Clients involved in the Collaborative Divorce Process participate in team meetings. At it’s most basic, team meetings include both clients and their respective attorneys. These are often referred to as “four way” team meetings. When the meeting agenda requires it, the parties may also add to the meeting a coach or facilitator, a child specialist, or a financial neutral. These individuals support the team in a variety of ways, but are often only part of the team meetings when their specific input is necessary to move the case forward. Each team meeting is approximately two hours long, which is generally enough time to make progress without emotionally exhausting the team members.
In terms of content, the Collaborative Team Meetings follow a predetermined agenda. The first part of the initial team meeting is designed to give the parties more information about the process. This includes an explanation of how the team will communicate, both in and out of meetings; the problem-solving methods followed in the Collaborative Divorce Process; and review of the Participation Agreement and Good Faith Commitment forms. Additionally, clients are encouraged to identify for the team why they chose the Collaborative Divorce Process and their goals for the process. Sometimes these goals are very general (“I want to go through this process in an amicable manner so we can continue to co-parent”) to very specific (“I want to keep the house”). Identifying the parties’ goals allows the team to set an agenda, address fears and concerns, and better understand each person’s motivations.
During the first meeting, the attorneys will ask the clients if there are any pressing financial or parenting issues that need to be addressed before the second meeting. This sometimes involves parties agreeing to continue current financial arrangements or living situations, until the team can meet again to address potential changes. The attorneys will also help the clients set an agenda for the next meeting, and identify homework tasks for each person of the team. All discussions, agreements, and homework assignments are captured by the attorneys in team Meeting Minutes, which are then shared with the entire team.
After the first meeting, the agenda for subsequent meetings is very case-specific. The team will ultimately address all issues in the remaining meetings — division of assets and liabilities, custody, parenting time, children’s expenses, child support, spousal support, and any other issues unique to an individual family. The idea is to reach full agreement on all issues, through a series of two-hour meetings.
Some couples are able to reach consensus quickly and only a few meetings are necessary. Other couples need more time to gather information, process, and negotiate. The pace of the Collaborative Divorce Process is client-driven and the attorneys will accommodate the clients and their needs, while offering support to make the process as efficient as possible. Throughout the team meetings, the attorneys provide legal education to the team while offering creative solutions to various challenges.
The team meeting approach is unique to the Collaborative Divorce Process. While group settlement negotiations are not unusual in divorces, the supportive team environment is not the norm.
For more information about the Collaborative Divorce Process and the unique nature of Collaborative Team Meetings, please contact one of our collaboratively-trained attorneys today.
by Jill Brittle