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Archive for October, 2008

 Elizabeth Stabinski, M.S.

Registered Mental Health Counseling Intern

Many individuals on the brink of marriage dissolution are so emotionally worn down, apathetic, injured, or angry that it is hard to picture being able to be civil with the soon-to-be ex-spouse.  If there has been infidelity, addictions, or abuse it adds an additional hurdle.  Divorce is inherently painful.  I have heard divorce likened to a death of a marriage; yet unlike death, it is ongoing.  The members of the couple will be forced to deal with each other long enough to divide assets.  If there are children involved, the couple will be involved directly or indirectly with each other for the rest of their lives.  

Of course, as a marriage counselor I am always hoping that therapy will work help improve communication and trust so that couples can begin to rebuild their relationship. And, as a therapist, I have hope for most marriages that seek therapy.   But sometimes, despite hard work by both individuals, relationships are just not going to heal.  This realization has sent many family-oriented professionals in search for something less emotionally damaging and financially costly than divorce litigation.  As an outgrowth of such searches, a new form of family law has been developing called Collaborative Family Law (CFL).

The basis of CFL is that each member of the couple has their own attorney to advise them as to their legal rights and responsibilities; but rather than only considering what would be best for the husband or wife independently, the attorneys work together every step of the way to honor the familial system. Collaboratively, they work together to create a custodial plan and divide assets. Gone is strategy and deception.  Full disclosure is not only recommended, it is expected.  Clients are encouraged to develop goals in order to work towards making the terms acceptable to both members of the couple.   In order to ensure that the attorneys are truly working towards settlement, CFL contractually obligates the attorneys to resign from the case if it becomes apparent that litigation is inevitable.

                Within Collaborative Family Law there are a few different modalities.  The team model utilizes two collaborative lawyers, a financial planner and a mental health professional all trained in the collaborative process.  While the attorneys are advocates for their clients, the team is an advocate for the family.  Everyone works together to create a divorce that will best suit not one member of the dyad, but the entire family unit.  Meetings as a group are organized, goal-oriented, and client centered.

                Collaborative Family Law has been used successfully for years in states such as California and Texas.  While it is newer to Florida, there are many lawyers in the area who have been using CFL successfully.  These attorneys have found that CSL is a cost-effective, efficient means of marriage dissolution. In addition, the team schedules the agenda, location and times of each meeting.  This offers greater flexibility than litigation where meetings are dictated by the court.   Like anything, Collaborative Law has its limitations and  is not for every marriage, but it definitely adds another option for couples who want to end their marriage without litigation. 

                As with any major, life-altering decision, divorce should not be the first course of action.  That being said, if it is the right decision for your family, there are new options to litigation.  Take the time to research and call respected family attorneys in the area; ask them to explain Collaborative Family Law, its strength and weakness.   Hopefully you did not rush into marriage without consideration; take the time to give your divorce the same type of attention.

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