Recently in Collaborative Law Category

Is Collaborative Law the right choice for your divorce

March 21, 2013

Divorce is tough. For most people, it brings up ideas of adversarial court battles, custody disputes and angry spouses. But divorce does not always have to mean war. Created in the 1980s, the collaborative divorce concept has slowly but surely gained popularity for couples who want to maintain peace in their family, even during a divorce. While the concept is still taking off in Indiana, collaborative law can be a great alternative to the "typical" divorce litigation process.
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Collaborative Law is an alternative dispute resolution process in which the parties retain separate attorneys whose primary function is to help them reach an agreed settlement. The parties and their attorneys collaborate in good faith, and commit to communicate respectfully and honestly to represent the legitimate needs of both parties. The parties agree not to litigate, nor threaten to do so, and if that should occur, the Collaborative Law process terminates and both attorneys are disqualified from any further involvement in the case. Attorneys hired for a Collaborative Law matter cannot continue to represent their respective clients in a litigated case.

Collaborative Law is not the best option for everyone. The best candidates for the collaborative process are parties who:

a. Want a civilized, respectful resolution of the issues.
b. Would like to keep open the possibility of a friendship with the other party.
c. Will be co-parenting children together and want the best co-parenting relationship possible.
d. Want to protect their children from the harm associated with protracted, contested litigation.
e. Have a circle of friends and family in common.
f. Have ethical or spiritual beliefs that place high value on personal responsibility and integrity.
g. Value privacy in personal affairs.
h. Value control and autonomous decision-making and do not want to hand over decisions about financial distribution and/or child-rearing arrangements to a stranger (i.e., a judge).
i. Recognize the restricted range of outcomes generally available in the court system, and want a more creative and individualized range of choices available for resolving your issues (provided such are compliant with all rules and guidelines).
j. Place as much or more value on the relationships that will exist in the restructured family situation versus a priority of obtaining the maximum possible amount of assets.
k. Understand that conflict resolution with integrity involves achieving mutual, reasonable goals.

If you are considering divorce, find out if Collaborative Law is right for you and your family.


For more information about collaborative divorce in Indiana, contact Harden Jackson Law at www.hardenjacksonlaw.com or 317.569.0770

Are Married Parents Really Better for Children?

June 26, 2012

How many times have you heard a divorced (or soon to be divorced) parent state “We stayed together for the kids”?  We hear it all the time.  Even when recounting horrible acts of deceit, abuse or cheating, these people seem to think that they were doing what was better for their children: Stay married.

For years researchers have been trying to find direct evidence as to whether it is better for parents to “suck it up” and stay together or divorce and move on.  The evidence is divided.  Many studies suggest that children of divorced parents are more likely to grow up poor, have behavioral problems or experience health problems.

However, new studies are starting to address the quality of the family relationships.  It has been found that the quality of the relationship between parents definitely matters. According to a study from the Center for Law and Social Policy, children who grow up in married families with high conflict experience lower emotional well-being than children who live in low-conflict families, and they may experience as many problems as children of divorced or never-married parents.  Research indicates that marital conflict interferes with the quality of parenting.  Furthermore, experiencing chronic conflict between married parents is inherently stressful for children, and children learn poor relationship skills from parents who aren’t able to solve problems amicably. When parents have a highly discordant relationship, children are often better off in the long run if their parents divorce. Between 30 and 40 percent of divorces of couples with children are preceded by a period of chronic discord between the parents.  In these situations, children do better when their parents divorce than if they stay married.

If you are facing divorce, it may be less disruptive to your children to consider a collaborative divorce or mediation.  Collaborative Law is an alternative dispute resolution process in which the parties retain separate attorneys whose primary function is to help them reach an agreed settlement. The parties and their attorneys collaborate in good faith, and commit to communicate respectfully and honestly to represent the legitimate needs of both parties. The parties agree not to litigate, nor threaten to do so.  Mediation  during divorce is a way of finding solutions to issues such as child custody and spousal support. It is an alternative to formal process of divorce court. During mediation, both parties to the divorce and their attorneys meet with a court appointed third party. This third party, the “mediator” assists the parties in negotiating a resolution to their divorce.  Parties have the opportunity to discuss the issues, clear up any disagreements and come to an agreement that they both agree to.

