When one or both spouses decide that the marriage has ended, it is imperative that a peaceful tone is set from the very beginning if settlement is the goal. In my opinion, when a client retains a collaborative lawyer for a potential collaborative case and the other spouse does not have an attorney, it is the duty of the collaborative lawyer to reach out to the other spouse and offer the collaborative process and some web sites that may be helpful to educate themselves on the process. This must be done before the Petition is filed. If the Petition is filed first, positions are set forth on the Petition and the Responding spouse may react with the fight or flight reaction. Frequently when the other spouse is served with a Petition, they become afraid, angry and confused. Our job as collaborative professionals is to attempt to alleviate those feelings right off the bat. Generally speaking, the Petition should not be filed until it is determined whether the case will indeed be collaborative or a different process.
Personally, I write an amicable letter to the other spouse explaining the collaborative process in a concise nutshell, and I offer the names of peacemaking lawyers to consult with. Note that not all lawyers in collaborative groups are peacemakers at heart and many of these group members are still cutthroat, bulldog litigators.
Most importantly, filing the Petition before making attempts with the other spouse to choose the collaborative process can destroy any chances of the case being collaborative. So if you hire a collaborative lawyer in the hopes of using this process, make sure that your attorney has reached out to the other person in a friendly manner to give the other spouse a chance to research the process and interview some collaborative professionals before filing a Petition.
If you do not hire a frequently trained collaborative professional, then they may not have made the change in their attitude from bulldog litigator to peacemaking collaborative teammate. This too can prevent the case from being amicable and end up costing tens of thousands more in attorneys’ fees. From my experience, many bulldog litigators do not have the ability to work on a peaceful team due to their desire to fight to win, rather than defuse the situation and do what is best for the entire family.
For more information, schedule an initial consultation with Leslie K. Howell by calling 626-351-1200.