COLLABORATIVE FAMILY LAW IN DALLAS AND THE WIDNER FAMILY LAW GROUP
Texas courts offer three options for couples wishing to split: They can litigate. They can mediate (where a lawyer serves as a go-between and the couple never directly communicates, except through lawyers). Or they can choose collaborative law.
WHAT IS THE COLLABORATIVE APPROACH IN FAMILY LAW?
Collaborative law involves lawyers chosen by each side, at least one neutral financial consultant, and one disinterested counselor or mental-health professional. These neutral third parties are working on behalf of both clients equally can help eliminate the distrust that’s present in all divorce proceedings—collaborative or not.
Each side of clients and lawyers help guide the process to a structured conclusion in a productive business-like fashion. In this option everyone talks, everyone works in one direction, everyone plays nice. At each “team meeting,” each member is supposed to have within eyesight a list of “Expectations of Conduct” to which all participants must adhere. This list includes refraining from discussing the past and only focusing on fixing problems, not the blame. This prevents the situation where high emotional issues, such as adultery, financial mismanagement, and the anger of the parties channel into multiple hearings with huge legal bills, where the parties “think they are winning” and deliver pain and embarrassment but really lose both financially and more importantly, the legal battles raise the intensity of personal attacks which both emotionally harms the children and destroys the parties ability to co-parent after the divorce.
And here, within the group dynamic, something happens. The outrage that one spouse carries toward the other, for whatever misbehavior they committed, is blunted by the structure of the group and what it’s trying to do in bringing about a divorce with the least amount of damage possible.In litigated divorces, lawyers aggressively fight for their own clients and, if need be, depose schoolteachers, babysitters, and on and on. The pain and personal attacks then are shared with the children as the parents many times either attempt to use the children as pawns, or simply share the pain of the attacks, making the critical mistake in no longer being a parent, but treating the children like “friends” putting intense pressure on the children by putting the children in the middle. The children just want to be children and this forced involvement in “adult issues” harms the children emotionally. Many times, as the pain and anger from litigation increases, both parents attempt to alienate the other from the love and affection of the children in a brutal battle for their children’s hearts.
In collaborative divorces, lawyers remain advocates for their clients while also sticking to the overall goals established in group discussions. Those goals are set early by the spouses, with the guidance of the group. Another contrast is that both sides must share all the information they have with the group.
THE WIDNER FAMILY LAW FIRM UNIQUELY INVOLVES BOTH MENTAL HEALTH AND SPIRITUAL SUPPORT IN ADDITION TO THE FINANCIAL EXPERT.
The most important advantage for the Widner Family Law Group using the collaborative approach, not offered by other law firms, is a focus to also bring in spiritual third parties to participate in the process. The WidnerFamily Law Group uniquely believes that the most important dynamic impacting the divorce process is not just issues involving emotional and mental health, but there is a spiritual attack and impact, plus involvement by the church or faith leaders which can provide accountability in the process.
The critical facts are this. Couples that have accountability and both counseling and spiritual resources that don’t divorce, 76% are happy five years later. In the age of no-fault divorce, divorce has increased 270%. Divorces and the disintegration of the American Family shouldn’t be happening and the churches and counselors should be fixing broken people by identifying spiritually and emotionally why the couple and marriage aren’t working.
The litigation approach and fast and easy divorce process leaves the entire process to a judge to divide up assets and design a custody and visitation schedule which many times is generic, and the court makes no effort nor does it have the expertise to evaluate the spiritual and emotional issues or encourage and even pressure the parties to work harder to preserve the marriage. More time, more accountability and the expertise on emotional dynamics and communication issues, many times could prevent a divorce that financially destroys both spouses because they cannot finance two households, and divorce damages the children.
The same religious leader and faith that provided the basis for the marriage relationship, is eliminated completely in the divorce process when the litigation option is pursued. The same friends and people from the religious institution attended by the spouses, in litigation, become threatened witnesses who are driven away, when if the spouses use the collaborative approach they are important allies.
In addition, a major selling point to the divorcing parties is that the cooperative structure offers scheduled meetings which allow decision-makers to keep their eyes on the ball, versus being hung up in court for days at a time. It is solution-based, not adversarial based.
Lastly, the collaborative approach is private, and it allows the divorcing parties some comfort in knowing all the facts don’t become neighborhood gossip-reducing the drama level and hurt both parties feel when public exposure of the facts make them the poster child for marriage failure.
They both have a lawyer of their choosing to protect their rights and from anything bad happening and the legal games involved in litigation are eliminated.
A study by the Phoenix-based International Academy of Collaborative Professionals surveyed lawyers and other professionals involved in 107 collaborative Texas divorces and found the divorces to be “difficult” to “very difficult” 39 percent of the time, yet they settled. This approach doesn’t work in every case, but should be used if possible.
THE COLLABORATIVE APPROACH DOESN’T PULL THE CHILDREN INTO THE COURTROOM
No parent should put their child in the position of having to come to court and have a judge ask them “Who would you like to live with, your mother or your father?”
“What kind of choice is that?” “Right here, right now, the kids must both decide who they love more?”
Protecting the kids: that’s the big one that often sells divorcing couples on the collaborative process.
As part of the collaborative process, the divorcing couple works out an entire parenting plan, dealing with everything from college to piercings to tattoos.
COLLABORATIVE SOLUTIONS ALLOW THE PARTIES TO DESIGN A BETTER PLAN
The most important aspect of pursing a collaborative solution is the parents design their own custody and visitation plan optimizing their own schedules and issues, where with the litigation solution, a judge decides everything about children, many times, he has never even met.