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.”