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Collaborative Family Law


Collaborative Family Law

You can learn more about this process at There are a number of fine lawyers who are members and who I am honored to call my friends including Greg Anderson, Evan Marks, Richard Milstein, Carmen Morales, and Brenda Shapiro.  If you know anyone contemplating divorcing, pass this email on to them.  This collaborative approach is a much more humane and rationale approach than litigation.

Posted on Sun, Jun. 20, 2004.

Cordiality instead of court costs

Family-law attorney Brenda Shapiro practices a new dispute-resolution method called "collaborative law.''

Q: What is collaborative law?

A new way of resolving disputes, one that requires the attorneys and clients to enter into a binding contract that says that they won't file anything in court until everything has been resolved. If either party decides to go to court, both attorneys withdraw, and the clients have to start all over again. So there is a huge financial penalty for not resolving. Each client loses the retainer paid to the [collaborative] attorneys. In some cases, they already have paid a $5,000 retainer to a forensic accountant who can't testify in court. Collaborative cases are cheaper, because it takes much less time. Clients probably spend half what they would in litigation. In collaborative cases you only have one of all the experts needed. In litigation, each client gets their own expert.

Q: What cases lend themselves to this process?

It can be any kind of family case. But not any kind of person can do this. Especially when there are children involved, both people have to agree that they will not do anything detrimental to their children. I get people who say, ''I will do anything for my children.'' Others say that their spouse is not a good parent, or not the kind of parent they think the spouse should be; they will have problems. If I see someone who cannot give up control, they are not a good candidate for collaborative law. The person has to be able to give to get, to compromise. You can't do that if you always have to be in control.

Q: Can you tell us about a case?

My first collaborative case four years ago also was the first such one filed in Florida. It was a paternity case. This couple had been lovers for several years but never married. Then one day he announced he was getting married to someone else. She got an apartment and tried to put her life back together. Six months later he wanted her back. About 18 months later she gave birth to his child. Every day going home from work, he would stop in to see the baby. But it took six months for him to tell his wife. The wife says, we need a lawyer so that he can assert his right to have his child visit his home.

My client [the mother] said, you can't take child home until I meet your wife. When we met in a four-way conference the first time, the attorneys suggested that it probably would expedite things if we could arrange a meeting between the wife and my client, and that we would be there. [The father] insisted on being there. We said OK. So we did meet in a restaurant, and it was very successful. That would not be possible in a litigated case, where you are at war with each other. In only a matter of months, the child was spending overnights. In total we had five four-way conferences. Two months later we filed in court, legally recognizing him as the father. And [the mother] she got all the protection she wanted.

Q: How did you get interested in this collaborative process?

Five years ago my colleague Rosemarie Roth called together 11 of us family lawyers. She had been to a conference where this wonderful process was discussed and asked if we would be interested. All of us said Yes. We were tired of fighting over pots and pans. So we formed the Collaborative Family Lawyers Institute in Miami-Dade County -- -- and we've learned so much since. Now there are 32 of us.

Q: Why do you live in South Florida?

I was dragged here kicking and screaming as a bride in 1959. Now I wouldn't live anywhere else. First, there is no patrimony -- anyone can achieve and participate here. All you need here is the will and commitment to participate, and you are welcome in cultural, social, intellectual communities. What makes it great is its diversity. I live in an international city.

Editorial Board member Susana Barciela prepared this report.

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