Group Offers Alternative Divorce Process

[dcs_p]After 26 years of marriage, Dale Leblang’s marriage was coming to an end. The Boca Raton man and his wife wanted to find a way to end their union as quickly and civilly as possible. Acting on a recommendation from a friend, they turned to a process known as collaborative divorce and they had their divorce agreement just six weeks later.

“Even though divorce is a very stressful situation, by doing it this way, it could be done much quicker, much cheaper and with much less stress,” Leblang said.

Though the collaborative process has been around for some time in Europe, Australia, Canada and parts of the United States, it is just now gaining a following in Florida, thanks in part to the Collaborative Family Lawyers of South Florida.

Created 10 years ago and incorporated in 2001, Collaborative Family Lawyers is a network of 40 Broward County lawyers plus 40 financial and mental health professionals trained in collaboration as an alternative to traditional litigation. All negotiations are done outside of the courtroom.

“It is very private and confidential,” said attorney Enid Ponn, one of the founding members, who is with the law firm Miller & Ponn in Weston.

Without traditional and often messy litigation, the collaborative process is a fraction of the usual cost.

Each side must come to the table, ready and willing to work out an agreement. They must each be represented by their own attorney, Ponn said.

Psychologists and CPAs are brought in to help work out financial and child care issues to avoid a trip to court. Depending on the complexity of a divorce, an agreement can sometimes be reached after only one to two meetings. If an agreement can’t be reached, the lawyers involved must withdraw.

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Now That You Have Decided to Get Divorced, Choose the Collaborative Process

By Enid Ponn

Breaking up a family is extremely sad. Add to that the devastating nature of the divorce process itself, and the result is a traumatic and destructive event. Unfortunately, in litigation, the “event” can take a year or two to conclude.

During this time, your life is not your own. You attend depositions, hearings, conferences, mediations, appointments to prepare for trial and and the trial itself. Time away from work and the loss of productivity is just one of the costs paid by those involved in divorce litigation. The negative impact on the children is often irreparable. Conflict resulting from heightened family discord, not the divorce itself that has the potential to cause emotional distress.

If the prospect of litigation does not attract you, but your marriage is irretrievably broken, there is some good news. You can partake in an alternate process to acquire your divorce called collaborative divorce or the collaborative process.

Spouses still have their own attorneys, but rather than each paying a pit bull lawyer to spar in court, the couple and attorneys agree to work together every step of the way to create a specially customized plan for each family. Collaborative attorneys are specially trained in this process and sign written Participation Agreement which states that if the case does not settle, they will not litigate the case, but will withdraw as counsel. Their only focus and motivation is to resolve the issues out of court in this non-adversarial, streamlined process which is based on open and constructive communication, not confrontation. If they cannot settle the case, they are out of a job.

Recently, collaborative divorce attorney are working with a financial professional and a mental health professional as part of an interdisciplinary team, all of whom have been trained in the collaborative process. Issues are resolved through a series of meetings: the process is client-driven: the couple makes their own decisions about their assets and about their children. No decisions are imposed upon them by a judge. A successful collaborative case spare children the anguish of parents who fight forever.

Celebrities such as Robin Williams and Roy Disney have chosen the collaborative process to get their divorces. With collaborative divorce, there is no need to step into a court room until the final paperwork is filed, providing the couples with a degree of privacy and confidentiality not possible in litigation.

Mediation was once thought to be merely an experiment that would not last and is now a permanent part of our legal system. Collaborative family law is destined to be the way of handling divorces in the future. In the last decade the collaborative process was introduced to Florida and we now see that it is finally taking off. After all, who would not choose an alternative that is healthier for everyone, less time consuming and less expensive?

Cameron Crowe, Nancy Wilson Divorcing

Director Cameron Crowe and his wife, Nancy Wilson, filed divorce papers this week in Los Angeles. Wilson, a member of the rock band Heart since 1974, technically filed the divorce petition (available at but it appears to be a collaborative divorce in which both parties have worked together to settle all related matters prior to filing in court.

Wilson, a singer and songwriter from the rock band Heart, filed divorce papers Thursday in L.A. County Superior Court, citing irreconcilable differences. She lists June 15, 2008, as the date of their separation.

Crowe and Wilson first met in 1982. That same year, she made a brief appearance in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, a film written by Crowe. (Crowe went on to write and direct movies like Say Anything, Singles, Jerry Maguire, and Almost Famous.) They married on July 23, 1986.

The couple have 10-year-old twin boys, William and Curtis. Crowe and Wilson have apparently agreed to joint physical and legal custody of the children. It also appears that they have agreed that Crowe will pay Wilson spousal support.

California’s Family Code, Section 2013 provides:

(a) If a written agreement is entered into by the parties, the parties may utilize a collaborative law process to resolve any matter governed by this code over which the court is granted jurisdiction.

