New York Collaborative Law Divorce
Many matrimonial and family law attorneys recognize the wisdom and practicality of the Collaborative Law method, which gives the spouses greater control over the outcome, may be less time consuming, and protects the children from the emotional damage of the high-conflict divorce. Ellen Holtzman, a leading matrimonial trial lawyer in New York, was one of Rockland County's earliest proponents of Collaborative Law divorce and has offered the option to her clients for many years. Both Ellen and Meryl Neuren, Ellen's experienced associate, have extensive training and experience in the Collaborative Law process. Ellen and Meryl have helped many clients navigate this difficult life transition in a less stressful, more constructive way.
What exactly is Collaborative Law Divorce?
The Collaborative Divorce method, also known as Collaborative Practice, Collaborative Law, and Collaborative Family Law, helps divorcing couples to dissolve their marriage without going to court. Each spouse is represented by a specially trained family lawyer who is experienced in using problem-solving strategies to resolve family law issues. Your lawyer is committed to understanding your goals and protecting your interests as you work together with your spouse and his or her lawyer to resolve the issues and negotiate a settlement agreement. Since the process is non-adversarial, collaborative divorce provides a safe way to reduce conflict and minimize the impact on you and your children. In cases where children are involved, the process keeps their interests as a top priority.
How does it work?
Collaborative Divorce is not for everyone. It works when both spouses choose to commit to the process of collaboration and working toward a reasonable resolution to the complexities of divorce. The lawyers in the collaborative process assist the parties by using cooperative strategies rather than adversarial techniques. The couple agrees to exchange all financial information voluntarily, including all of their assets and debts. The initial step is for each party to meet alone with his or her attorney, first to understand the law in New York and then to discuss their views about the issues that need to be resolved and communicate their goals for the settlement agreement. Then the spouses begin meeting together with their lawyers to work out and resolve the issues. At these meetings, which are called four ways or joint meetings, the attorneys share the process of taking and preparing the minutes, which are then reviewed by everyone and, if necessary, amended so that they accurately reflect the discussions, terms to which everyone agrees, remaining unresolved issues and the agenda for the next meeting.
How often do the four-way meetings take place?
This can vary according to the clients' needs, but usually every two or three weeks.
What happens at the first four-way meeting?
The attorneys generally take the lead and review procedures. The Collaborative Process Agreement is reviewed, any questions about it are answered, and that agreement is signed. The ground rules for the four way meetings are reviewed and signed. As per the Collaborative Process Agreement, the spouses are in charge of the decisions that will be used to create the final divorce agreement. The issues that need to be resolved are reviewed, homework may be given, and two or three subsequent meeting dates may be set. The lawyers' goal is to establish a trusting, non-adversarial environment. You can expect the attorneys to help you through the agenda. During the first meeting, you and your spouse will be encouraged to discuss the issues that need to be resolved and your needs with respect to those issues.
What if the spouses are still angry with each other?
This is not unusual. There is no pain-free way to end a marriage, and the collaborative process won't make the anger go away. But it is designed to create a safe place to discuss each spouse's needs and the needs and futures of the children. Collaborative divorce lawyers are trained to help the parties focus on looking forward rather than backward. They know very well that feeling scared, sad, angry, betrayed or guilty is part of the emotional landscape in almost every divorce. They also know that for collaborative divorce to be a realistic option, the spouses do need to be willing to commit to putting those feelings aside as much as possible. They encourage focus on what is best for the children. You can be angry and distrustful yet still understand that the collaborative process is the most reasonable way to work things out. This does not mean that anyone will expect either of you to work out all of the issues immediately. It's called a process for a reason, and it does take some time. Collaborative attorney Meryl Neuren says, "If you go to trial, you give control of your lives and your children's lives to the Judge. In Collaborative divorce, you keep control, you make the decisions, and you ultimately agree on a fair and equitable settlement. Hurt and anger can still exist, but you are both able to sit down in the same room and, guided by the lawyers on the issues, work things out as adults. If you have children, you both have chosen to put the well-being of the children first. Your attorneys are specially trained to help you problem-solve. They will guide the discussion of the issues and move the process forward in a peaceful and respectful manner."
How is the threat of Court taken out of the picture?
The collaborative law divorce process ends if either spouse decides to pursue litigation. Before any work starts, both spouses and both attorneys sign an agreement that they will work to negotiate the issues and will not go to court. The "no court" agreement requires both of the lawyers to withdraw from the case if a settlement cannot be reached. They cannot represent either of you if you decide to go to court, nor can they testify about anything that may or may not have been said in your four ways. The existence of this agreement has the effect of keeping all the participants on track to reach a durable, fair, and mutually agreed upon settlement. The collaborative attorneys keep the focus on the issues and work to build and maintain an atmosphere of respect and cooperation.
How many times will we have to meet with the lawyers?
It depends on your situation, on how many specific issues need to be worked out, whether there are children, and on the progress that is made at each meeting. The issues may include the marital home, child support, time with the children, how decisions about the children's health and education will be made, financial support, pensions, tax issues, health insurance, property issues such as business interests, bank accounts, investment accounts, cars, boats, vacation homes, time shares, IRA's, etc.
Will we need help from finance or tax experts?
You may. Financial experts, also known as financial neutrals since they are there to assist both sides resolve the issues, are often involved and they can be an invaluable help. In Collaborative law divorce, one neutral advisor acceptable to both parties can save money and guide you toward good financial decisions. The financial advisor can give you the information you need to make the best decisions. They can help you see and plan the road ahead.
What happens if one of the spouses is dishonest in some way?
Withholding relevant information or using the process to gain unfair advantage violates the contract that was signed at the first meeting. The process is terminated.
What if the children are reacting badly to the divorce?
Children can experience tremendous stress and emotional challenges during a divorce or separation. Collaborative divorce teams call on neutral child specialists or neutral therapists and consultants as needed to assist the parents in helping the children move through these stressful times. The goal is always to reach a resolution designed to meet the best interests of the children.
Will the Court recognize the terms of the Collaborative Divorce?
Yes. An agreement reached through the Collaborative Law process is binding. It is a contract between the parties and, once signed by the parties and properly notarized, it is an enforceable contract and will be recognized by the courts. When the agreement is submitted to the Court as part of the Judgment of Divorce, it will be reviewed by the Court to be certain that it conforms to the Laws of the State of New York. If it does, the terms of the agreement will be binding on the parties.
Is the agreement a matter of public record?
No. All divorce records are sealed, no matter what process is utilized. Only the parties and their attorneys can access the file.
I want to learn more. Where do I start?
If you think Collaborative Divorce may be right for you, call the Law Office of Ellen Holtzman to set up a consultation. Ellen and Meryl are specially trained and both have extensive experience in the area of Collaborative Law Divorce. You can reach Ellen's offices at 845-627-0127.