Collaborative Divorce: Who are the Professionals and are They Necessary?

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The Texas legal community is the leader in the international collaborative divorce movement, helping couples find a more dignified way to divorce and create opportunities for their children to have positive, lasting relationships with both parents after the divorce. The process practiced by most collaborative divorce attorneys in Texas involves the lawyers for the divorcing spouses jointly hiring a neutral mental health professional and a neutral financial professional who become members of the couple’s divorce team.

The neutral mental health professional is most often a trained family therapist; although that person’s job is not to engage in therapy with the clients. Rather, the neutral mental health professional’s job is to help the spouses develop a parenting time schedule in the most cost-efficient way possible and to help make more difficult conversations and negotiations manageable so that heated emotions do not unnecessarily lengthen the divorce process.

The neutral financial professionals hired for collaborative divorce work have different credentials and resumes. Some are CPAs, some certified divorce financial analysts, and others are certified financial planners.

The neutral financial professionals hired for collaborative divorce work have different credentials and resumes. Some are CPAs, some certified divorce financial analysts, and others are certified financial planners. One of their key functions is to gather all of the financial data and documents so that spouses and their attorneys alike can see the full picture of that couple’s financial estate. They do this work in a more cost-effective manner than in a traditional litigation case where two attorneys are billing their respective hourly rates to compile the same information. The neutral financial professionals also provide an invaluable service by helping the clients to develop and consider different ways in which their financial estate can be divided upon divorce. In addition, with their specialized financial knowledge, they can educate clients who may not be comfortable with finances to understand future budgeting and how different outcomes in the financial division can better benefit them in the future.

Whether it is necessary to hire a neutral mental health and financial professional in a collaborative divorce depends on the definition of “necessary.” The state statute that governs collaborative divorce practice in Texas does not require the inclusion of these professionals in a collaborative case. However, experience shows that the addition of these professionals to the collaborative divorce team maximizes the benefits clients can achieve in the process. Clients divorce and move forward with tools that will better assist them in the next stages of their lives – a well-thought out parenting plan for their children, a better understanding of their future financial needs and a financial plan that best meets those needs.

Rhonda Cleaves

Rhonda began practicing law in 1995. She left a successful civil trial practice in 2005 to concentrate on family law—specifically, helping families transition to postdivorce life. She now practices exclusively in this area.

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