Most parents try their hardest to be the best parent they can be.  We make many sacrifices in the name of raising our children to be happy, well-adjusted adults.    No matter whether you are a single parent, divorced or married, one of the most important things you can do is to create happy, emotionally healthy homes for them to be raised.

For more information on collaborative law, please visit here.

Remember, these suggestions are not meant to be legal advice. You should consult an attorney to discuss the specifics of your situation. 

Attorneys from Harden Jackson Recognized by Super Lawyers

February 15, 2012

Press Contact:

Leah Potter

HARDEN JACKSON LLC

11450 N. Meridian, Carmel, IN 46032

Phone: 317.569.0770

Email: lpotter@hardenjacksonlaw.com

Web site: www.hardenjacksonlaw.com

For Immediate Release


ATTORNEYS FROM HARDEN JACKSON RECOGNIZED BY SUPER LAWYERS

CARMEL, IN – February 15, 2012 - Three attorneys from Harden Jackson, LLC have been recognized by Super Lawyers for 2012. Attorney Lanae Harden, who chairs the firm’s Family Law Practice Group, has been named to the “Super Lawyers” list as one of the top attorneys in Indiana for 2012. Attorney Michele Jackson, who chairs the firm’s Adoption and Reproductive Law Practice Group, has been named to the “Rising Stars” list as one of the top up-and-coming attorneys in Indiana for 2012. In addition, collaborative law attorney Clarissa Finnell has been named to the “Rising Stars” list.

The selection process for Super Lawyers employs a rigorous, multiphase process. Peer nominations and evaluations are combined with third party research. Each candidate is evaluated on 12 indicators of peer recognition and professional achievement. Selections are made on an annual, state-by-state basis.

Super Lawyer Lanae Harden is a founding member of Harden Jackson, LLC where she practices divorce and family law litigation with more than 15 years of experience. She chairs the firm’s Family Law Practice Group and frequently handles complex custody and parenting time litigation cases. Rising Star Michele Jackson chairs the firm’s Adoption and Reproductive Law Practice Group and focuses her practice in domestic and international adoptions as well as reproductive law matters. Rising Star Clarissa Finnell is a seasoned attorney who practices exclusively in the area of family law, representing clients with cases including legal separation, divorce, child support, child custody, paternity, parenting time, modification and contempt issues.

Harden Jackson, LLC is a Carmel law firm providing personalized service with a responsive and compassionate approach. As effective and experienced litigators, the attorneys work with clients to develop strategies for negotiating settlements, while always preparing for litigation if necessary. The practice assists clients in all areas of family law, adoption and reproductive law matters. For more information, please contact Leah Potter at 317.569.0770 or www.hardenjacksonlaw.com .

GRAMMAR MATTERS - EVEN IN DIVORCE AGREEMENTS

September 21, 2011

The specific language of your divorce settlement agreement does matter - make sure you understand the terms before you execute it, or you might regret it. The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court's finding in a dispute where Husband and Wife had separate interpretations of language dividing Husband's deferred compensation plan.

Husband, Kyle J. Bonebright, appealed an order from the Warren Circuit Court relating to the parties’ marital settlement agreement approved on November 4, 2010. As usual procedure after a dissolution, a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) was filed to transfer a portion of Husband’s deferred compensation plan to Wife as part of the terms of their settlement agreement. However, a dispute arose over the parties' interpretation of the specific sentence in their settlement agreement which stated: "Husband has a Deferred Compensation Account in the amount of $21,000 which will become the sole and separate property of wife." Mr. Bonebright believed the language specified that his ex-wife was to receive the flat sum of $21,000. However, the trial court ordered that Mrs. Bonebright “is entitled to the amount in the [Account] as of November 4, 2010, together with any gains or losses to such amount on deposit on November 4, 2010, due to interest or dividend accruals, and market fluctuations.” The trial court specified that the account would be Husband’s separate property as of November 5, 2010.

Husband appealed the trial court’s order, but The Court of Appeals affirmed and gave Mr. Bonebright a grammar lesson: "The Account is the subject of the sentence and 'in the amount of $21,000' both follows and modifies the subject. Thus, 'in the amount of $21,000' does no more than describe the account at the time it was included in the Agreement. Therefore, we find that the plain language of the Agreement transfers the entire Account to [Wife]."

