Our strategies in representing family law clients have changed over the years. In the early days, we spent most of our time helping couples dissolve their marriages in litigation. That approach required hours of preparation, days of court appearances, and commensurate legal fees billed to our clients. There are still divorces that follow this path, simply because there is no other way to settle the anger, emotions, and family assets. But it doesn’t have to be the norm.
We apply our decades of experience, training, and creativity to develop efficient solutions to challenging problems to bring our clients the most effective outcomes. We look forward to helping you select a process and implement the strategy that best meets your needs.
“Litigation” is the process most people think of first when they think about marital and family law. It is also commonly called “traditional” divorce/paternity or “court-based” divorce/paternity. It is usually begun by filing a petition for divorce or paternity with the court (or a request for enforcement or modification of an existing divorce or paternity decree). All ground rules about how information is to be exchanged, along with many other rules of procedure, are set by the court. Both spouses or parents might be represented by attorneys, one side might have an attorney while the other does not, or sometimes neither spouse/parent has an attorney.
When one of the spouses or parents is dissatisfied with a court-imposed outcome, they may seek to have that decision changed on appeal – we also represent clients who wish to pursue or defend against a family law appeal.
Clients engaged in litigation need a trusted advocate every step of the way – and we provide that advocacy and protection.
Family law mediation is the use of a skilled neutral professional – the mediator – to facilitate agreement. Family law was the first frontier in the spread of mediation across most kinds of litigation, largely because mediation is such a good fit for family law. The resolution of family law matters is complex, involving emotional and practical matters, and not just legal questions.
Mediation is often described as an alternative to litigation – often termed an “alternative dispute resolution” method. It often takes place within a litigated case, however – it has proved so successful that most courts require mediation before they will conduct a hearing or trial, in the hopes that all or many issues will be resolved without court involvement – or it can take place prior to commencing litigation. Mediation looks a little different from case to case, and can be utilized in collaborative cases as well.
Mediation can take place with the couple separately – the discussions of settlement options are facilitated by the mediator’s moving back and forth between two rooms, with one spouse or ex-spouse in each room. It can also take place with the mediator and the couple all together, or it can start one way, and change to another if it seems appropriate based on the couple.
Mediation can include lawyers or be accomplished without lawyers.
Ellen acts as a mediator in cases with or without lawyers – including an innovative and efficient approach that involves mediating from the onset of the case, using collaborative tools to improve efficiencies in information-gathering and option development. In the Tampa Bay area, many times mediators are not engaged until late in a case. If a couple’s goal is full and efficient resolution of all aspects of a family law case, however, Ellen often recommends they start with mediation – right at the beginning of a case, before they have become deeply entrenched in divisive positions. This process can be accomplished either with or without lawyers. By planning to attend several mediation sessions that are modest in length, they can begin by utilizing mediation to agree on what information will need to be exchanged and how it will be exchanged, whether joint expert opinions would be helpful, and any other matters regarding information that would facilitate settlement. Once the necessary information is exchanged, Ellen can facilitate discussions that include the identification and evaluation of settlement options. If an agreement is reached, Ellen brings all of her technical skills and expertise to bear on drafting a clear written document accurately reflecting all of the agreed terms.
Sometimes couples are deep in the litigation process, having gathered and exchanged information using court processes and rules, and are finally ready to attempt settlement. In those circumstances, they often schedule a single, longer, mediation that includes their attorneys, and work on settling all issues in one long session.
The Collaborative divorce process is an innovative process designed to provide each spouse with the advice and expertise of their own separate attorney while maximizing the opportunity to reach an amicable out-of-court settlement. Developed in the 1990s specifically for family law cases, it has since spread worldwide. It was first utilized in the Tampa Bay area in the early 2000s and has now become mainstream through its recognition by and incorporation into Florida law.
The benefits of the Collaborative process are extensive. Most strikingly, an attorney engaged in a collaborative process is limited to representation in achieving out-of-court settlement – thereby preventing either attorney from escalating a case into a courtroom battle. In addition, instead of utilizing dueling experts, as is common in litigation, in the Collaborative process, joint neutral professionals are carefully recommended to provide just the assistance each couple or family needs. It is a respectful and private process, with all of the consequent benefits. We help clients decide whether their case is a good fit for the Collaborative process, and, if a client and their spouse decide to use the process, we use our skills and experience to guide and advise them every step of the way.
Clients sometimes feel that they cannot afford to be represented in their divorce or in another family law matter, or just prefer to save money by going it alone. The risks of going it alone are many – making decisions without the information necessary to form realistic expectations, making decisions without understanding the legal consequences of those decisions, and signing or writing up and agreement without the legal knowledge to determine whether it means what it is intended to mean, to name a few – but sometimes it seems to clients like the risks may be unavoidable. We can help.
We regularly consult with clients who decide not to incur the cost of retaining us to be responsible for every aspect of their case – they only use our skills and experience on an as-needed basis. They take responsibility for their own case, while still avoiding some or all of the major pitfalls of going it completely alone.
We would be happy to talk with you about the pros and cons of this approach – just ask us in your initial consultation.