Family law cases present some of the most complicated and emotional problems people face. Whether it involves your children, your property, or your business, in few other areas of law will the parties to a lawsuit bring such an intimate knowledge of each other to the task of dispute resolution. And if you share children, in few other areas of law will you have such an important ongoing relationship with each other after the lawsuit is completed.
We are uniquely equipped to address the sensitive issues involving people and their families because we offer competencies in both the courtroom and at the negotiating table. We understand that often our clients will need to consider all their options for resolving their case, from an amicable approach involving open information sharing and anticipated agreements to requesting that the court or a jury decide some or all of their disputed issues. The ultimate goal is to maximize the legal process to meet your needs and concerns.
These are some of the approaches that might be appropriate to consider:
Information Sharing; The parties might choose to informally gather and share information concerning their assets, liabilities, income and expenses in order to save legal costs associated with these tasks. If one spouse is unfamiliar with the family’s finances, it may be appropriate to meet with a financial advisor such as a CPA or asset manager to discuss the nature and extent of the marital estate, expectations for post-divorce living arrangements, and approaches to meet the parties’ and children’s needs.
Parenting Coordination: Parents and children both may be anxious about how their lives will be affected by a divorce, or about how post-divorce conflicts are affecting their ability to function. Some counselors are experienced in dealing with these kinds of family dynamics, and the parents may wish to consult with such a parenting coordinator to talk about the problems and help develop procedures for resolving the issues.
Formal Discovery: The rules for compelling production of information and documents might be appropriate invoked in cases where information is not available to both parties, where a party is uncertain about important aspects of their estate or the conduct of the other party, where communication is strained, or where it appears that a trial is likely. While these formal procedures are often costly, they can also be helpful to the process of articulating each side’s positions and preparing the parties for settlement discussions.
Temporary Orders: Sometimes during the pendency of their case, the parties need help resolving interim issues such as conservatorship or possession issues, child or spousal support, use and management of property, occupancy of a residence, payment of bills, scheduling the case, and requiring information to be exchanged. Either party may set a hearing before the court to request temporary orders addressing such issues.
Attorney-Guided Settlement Procedures: Sometimes the parties are able to gather the information, present issues and options, resolve their issues and document their agreements through communications between their lawyers. We have found this approach to be very effective in cases where the parties share the objective of minimizing their legal costs.
Mediation is a process that involves the parties and their counsel meeting with an attorney mediator to discuss and hopefully document a settlement agreement. A mediation can be scheduled early in the case if the parties have adequate information on which to base an informed decision about settlement, or it may follow a more thorough informal or formal discovery process. In some cases, the parties may schedule more than one mediations in an effort to resolve all their issues.
Arbitration is an alternative to trail in that both sides present their case for decision to a third party, but the arbitrator is a neutral attorney rather than an elected judge. The arbitration results in a final binding decision by the arbitrator, and is usually not appealable.
Trial may be necessary if the parties dispute characterization or value of property, if there are issues of hiding or wasting of assets or reimbursement, if a fair property division agreement cannot be made, in cases of abuse or neglect, in child custody or relocation disputes, or simply if the parties are unable to reach agreements. If a party requests a jury, then the jury may decide some issues, but the court will also decide ultimate issues such as the property division and issues involving the possession and support of children.
Appeal: In a few cases following a litigated final order, one or both parties may wish to seek a higher court review of perceived error in the court’s orders.
Collaborative Law is a formal, statutory process where the parties enter into a contract to work together without going to court. It involves a series of meetings between the parties and their attorneys, and generally with other neutrals such as financial advisors and counselors, designed to gather information, explore options, and devise solutions for meeting both parties’ needs without resorting to court intervention. The parties continue the process until they reach a final agreement or until one party determines that they are at an impasse. The parties’ counsel may not serve as litigation counsel except to ask the court to approve the settlement agreement. If the parties cannot reach an agreement and an impasse is declared, then both parties must fire their lawyers and hire new counsel to finalize their divorce.