Family law disputes do not involve legal issues alone. In fact, the emotional, financial and child development issues can often be more complex and more critical than the legal issues involved. Clients are generally best served when all of these needs are addressed by professionals in these fields. As a result, Collaborative Practice has evolved into a “team concept” in which attorneys, financial professionals and mental health professionals often work together to help their clients achieve the best possible outcome for their situation.
Collaborative Team Members
Legal Counsel: Though Collaborative Practice seeks to avoid going to court, the settlement is still a legal agreement. Therefore, it is essential that a lawyer be involved to advise you on all matters of law, from child custody and support to maintenance agreements to financial settlements and property distribution. Collaborative lawyers have made a commitment to the unique practice of the collaborative model.
Divorce Coach: A divorce coach helps you manage the pain and strain of changing relationships, while focusing on goals for the present and the future. Working with you to make the most of your strengths, your divorce coach assists you in being at your best during the divorce process, then taking positive steps to a new life.
Financial Consultant: The divorce settlement will in part determine your financial well-being for many years to come. It is critical that it is soundly structured, especially if your spouse assumed more responsibility for your family’s finances. The guidance of a financial consultant will help protect your interests. Reviewing all assets and incomes, the financial consultant will assist you in developing viable financial options for your future. Evaluating the choices, you and your lawyer can then construct a comprehensive plan for the next stage of your life.
Child Specialist: A goal of Collaborative Practice is to assure that children are a priority, not a casualty. The child specialist, an individual skilled in understanding children, will meet with your children privately, assisting them in expressing their feelings and concerns about the divorce. Encouraging children to think creatively about the future, the child specialist then communicates their feelings, concerns, and hopes to the team to consider when planning for the children’s lives.
In some areas of North America, all Collaborative cases involve a full team of professionals, including two attorneys, a financial specialists, a child specialist (if there are children) and two coaches, (one for each party.) In other areas, including Minnesota, the team is assembled on an as-needed basis. Each member of the team is brought in when the situation arises.
Assembling a Collaborative Team
While we may strongly encourage our clients to use other Collaborative Professionals whose core competencies are better suited to handle certain aspects of the divorce transition, the decision rests with the clients as to whom they wish to invite to participate as a member of their individual divorce transition team. For example, when we recognize that our clients are spending a great deal of attorney time dealing with issues that are purely emotional, we may strongly suggest that they consider the use of a divorce coach, who will help them reduce the fees incurred in walking through the divorce transition by helping the client use the right tools at the right times. While intuitively many people think the use of a financial neutral may be an extra expense only the rich can afford, we urge our clients to consider using Collaborative Financial Neutrals to help reduce fees by using the professionals who are trained to help them find creative solutions to the financial issues that lawyers are not trained to find. Similarly, we encourage our clients who have children to use a child specialist who can help them understand the developmental issues of the children so that they can customize a parenting plan that will take into account the needs of the children as well as the desires of the parents.