SURVIVING DIVORCE - PART 1

September 15, 2011

We’ve all heard divorce horror stories from friends, coworkers or family members. Divorce is one of the most stressful experiences to endure. It is a loss which carries the weight of grief with all the ensuing emotions, including anger and denial. If you’re dealing with your own crumbling marriage, you’re likely feeling overwhelmed and scared about the impact divorce will have on your family and you. How can you survive the transition and adjust to a new life? The following suggestions may help you through the process.

1. Don’t try to handle your divorce on your own. In the interest of saving time and money, people are willing to compromise and are turning to the internet and online websites offering divorce packages and forms to “do it yourself.” Without more understanding of the law, they often don’t realize they could be compromising their legal rights. Preparing legal documents without the benefit of a legal opinion may result in unintended consequences that could be even more costly or impossible to correct in the future. Do talk with a law firm that can offer options, including alternatives to litigation, to help you save on attorneys’ fees.

2. Don’t assume traditional litigation is the best option. A common misunderstanding is that it is better for a judge to make decisions if spouses cannot agree. The reality is that litigation limits the decision-making of both parties and increases attorneys’ fees. You and your spouse are in the best position to determine what happens to your children and your property. There are cases where negotiation or mediation are not appropriate because of abuse or mental health issues, or these options prove ineffective. To determine a good strategy, find an attorney who will focus on what is best for you, your family and your financial situation.

3. Establishing a good rapport with your attorney is essential. You’ll want to feel comfortable communicating with your attorney. Don’t hesitate to ask your attorney questions. Find an attorney who educates you about divorce law and your options so you can make informed decisions. You and your attorney need to work as a team to strategize about the necessary steps in your case. Be sure to let your attorney know what matters most to you, whether it is keeping your home, retaining your retirement, receiving legal custody or more parenting time. With that knowledge, your attorney is better equipped to help you receive reach your goals either by negotiation in the conference room or litigation in the courtroom.

Remember, these suggestions are not meant to be legal advice. You should consult an attorney to discuss the specifics of your situation. If you have questions, you may contact our firm at 317-569-0770 or www.hardenjacksonlaw.com.

Are You Ready for Shared Parenting?

August 15, 2011

Dr. Joseph Nowinski, a clinical psychologist and frequent author on divorce and parenting has suggested that true co-parenting isn't always the best scenario. While he discusses that the philosophy is an improvement over the outdated "tender years doctrine" favoring mothers, he asserts that parenting time should be based on experience. Critics of this theory point out this is often a "Catch-22" situation for the parent who lacks experience because he or she hasn't been the primary caregiver or custodian. How does one gain experience in parenting if insufficient parenting time is granted. Also, as households transition, each parent assumes more responsibilities in their respective new homes that were once mostly shared. In addition to the added responsibilities, both parents are likely experiencing financial hardship, which adds to the stress. More stress and distractions leave less time for attentive parenting. Divorce is disruptive for all members of the family. To minimize the trauma for the children, parents need to become more child-focused during the transition, which can be extremely difficult while handling their own emotional turmoil. An honest self-assessment is suggested to help parents evaluate if they are ready for shared parenting.

Dr. Nowinski has created the following list of questions. It is important to answer each of the following questions as it applies to you now, not what you plan for the future.

• Do you know the name of your child's pediatrician?

• How often have you brought your child to a pediatrician appointment?

• Do you know the name and phone number of your child's school nurse?

• Do you know the name and phone number (or e-mail address) of your child's teacher?

• Does your child take any medications? If so, do you know their names, doses, and when your child is supposed to take them?

• Do you know approximately your child's weight and height today?

• How many days in the past two years have you taken off from work in order to stay home with your child when she or he was sick?

• If your child is in day care, how often in the past year have you had a one-to-one chat with the director of the day-care center about your child's progress in socialization?

• How often do you supervise or help your child with his or her homework?

• What are your child's favorite television shows?

• How often do you read to your child?

• How many days per week do you supervise your child while he or she gets ready for bed, including brushing teeth, washing up, and getting into pajamas?

• How often do you prepare a meal for your child?

• What are your child's favorite foods, and which are his or her least favorites?

• How often do you purchase clothing for your child? Do you know what his or her current clothing sizes are?

• Do you know the names of your child's best friends?

• How many of your child's birthday parties have you personally organized and supervised?

HARDEN JACKSON Continues to Offer Divorce & Family Law Services

August 9, 2011

View our new ad in the recent issue of Current in Carmel.

