WHERE DO I START?
I have heard countless stories of clients telling me that the first thing they've done is to hire an attorney. At that moment, they're usually interviewing me as a potential divorce coach or mediator. My next question is to probe a bit about their process, and they reveal that their choice was about not knowing what else to do, saying "that's what people do, they hire a lawyer".
There is a better way to start your process. Simply put, find a divorce professional, an attorney or otherwise, who is involved in collaborative divorce, mediation, and who understands litigation and its limits, who is willing to talk with you about what divorce involves legally, and what it demands of you. Discover your options and the elements that each option entails. What will each approach require of you and how could it impact your outcomes for better and worse. How does each approach affect the timeline from beginning to end, how will the costs be affected ? A divorce professional will not have all the answers, because your choices along the way impact the process. That professional will help you understand what questions you need to ask and answer for yourself BEFORE you decide what kind of lawyer to work with. An empowered approach to any process will impact your commitment to finding the best outcomes.
Divorce Consultation & Practice
For clients who have determined that they will divorce, consultation about the options that exist in Illinois prior to engaging legal counsel is essential. Each option has advantages and implications based on the needs and goals of your family. Meeting with a qualified professional divorce practitioner who can educate and help you explore the options at hand can be a valuable and eye-opening experience. Knowing that the different approaches to divorce each have strengths and disadvantages can help orient a client to the value of their choices. This is especially important at a time when the stress of divorcing leaves some people feeling that they have little control.
When either party in a divorce feel that their interests will not be accurately represented, or that their counterpart cannot be trusted (whether true or perceived) then litigation might be a necessary course of action. Litigation relies on the authority of the legal system, and the process is limited by the court calendar and requirements that documents, motions, and petitions are filed and reviewed. Once the petition is filed, your case becomes a searchable part of the public record and you will be subject to fees and court costs as you meet the requirements of the court and the court calendar. Attorneys will have to respond to motions and report to the judge assigned your case on a regular schedule as determined by the judge. Litigation seeks to protect the individual client and their interests in a win-lose model. Your decisions are made by the Judge on your case rather than you and your spouse.
Kitchen Table Divorce- Pro Se (DO IT YOURSELF-REPRESENT YOURSELF)
Some Clients feel they are able to represent themselves in court, and make their case in front of a judge in Court. When clients make this decision, they may seek legal consult about the procedural and process elements in seeking a pro se divorce, but they actually represent their own interests and appear in front of the judge on their own.
No matter your process, if there are resolutions that you and your spouse agree to uphold, then documenting these agreements and informing your attorneys to that effect is always an option. Remember that this is your divorce not your attorney's- it's important that you understand what is happening and why, and to ask questions when you don't understand something that comes up in your case.
Alternative Consensual Dispute Resolution models
When clients feel that they have a good capacity for working together to resolve conflicts, a mediator can facilitate the divorce process and assure that all the necessary topics are addressed to satisfy the Illinois Court’s expectations, but within the confines of your settlement meetings. The mediator is neutral and does not offer legal counsel or advice. A mediator may be an attorney or mental health professional or Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) who has expertise in the divorce process. You will require at least one attorney to help you draft the necessary documents to secure your divorce. Attorney mediators cannot serve as legal counsel in a mediation process. In Illinois, mediators advise that each spouse seek expert legal counsel to review their agreements and explain their rights and obligations under Illinois Law.
Mediators may elect to work with other professionals who can serve the specific interests of the parties. For example, it can be common that a certified divorce financial analyst (CDFA) would be brought to work in a mediation to facilitate the financial aspects of a marital settlement agreement (MSA). Their expertise assures that the parties are able to fully understand the implications of their choices from a financial expert.
Some parties elect to conduct attorney-assisted mediation, when they feel that negotiation is possible, but they want the support of their attorney to assure that they are making the best decisions possible. Assuring that the clients both have attorneys who are trained in alternative dispute resolution is essential to the best possible outcomes.
Collaborative Divorce Practice
Collaborative divorce involves lawyers with specific expertise in interest-based negotiation, divorce coaches and child specialists who are mental health professionals with advanced training in mediation and the collaborative divorce model and financial experts equally trained to help clients develop an out-of-court* agreement that retains your privacy and respects the individual particularities of your family. This model helps parents develop agreements based on their own needs and interests, as parents, in financial matters, and uses the process as a venue for exploring issues and decisions about the future in a very thoughtful and mutually respectful manner. Collaborative Divorce is the most thorough process at helping clients prepare for an uncertain future and;
· Promotes open communication between the parents
· Encourages mutual respect and understanding
· Prevents court battles that inflame different viewpoints
· Protects the privacy of the family and business interests
· Educates parents to develop a co-parenting process with improved communication and agreed procedures that support the realities of children living with consistency in two households. In this context, they can develop a healthy respect for parents' differences, and focus on maintaining loving relationships with each parent without fear of betraying loyalties toward either parent.
This process strives to engage clients in real-time reality-testing about their proposed options so that the likelihood of having unresolved future post-decree battles is significantly reduced.
*After all the negotiations have been agreed to and memorialized in contracts between the parties, the attorneys file a case in court and present the agreements for review and approval of the court.
Collaboration allows parties to mitigate the costs of experts and professional fees because services are not duplicated, and nor do they occur in a vacuum. For example, should a divorce require a business valuation, the parties can agree to using one expert vlauation, as opposed to two separate costly valuations that will be hotly contested by the "other" party should they not agree to the outcomes. In this manner, careful planning and collaboration can work to the family's overall advantage, and helps the parties establish agreements with a greater degree of certainty and "buy in" as they co-created the outcome.
This brief overview is not a comprehensive detailing of the collaborative process. Feel free to call to set a time to talk about this in greater detail.