Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Good Faith Use of Collaborative Process

Lately, I've been hearing family law litigators and forensic accountants saying that collaborative divorce doesn't work because one party may enter into the process for the purpose of learning the other sides' strategy and it's easy to drag out a case until the other side gives up and remove the case from collaborative process to litigate.

First, there are a few disingenuous people in every kind divorce process, be it collaborative, mediation or litigation. However, if the professional team is trained, transparent and communicate with each other, hopefully we can determine that there is a bad apple quickly and either guide them to being transparent, or close out the collaborative case to minimize the manipulation by the bad apple.

Second, collaborative divorce includes something that litigators have an extremely difficult time with; refraining from taking positions or planning strategies. We work hard to "de-position" the clients in collaborative divorce. It is critical that everyone keeps an open mind. Once the information has been gathered by the neutral financial specialist, and she or he creates some scenarios to consider for settlement, then the team can brainstorm with an open mind and discuss solutions best for that family. Collaborative lawyers need to avoid the pitfall of getting stuck in mere law. Families are far too important to force them into the limited rules of law and deprive them of creative, thoughtful, real life solutions.

For more information, contact Amicable Divorce Services for a free consultation: 626-351-1200.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

What is Collaborative Divorce - Part 4

The lawyers (who MUST be collaboratively trained) draft documents as needed and are there to make sure the client can make informed decisions. We're not there to argue the law. In fact, the law is the lowest point of interest in collaborative divorce. What we care about is the values and interest of each family member and what solutions would work best on a case-by-case basis. After meeting with the client, the divorce coaches tell the lawyers what the clients' values and interests are.

The divorce coaches (who must be licensed therapists and also trained in the collaborative process) work with the clients on communication, emotions and co-parenting. This is a key component of the collaborative process. Without open communication, the process cannot work. Without co-parenting to support the children (even adult children), the kids may be set up for failure, guilt and fear... for their entire lives.

The financial specialist is like a neutral mediator who gathers the financial information, discusses this information with the team, educates the clients, and leads the team meetings. We rely heavily on the neutral financial specialist which saves the clients tons of money. Rather than paying 2 attorneys and 2 forensic accountants to fight over your money and property, you have one neutral doing all of the work with you and creating scenarios that may solve all of the short and long-term financial concerns.

Collaborative divorce is the opposite of the cookie cutter, litigation process. We put the clients' real needs above everything else.

For more information, schedule a free initial consultation with Leslie Howell (626) 351-1200.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Dabbling Versus Focusing

A question I am sometimes asked is whether a civil or criminal attorney is appropriate to represent clients in family law matters. Sometimes you see an attorney's website with a long list of kinds of law she or he practices. It's personal opinion, but I wouldn't want an attorney who dabbles in family law to be involved in my divorce. And if I have a run in with law enforcement, I certainly wouldn't want an estate planning attorney to represent me any more than I'd want a heart surgeon to operate on my brain.

Typically, you want someone who focuses on one field of law to represent you in whatever matter you're dealing with. There are a few exceptions. I know very few attorneys who handle each crossover matter well and I believe that the key is how thin they spread themselves.

Leslie Howell practices family law only. Call for a free initial consultation to learn about your options for divorce. (626) 351-1200

Thursday, April 30, 2015

What is Collaborative Divorce? Part 3

What are the roles of the collaborative professionals? The roles of the professional team members are different than in litigation. Let me compare litigation with collaborative divorce.

In divorce litigation, the lawyer often takes on many roles: litigator who will fight for you, argue the law for you, strategize with you, hold your hand, give you tough love, calculate your budget in terms of child support and spousal support, and characterize and divide your assets and debts. If we have you hire other professionals, we tell them what their job is and what to do in each case. For instance, we tell the forensic accountant what issues to work on and what the client's position is. We also prefer a psychologist who will favor our client to help win the case.

Collaborative divorce is vastly different. Each professional on the team handles her or his own job without direction from anyone else. For instance, while the collaborative lawyers may know about some of the clients' financial concerns, we do not fill the clients' heads with strategies or positions. On the contrary. We do our best to remove any positioning our clients may have so they are able to have an open mind. There is no talk of "50/50 custody" and advising your client to remain unemployed so that he or she can get all of the spousal support they can possibly get. There is no talk about spending more time with the children in order to pay less child support. These are legal positions. Instead, we all aim to keep an open mind and gather all kinds of information to begin brainstorming on solutions that will address each family member's concerns. We work together as a team to restructure the family and make it as successful as possible in the long term.