Current in Carmel - Harden Jackson Law Ad

Planning a DIY Divorce Online? Consider the Unexpected Costs & Consequences

May 23, 2011

In the current economy, many couples are searching for cheap, fast ways to process their divorces. With access to the internet, spouses have found online websites offering divorce packages and forms to "do it yourself". LegalZoom is one such service. In the interest of saving time and money, people are sometimes willing to compromise, and without more understanding of the law, they often don't realize they could be compromising their legal rights.

Most people have a tendency to underestimate the work that goes into preparation for divorce proceedings. Achieving a fair and equitable divorce requires a great deal more than simply printing off forms. Low-cost divorce websites and other such services reinforce the public opinion that legal processes such as divorce or estate planning may easily be accomplished by generating simple forms. But, if a consumer is considering the use of such services, one should carefully read the service provider's disclaimer - the "fine print". In the case of LegalZoom, the service provider is not acting as an attorney, does not review the documents the buyer prepares for compliance or legal sufficiency and does not guarantee that the documents are accurate or correct. Also, considering that divorce laws and procedures vary by state and are frequently revised, it is possible that forms on online websites are not up to date on each state's current requirements.

Preparing legal documents without the benefit of a legal opinion may result in unintended consequences that could be even more costly to correct in the future. At JHDJ Law, we receive a number of calls from prospective clients who for various reasons chose not to have representation in the interest of saving money and then received unfavorable court orders. Unfortunately, the cost to appeal or attempt to modify an unfavorable order is usually 2-3 times the average cost to retain a divorce attorney at the beginning of the proceedings.

Using "vanilla" or "boilerplate" forms from an online website may also restrict the flexibility you have to divide assets or deal with custody, parenting time and child support issues. The documents may not adequately address all issues you and your spouse have. While there are common processes to any divorce, each marriage is unique and the terms that you and your spouse need to divide your property and protect your children are specific to your situation. For instance, perhaps you are upside down in your mortgage and need a creative solution written into a settlement agreement. Or, you work nontraditional schedules and need more flexibility with parenting time versus standard guidelines. In many situations, online forms only address standard scenarios, with vague language. An attorney or mediator can help you draft a settlement agreement that best suits your family's needs.

There are certainly ways to minimize legal fees and maintain control over the terms of your divorce. At JHDJ Law, we encourage spouses to avoid litigation and to consider alternatives such as mediation or collaborative law. Both are less expensive than traditional divorce litigation, but each alternative method still provides a structured, legal process to address issues and work out detailed terms - removing the guess work from spouses who are already struggling with the emotional and financial difficulties of their marital issues. There are many areas in your life where a DIY approach can be cost saving - but divorce shouldn't be one of them.

The Role of Family Therapists in Collaborative Divorce

May 9, 2011

Therapists can assist the collaborative process in several ways. First, the parties can agree to have a mental health professional available during the process to assist with the emotional aspects of negotiations. Sometimes a therapist would sit in on meetings and sometimes would just meet with parties one on one or together outside the legal meetings. The role of the mental health professional in this situation is to give guidance to the parties as they face the emotional challenges of the settlement discussions. The second way a mental health professional can assist in the collaborative process is as a child expert. In this circumstance the parties are faced with a difficult child related issue and agree that they need the guidance of a therapist before making important decisions about their child. The therapist would, in this case, likely meet the child in the therapist’s office and would meet with both parents in the therapist’s office. Then the therapist would attend one or more meetings of the collaborative law team to inform the group on the difficult child-related issue and assist as needed when the parents are negotiating child issues. A formal written report is not typical, but is not forbidden. The third way that a therapist can assist the collaborative process is to become the therapist for one of the parties outside the collaborative law process. It is important to have therapists who understand the collaborative method of divorce so that they can encourage and assist parties with the unique demands of sitting face to face with a soon to be ex spouse.

Mental health professionals who participate in the collaborative process do not have to testify in court. Collaborative cases do not go to court! In the rare circumstance that the collaborative process is unsuccessful and the parties choose to pursue litigation, a mental health professional who has participated in the process under scenarios one and two listed above are off limits in the litigation process. In situation three above, they are only as available as any other treating mental health professional would be.