(b) “Collaborative law process” means the process in which the parties and any professionals engaged by the parties to assist them agree in writing to use their best efforts and to make a good faith attempt to resolve disputes related to the family law matters as referenced in subdivision (a) on an agreed basis without resorting to adversary judicial intervention.

Our guess is that Wilson and Crowe, quite admirably and maturely, were able to spend the time since their separation discussing and mediating how best to handle the custody of their children and division of their substantial marital assets.

Almost all of Crowe’s film successes came after the couple was married – thus, making the proceeds of those efforts community property. Heart had tremendous success in the late ’70s, prior to the marriage. It is unknown though how the proceeds of early Heart hits compare to those that came in the late ’80s (during the marriage). Heart has continued to record and tour until today (they actually just released a new album which debuted at #10 on the Billboard album chart). Wilson also wrote and scored for the soundtracks to several of Crowe’s films.

All of that is to say that division of the couple’s marital assets could not have been a simple process. Kudos to them for engaging in the collaborative process and keeping it away from trial and out of the tabloids.

Library Topics: divorce, collaborative divorce, custody, spousal support, distribution of assets, marital property, community property, California family law

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Is There A ‘Minimally-Invasive’ Divorce?

Article from Huffington Post

Over the last 25 years, Americans have been on the cutting edge of advancements in disciplines such as medicine. 25 years ago, a back surgery required long hospital stays, metal plates, and months of recovery. Today, surgeons deliver “minimally-invasive” procedures that have folks in and out faster than a TSA security pat-down. So why do we still languish in the stone age when it comes to the law? More particularly, why do so many people still use rely on flint knives and bear skins when getting a divorce? The court system simply was never designed to resolve the increasingly complex dynamics of family conflict.

Even in bitter divorces, husbands and wives usually want to do the right thing. They just disagree about what the “right thing” is. But our judicial system, by its very nature, creates only two types of participants: winners and losers. That type of system usually serves the public interest well in matters of criminal acts and contract disputes. However, when dealing with the disintegration of a family unit, both participants have already lost before they ever step into the courtroom: Two people who once loved each other enough to get married in the first place have failed in their marriage. Their children are in turmoil, and their finances are strained, if not in complete ruin. And thanks in large measure to the law’s “one-court-fits-all” approach to divorce, the spouses often feel compelled to hire professional gladiators to annihilate the other person. Whether they actually wind up trying the case to a judge or jury, or settle on the courthouse steps, no one is spared the emotional or financial devastation of the experience.

Thankfully, today there is a minimally-invasive procedure that is revolutionizing the way couples dissolve their marriages. Collaborative Law is the 21st Century’s cutting-edge alternative method of resolving such disputes without the use of a judge, jury or even a courtroom. This unique approach allows the participants and their respective attorneys to meet privately and work through and resolve every detail of a divorce or family dispute quickly,cost-effectively and in a dignified manner.

The Collaborative Law model transcends traditional notions of mediation and actually represents a complete paradigm shift away from litigation. The threat of the courtroom is effectively eliminated at the very beginning, for the participants and their attorney sign a written contract, called a “Participation Agreement,” which serves both as a rule book governing the conduct of the participants and also as a commitment to keep the case out of the courtroom. Just imagine — lawyers that cannot go to court! And if either party later reneges on the agreement, the “damages” clause of the agreement requires that both attorneys withdraw from the case. While this might seem a strange notion, the contractual threat of kicking the lawyers off the case actually serves as the Super Glue that keeps the case moving forward collaboratively–even when the going gets tough.

The best evidence for the collaborative model’s success comes from those who have actually gone through it. Stuart Webb wrote in his book, The Collaborative Way to Divorce, that most couples who go through the Collaborative method instead of litigation come through the process satisfied with the results. Why? The answer is so simple that it masks the brilliance of the model: (i) Couples retain greater control over the outcome; (ii) the process is generally less expensive than going to court; and (iii) it better insulates the children from the collateral damage caused by divorce.

The results are coming in across the nation and even beyond our shores. People facing divorce are choosing Collaborative Law in increasing numbers and most have very positive things to say about the experience. Better still, most participants rarely need to file a subsequent enforcement action, since participants are usually more apt to follow rules that they themselves have created.

Collaborative Law isn’t a fit for every case. It’s not well-suited for cases involving substance abuse, domestic violence, or mental illness. Some also suggest that the Collaborative Law model cannot adequately deal with a party who is willing to lie or conceal matters of substance. On the other hand, as Pauline Tesler notes in her book, Collaborative Divorce, “Litigation doesn’t make a liar honest, cure an addict, or make an immature spouse grow up.”

Ultimately, the question divorcing couples must answer is this: Do you want a minimally-invasive divorce using the most advanced tools and procedures available today? Or, would you prefer to stick with the stone knives and bear skins?