More on the roles of the collaborative professionals in Part 4, by Leslie Howell of Amicable Divorces Services. (626) 351-1200.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

What is Collaborative Divorce? Part 2

The most expensive part of the collaborative process is retaining your professional team. It helps if you compare collaborative divorce to litigation:

In litigation (when you're going to go to court), each party pays their respective attorneys a retainer fee before the attorney commences work on the case. Litigation retainer fees range from $3,500 to $10,000 on average in the Pasadena area. Of course you might be able to scrape up an attorney to represent you as your attorney of record for $2,500 or $3,000, and you can certainly find Westside attorneys who charge upwards of $50,000 retainers. (See our blog "What is a Retainer Fee")  These retainers are replenished over and over throughout your case until years later when your case is finally finished. Some clients replenish their retainers every month.

In a collaborative divorce, you pay each lawyer a retainer, ranging from $2,500 to $7,500 in the Pasadena area. These retainer amounts depend on the complexity of the case, and how much attention a client may require. These are factors that lawyers may be are evaluating during your consultation. As long as the retainer is reasonable sufficient (not too low), the collaborative retainer is not likely to run out too quickly like it does in litigation. Keep in mind that you also pay your 2 divorce coaches and 1 financial specialist a retainer fee so there are a total of 5 or more retainer fees. Sometimes retainers may need to be replenished but certainly not as often as in litigated cases.

In the end, an average litigated case will cost somewhere between $20,000 and $100,00 PER PERSON from beginning to end. Cases involving high income earners or trust beneficiaries will cost far more than this. Collaborative divorces usually cost between $15,000 and $35,000 total for the entire family. Again, if it is a complex case or emotions run extremely high it can cost well over $35,000 but will still cost a fraction of that same case if it were litigated.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of this series....

...or contact Leslie Howell now for a free initial consultation to learn more. (626) 351-1200

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Kids Don't Always Bounce Back - Parents Must Prevent Damage BEFORE It's Done

Have you ever heard a friend or acquaintance talk about how they are a product of divorce and that their parents' custody battle destroyed their childhood and major events of their adulthood? And that they're still working on resolving issues surrounding their parents' divorce? Jason Mraz has a great song that describes one man's feelings on the subject: "Love For a Child." I know many adults who still carry the pain and resentment for the way their parents handled their divorce.

Parents have a duty to protect their children during a divorce. And if the kids (even adult kids) are hurting from one parent, the answer for the "in" parent is not to make it worse and buddy up to the kids. The answer is for BOTH parents to work together with their kids. How?

That's what child specialists are for - to work together with parents to do what's in the KIDS' best interest. Too many parents don't put their kids first and rationalize that since the other parent failed by breaking up the family and the kids don't like that other parent, that "I'll support the kids" to alienate her/him. Wrong! And if you're attorney doesn't insist that your client work it out with a child specialist and leave the kids to fend for themselves along with two parents who are winging it, shame on all of the adults.

You can expect the parents to show up at their kids' weddings years later and ruin that too, with the tension and even worse behavior. Instead, love your children and put them first - don't drag them through a custody battle.

For more information on using a child specialist during and after divorce, contact Leslie Howell at (626) 351-1200. Read also articles by Mark Baer, Esq. on this issue.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

What is a Retainer Fee?

Family law attorneys who go to court require an initial retainer fee somewhere between $3,000 and $50,000 (usually depending on the location of the law office) before they will do any work. Once we receive an initial retainer, that money is deposited into an attorney-client trust account that can be monitored or audited by the State Bar of California. In fact, the interest paid on the funds in that trust account automatically goes to the State Bar.

As we attorneys work on your court case, we get paid for our time out of that trust account. When the retainer is close to being depleted, the retainer fee must be replenished. The clients replenish the retainer as many times as it takes to complete the court case. Some clients replenish their retainers monthly or more often if their case is being heavily litigated. Remember, court appearances are costly for both sides.

But know that if the case is settled and there is an unearned credit balance at the conclusion of the case (after the judgment is signed by the judge), that credit balance must be refunded to the client or it can remain in the trust account to go toward post-judgment issues or modifications.

However, if you proceed with your divorce amicably, retainer fees range from zero to a fraction of a retainer that would be required for a court case. Mediation and collaborative divorce cases are substantial money savers.

For more information, call Leslie Howell at 626-351-1200 for a free initial consultation.