The cost that a mental health professional charges for his or her services is up to that professional. It is assumed that a mental health professional will charge for time spent in his or her office meeting with parties or children AND for time spent in collaborative law meetings. The parties discuss payment for these services in the collaborative meeting and agree on how the fees should be paid.

Attorney Completes Collaborative Law Training

May 6, 2011

Attorney Clarissa A. Finnell participated in the first interdisciplinary training seminar sponsored by the Central Indiana Association of Collaborative Professionals (CIACP) held April 28-29 at the Indianapolis Bar Association. Finnell was part of a group of 36 attorneys, mediators, family therapists and financial advisors in Central Indiana who attended the seminar to be trained in collaborative practice.

Collaborative law is an alternative dispute resolution process most commonly used in divorce and family law. It’s a structured method where couples are represented by specially-trained attorneys and engage in a series of negotiations and settlement conferences to reach a peaceful resolution. It's commonly referred to as a "respectful divorce" because the collaborative process encourages rational decision-making and minimizes adversarial behavior. It helps reduce the emotional and financial costs of divorce, while focusing on communication, cooperation and co-parenting.

CIACP is a separate entity from the law firm, founded as a non-profit in part by Stephenie Jocham, a founder of Jocham Harden Dimick Jackson, who saw a significant growth in demand for collaborative law and mediation in family law matters. The organization's mission is to further develop the practice of collaborative law in Indiana and train additional professionals.

Finnell has practiced family law throughout her legal career and is experienced in complex divorce litigation. Finnell views the additional training as an asset to her practice and her ability to represent clients. While she often sees common issues and disputes in family law cases, each case has to be individually evaluated to determine the best strategy - and in many cases, circumstances and financial resources don't warrant the traditional litigation path. Certainly, there are always going to be divorce and custody cases that require litigation due to the complexity of issues or allegations, especially in cases involving domestic violence or substance abuse issues. With the additional training in collaborative law, the firm's Family Law Practice Group offers options to clients so that they can pursue the best process for their particular case.

Another important note is that collaborative law isn’t just for divorces. It can be used in a number of family law disputes including post-dissolution custody or parenting time (relocation is a common issue after divorce), as well as paternity or domestic partnership matters. Selecting collaborative law or mediation for a modification after a decree or court order can save parties significant time and fees compared to litigation. The nature of the business structure used in the collaborative process (settlement conferences have agendas and minutes), means it is also very effective for other civil matters and business disputes or contract issues.

CNN Reports Divorce Rates Increasing as Economy Rebounds

May 3, 2011


Divorce Rates Increasing as Economy Rebounds (Select Link to watch CNN video report)

Interesting report from CNN. Most divorce attorneys reported a decrease in the number of new clients during the recession. It was rather unprecedented for the industry as financial woes typically precipitate or occur in connection with a divorce filing (people typically divorce due to issues involving sex, money, or children). The decrease in new divorce cases during the economic downturn occurred because of the higher rates of unemployment and the dismal housing market. Many couples felt trapped because they couldn't sell their homes or were upside down, and for many, it was their most significant asset.

Transitioning into two households also seemed daunting for couples who were struggling to make ends meet in one. With job losses and concerns about relocation costs or child support, many couples chose to remain in unhappy marriages, or would "informally" separate (sleeping in separate bedrooms, alternating child care schedules or house-sharing), cohabiting as roommates due to the financial strains. Rarely did this arrangement lead to reconciliation. In fact, this forced cohabitation resulted in more stress and deteriorated communication as couples struggled with redefining their new living situations and relationship interactions while attempting to move on emotionally from their damaged marriages.

Couples who pursued alternatives to litigation found that divorce was still an option. Attorneys with mediation and collaborative law practices actually saw an increase in these services during the recession, as couples learned their were more affordable methods to dissolve their marriages than the traditional litigation process. Not only are these alternatives less expensive in attorneys' fees, couples could also be more creative with the language and terms included in negotiated settlement agreements regarding timelines for distributing or selling property. Cooperating on terms to preserve that asset until a more favorable time enabled spouses to finalize divorces and concentrate on rebuilding their lives, while minimizing the emotional and financial fallout of the most difficult transition.

As a side note, we sigh at the continuing use of the word "matrimonial" attorney. By definition "matrimonial" refers to marriage, but we find that "family law" is much more appropriate and relevant terminology. There are a number of different types of families now who have issues to resolve involving property and children. Marital dissolution is not the only issue facing couples, given the higher numbers of cohabitation and domestic partnerships.

