By: Mary Ellen Flynn
Instead of fighting your way to a separation or a divorce through a contested court case with likely depositions, subpoenas, motions hearings, multi-day trials, and the possibility of having a spouse empty the bank account, close a credit card, or fight with you in front of the children—there is a better way: collaborative law.
What Is Collaborative Family Law?
During the collaborative law process, you and your spouse, with each of your attorneys advising you, will sit down in a conference room and decide what issues need to be addressed in your situation, in what order is best to handle them, and how can you best obtain and review the information and documentation needed to come to a decision that is good for you and your family.
To begin the collaborative law process, you and your lawyers must sign a “Participation Agreement” that requires, among other sensible provisions, that everyone acts civilly and maintains the current situation as to their finances and the children until interim or permanent agreements are reached by you.
Often times, partial agreements are reached at various points of the collaborative process, allowing you to move forward in some areas while still discussing other decisions that will take longer or require research to complete. Additionally, instead of each of you hiring your own professionals, such as tax preparers and mortgage brokers, you will hire neutral professionals together who will honestly and without any bias tell you the best way to handle the issue being addressed. This can include information on filing your taxes jointly or separately while still married or how best to sell or keep your home while providing housing for both of you that meets your personal needs, those of your children, and those of your financial circumstances.
How Collaborative Law Puts Your Children First
An important professional that is often jointly hired in the collaborative law process by spouses with minor children is a “Parenting Coordinator.” The Parenting Coordinator helps you decide when and how the two of you will tell the children about the break-up, as well as assist you in creating a shared access schedule that is in the best interests of the children. By putting your children first in these decisions, you’re giving them the foundation and security they need to flourish.
Through the collaborative law process, you and your spouse are the ones to say what questions need to be answered and what decisions need to be made—not the court. You and your spouse will decide who should move out of the home and when—not a judge. The two of you might even decide to do something that a court could never do but you know is best for your children. An example includes maintaining the family home as the place the children will always live with the two of you taking turns staying there (known as “nesting”) either for a short while or longer until a certain goal is reached (let’s say until the children are done with high school) or agreeing on how to pay for the costs of your child’s college education or wedding. Again, the decision is based on what you and your spouse decide is best for your children, and you’re not limited to what only judges may do.
Although sitting at a conference room table with your estranged spouse can be difficult and painful, it is often better than having a court, who doesn’t know your family personally, make decisions for you. As parents, you owe it to your children to get beyond your anger, distrust, or whatever other emotions you’re experiencing in your present relationship with your spouse to learn to civilly communicate with one another to discuss and make decisions in the best interests of your family. You may soon be separated and divorced from your spouse, but for the sake of the children, you need to have a good relationship with their other parent.
It is best for your children, whether they are young, teenagers, young adults, or even parents themselves, for you and your former spouse to be able to communicate, work together, and be comfortable while in the same room. The collaborative law process is the surest way of making this possible—you owe it to your children.
Your Collaborative Family Law Attorney in Maryland
If you are considering a separation or divorce in Maryland, whether you have children or you don’t, you should certainly consider and learn about collaborative family law. To do so, visit our collaborative law page, and call 301-563-6685 or send me an email to schedule a consultation and discuss how the collaborative law process can work for you.