, have little value. On the other hand, when I look back on my most successful clients, the ones where clients made great decisions during their divorce, I realize that some of the moments that I spent with clients created a great deal of value for them. A tangible example might be a time when I, often in conjunction with the other team members on the case, came up with a creative financial solution that saved the clients thousands of dollars in future taxes or transaction costs. The work spent on developing that option may have been less than an hour or two but may have led to savings that were worth more than ten times my hourly rate. More significantly (and this is the most abstract part of our business), there are moments when the assistance of an attorney may be nearly priceless. When a client is struggling with the emotions of the divorce in a way that is causing them to mistreat their spouse and inadvertently harm their children, this may be when they need the most help from their “advocate.” A good divorce attorney can sometimes help them rethink what they are doing; sometimes in subtle ways, like truly listening to a client, helping them see the impact of their behavior, urging them to get the help they need to address emotional barriers, or simply making sure they understand their options. The impact of that work may not be obvious at the time, or even for many years. Yet, when they look back, the clients come to realize that certain decisions that they made, hopefully with skilled guidance from their attorney, helped them achieve a priceless outcome for their family.