36 Professionals Complete Collaborative Law Training

May 2, 2011

The Central Indiana Association of Collaborative Professionals (CIACP) sponsored the first interdisciplinary training at the Indianapolis Bar Association on April 28-29, 2011 for attorneys, mediators, family therapists and financial advisors in Central Indiana. The training was coordinated by JHDJ Law attorney Stephenie Jocham, who along with attorneys Holly Wanzer and Elisabeth Edwards, created the CIACP for professionals to further develop collaborative practice in Indiana. Jocham, Wanzer and Edwards, who are also mediators, have seen a significant growth in demand for collaborative law and mediation in family law matters. Jocham believes many factors have resulted in more clients seeking ways to avoid going to court to deal with their family law issues. One significant factor for many spouses was the recession, which motivated many parties to request a less expensive process to resolve their divorces. Growing awareness about collaborative law has also begun to influence more potential clients as they learn about the privacy and flexibility of the process, which promotes cooperation among the parties rather than confrontation in the courtroom. Of the 36 professionals who completed the training, they came from many different areas of practice including family law attorneys, family therapists, mediators and financial advisors.

Most people have one concept of the divorce process - that each spouse hires an attorney and then they have to engage in a series of communications through their attorneys and often go to court for preliminary and final hearings. This traditional litigation model is only one possible process (with several variations), and in many cases, it is not the best option depending upon financial resources and family circumstances. Options such as collaborative law or mediation offer alternatives to the traditional process.

These alternatives are important, because although dissolution of marriage is a legal process dissolving the marital contract, the reality is that divorce is an emotionally-charged life change. No matter how amicable the spouses are, divorce is stressful. Anger, bitterness, grief and guilt are common emotions. In most litigation, these emotions result in increased fees. Collaborative divorce encourages rational decision-making. Working with divorce coaches or therapists can help manage the stress and emotions. This allows parties to make clear-headed, future-oriented decisions instead of critical financial or personal decisions in the heat of the moment. As collaborative divorce attorney Holly Wanzer of JHDJ Law says, “divorce isn’t about getting to an agreement you can live with today, but about reaching one that you can live with in 6 months when the raw emotions subside.”

Professionals who participated in the training course for collaborative law learned some of the other advantages for their clients. Therapists who are dealing with the most intimate details of their clients' lives understand why the additionally privacy in the collaborative divorce can be beneficial to couples. Divorces are public record, and the court file may include personal details as well as allegations concerning parenting skills or drug or alcohol use, especially in custody matters. Financial information may be included such as property owned, vehicles, mortgage balance, debts, and retirement funds. In the collaborative process, the parties agree to share information only with each other, their respective counsel and necessary experts. Less information is also disclosed in the actual settlement documents, therefore leading to a more private final agreement.

More couples are becoming aware of the negative impact divorce can have on their children, even if children are older. Even if the parties' relationship as husband and wife cannot be salvaged, they still have to co-parent, so couples who are able to cooperate with each other can minimize the effects on their children and grandchildren. A collaborative divorce is structured to encourage respectful, co-parenting relationships and help couples look for opportunities for resolution instead of revenge.

Some attorneys have been reluctant to embrace the collaborative process because of a number of concerns, one of which is fear that a collaborative practice won't be financially lucrative. This is the harsh truth of divorce - litigation rarely benefits the parties - only the attorneys involved. Celebrity divorces are extreme examples, but can be valuable lessons. For instance, the fees generated by the Frank McCourt divorce were $19 million, as the parties fought over an approximate marital estate valued at $1.2 billion dollars and control of the Dodgers’ baseball franchise. Obviously, those cases are the rarity, but national statistics do show that the average US divorce costs between $7,000-$20,000 (twice that if custody is at issue). That's a significant chunk out of the average American couple's marital assets. Ultimately, divorcing couples need to preserve as much of their income and assets as possible since there will be two households and two sets of expenses. Traditional litigation tends to focus on getting the “best” result at whatever the cost. But the collaborative process is designed to reduce costs.

Another important note is that collaborative law isn't just for divorce. It can be used in a number of family law matters including post-dissolution custody or parenting time issues, as well as paternity or domestic partnership disputes. It is also effective for other civil matters and contract issues. At JHDJ Law, 5 of the firm's family law attorneys are now trained in the collaborative process. Edwards, one of the firm's collaborative attorneys who has seen a shift in her practice, see this increase in the number of trained professionals as a positive for the greater Indianapolis community. "Divorce impacts our community in a number of social and financial ways," Edwards says. "By having more attorneys and therapists trained in collaborative law, we offer greater awareness and opportunities to help couples minimize the damage of divorce."

Over 50 and Divorcing? Consider Collaborative Divorce

April 27, 2011

Divorce attorneys and family therapists are seeing an increasing number of couples over 50 deciding to divorce. If the parties have been in a long-term marriage, the emotional and financial impact can be devastating, and the parties' ages make it more difficult to recover, especially if there has been a disparity in income or education. While much of the marketing of collaborative divorce is geared toward younger couples with children, the process has distinct advantages for many couples over 50 regardless of whether they have children or significant assets.

The first advantage is control, as the spouses are directly involved in negotiations and decision-making. A common misunderstanding is that it is better for a judge to make decisions if spouses cannot agree. The reality is that litigation should be a last resort because it limits the decision-making of both parties. In a hearing, your marital history, behavior and personal financial information are presented to a stranger via testimony and exhibits compressed into a few hours. In a collaborative divorce, spouses control the timeline and number of conferences needed to exchange information and negotiate a settlement. The process even incorporates certain business elements, with each settlement meeting including an agenda and minutes to minimize surprise and encourage preparation.

By age 50 or older, most spouses have retirement assets and real property to divide. By using an agreed financial advisor, spouses get a realistic idea of what their changed futures look like as a result of the property division. Couples can be creative with asset distribution and find that they have more flexibility with terms compared to most litigated court orders.

Divorce is stressful, even if spouses are amicable. Anger, bitterness, grief and guilt are common emotions. In most litigation, these emotions result in increased fees. Collaborative divorce encourages rational decision-making. Working with divorce coaches or therapists can help manage the stress and emotions. This allows parties to make clear-headed, future-oriented decisions instead of critical financial or personal decisions in the heat of the moment. As collaborative divorce attorney Holly Wanzer of JHDJ Law says, "divorce isn't about getting to an agreement you can live with today, but about reaching one that you can live with in 6 months when the raw emotions subside."

Privacy is another advantage. Divorces are public record, and the court file may include personal details as well as allegations concerning parenting skills or drug or alcohol use, especially in custody matters. Financial information may be included such as property owned, vehicles, mortgage balance, debts, and retirement funds. In the collaborative process, the parties agree to share information only with each other, their respective counsel and necessary experts. Less information is also disclosed in the actual settlement documents, therefore leading to a more private final agreement.

Even adult children can be negatively impacted by divorcing parents, so couples who are able to cooperate with each other, and look for opportunities for resolution instead of revenge can minimize the effects on their children and grandchildren. A collaborative divorce is structured to encourage respectful, co-parenting relationships.

As the spouses separate and transition, they need to preserve as much of their income and assets as possible since there will be ultimately be two households and two sets of expenses. Traditional litigation tends to focus on getting the “best” result at whatever the cost. But the collaborative process is designed to minimize costs. Collaborative divorce benefits spouses because of its efficiency and cost-effectiveness in comparison to litigation.

Planning to Divorce? Resources for Preparing Your Children

April 19, 2011

If you are planning to divorce, as a parent you have many concerns, the first of which may be how to tell your children. If you are in counseling, your therapist may have several suggestions for sharing the news with your children and preparing them for the transition during and after the divorce. You may also want to consider working with a divorce coach or parenting coordinator depending upon the nature of co-parenting or custody concerns you are facing. Seeking advice from experienced, specific support resources can make a significant difference in your and your children's ability to cope and adapt. The decision to divorce is only one step in a series of changes and modified plans that will vary as your children grow and your and your ex's lives change (relocation, remarriage, etc), so preparing now can help you avoid being mired in adversity and litigation, which will risk financial and emotional collapse for your family.

If counseling isn't a viable option for you (don't assume it isn't within your financial means as many therapists work on a sliding fee scale), there are a number of online resources including www.uptoparents.org and www.coparenting101.org which have blogs, discussion boards, videos, radio broadcasts and even worksheets and exercises which can help you become more child-centered and focus on co-parenting. With advice from experts and other parents who've been there, you can mine the information that is best for your particular situation.

You may also want to consider reading one of the numerous divorce guides or books with advice for divorcing parents. In determining which books are best for preparing your children, there are actually only a few which are based on solid knowledge and psychological research about how children and adolescents respond to the separation of their parents. Some which are recommended are: 'Mom's House, Dad's House for Kids: Feeling at Home in One Home or Two' by Isolina Ricci; 'The Truth About Children and Divorce: Dealing with the Emotions so You and Your Children Can Thrive' by Robert E. Emery, or 'For Better or For Worse: Divorce Reconsidered' by E. Mavis Hetherington and John Kelly.

The reality is that the extreme cases in divorce are, thankfully, the rare scenarios. Divorce is not "easy" despite opinions to the contrary, but it also isn't likely to lead to tragedy. Most families will struggle with financial and emotional issues as they separate into two households, change parenting styles or responsibilities, adjust schedules, deal with support and work issues and try to figure out "where to go from here." Grief, anger, bitterness, resentment, and even relief are all natural feelings which accompany divorce. These are feelings not just for the spouses, but their children as well.

Divorce isn't just a legal issue, and compassionate family law attorneys will acknowledge that by providing suggestions to clients of external resources to address the financial and emotional issues. The traditional litigation divorce model is only one path to dissolve your marriage, and for many families, alternatives to litigation such as collaborative law or mediation are better options to reduce the impact of the divorce on the spouses and children. Prospective divorce clients are usually operating from two different emotional positions - one is proactive, a spouse who for a number of reasons meets with an attorney for a general consultation to possibly discuss divorce, but isn't ready to initiate proceedings. The other is in reactionary mode because the other spouse has filed for divorce or perhaps has committed infidelity causing a strong emotional response often motivated by retaliation. In either situation, you can benefit from planning and researching how to discuss divorce with your children. Your advance preparation can help you avoid involving them in an adult situation, and minimize the emotional impact as you guide them through the transition.

JHDJ Law Coordinates Legal Program for Girl Scouts of Central Indiana

April 7, 2011

Members of JHDJ Law spearheaded a joint effort with the Indiana State Bar Association's Women in the Law Committee inaugural entitled "Lady Justice" on Saturday, March 26. The event was an educational program for the Girl Scouts of Central Indiana and took place at Indiana University School of Law - Indianapolis with the help of 15 volunteer attorneys and judges.

Seventy-five Girl Scouts in third, fourth, and fifth grades participated in the program, with 23 troop leaders and parents. The

Scouts completed projects, listened to a panel discussion, shared lunch and watched a mock trial. Their participation will culminate in the Scouts earning a "Lady Justice" badge.

One of the projects combined jewelry-making with a lesson in civil rights. Each bead used to make a bracelet represented a civil right, such as the right to counsel in criminal matters. The second activity focused on setting goals and making smart decisions, and involved the Scouts drawing pictures of themselves at age 15, 25, and 50. During this activity, the volunteer attorneys and judges explained to the girls how to prepare for college and a career in law.

The panel discussion offered an opportunity for the attorneys to share their perspectives on being a female in a male-dominated career field. Marion Superior Court Judge Cynthia Ayers shared her experience of becoming a judge and the Scouts were encouraged to ask questions about the challenges of a legal career.

After lunch with the volunteers, the Scouts witnessed a mock trial for the Big Bad Wolf. The script for the mock trial was written by Jocham Harden Dimick Jackson attorney/mediator, Holly Wanzer, who is also a Girl Scout troop leader. Another member of JHDJ Law, Clarissa Finnell also volunteered. Organizers of the event noted that the firm's founding partner, attorney/mediator Stephenie Jocham, originally suggested the idea of creating the event.

Volunteers pointed out that while the event focused on fun activities, the subject matter was taken seriously and respectfully.

"We didn't want to dumb this down for the girls," said Marion Superior Magistrate Vickie Ransberger, one of the organizers of the event. "They're a lot more knowledgeable than some people might give them credit for. They care. They think about things that are important to them."

Organizers suggested that the event could be replicated for Girl Scouts troops throughout Indiana and the country. Organizers worked closely with Girl Scouts administration to make sure qualifications merited a badge.

While the Lady Justice program is not the only law-related badge for Girl Scouts, it is the only one geared toward female-centric issues in the law and designed to encourage careers in the legal field.