If you and your spouse have decided to resolve the issues in your divorce using the Family Collaborative Law process, you will need to sign a Participation Agreement. What is the Participation Agreement?
The Participation Agreement is the contract that is signed at the first meeting by you, your spouse, and the Collaborative Professionals involved in your case. It sets out the expectations of everyone involved in the collaborative process – to engage in the collaborative process openly and transparently and to resolve your issues through negotiation and cooperation. One of the most important provisions of the Participation Agreement is the agreement to stay out of court. If you choose to go to court before reaching a settlement, you must start over with new attorneys and new experts, and those that you used during the collaborative divorce process cannot contribute to your new case in any way. The underlying philosophy is that by removing the threat of court, parties will negotiate more openly, honestly and efficiently. The Participation Agreement expressly states this.
Another important provision of the Participation Agreement is confidentiality. The New Jersey Family Collaborative Law Act protects the confidentiality of communications made as part of the collaborative law process. If a party terminates the collaborative process, neither can use any of the communications in subsequent litigation without the express, written consent of the other party. Also, neither party can use any of the communications of the other collaborative team members with their consent. Protecting the confidentiality of the process encourages open and frank settlement discussions, which inevitably will lead to a resolution. Who signs the Participation Agreement?
The parties and every collaborative professional involved in the case signs the Participation Agreement. Not all professionals sign at the same time. At the first meeting, the parties and the attorneys will review and sign the agreement. If the parties have already engaged a divorce coach, financial advisor, or some other neutral professional, then that professional will also need to sign the Participation Agreement at the first meeting. Most commonly, though, the other professionals will add their signatures to the Participation Agreement as they join the collaborative team.
It is important that you read the Participation Agreement closely, and review it with your attorney. Any questions or concerns should be addressed before you sign it. It is a contract and you will be bound by its terms. Be certain to retain an experienced, collaboratively trained attorney that will guide you through the execution of the Participation Agreement and help you navigate the collaborative law process.
When you decide to proceed with the collaborative process, you have a number of highly trained professionals available to assist with every aspect of transitioning your family from one unit to two units. Not every family needs every professional. It all depends upon the circumstances of your family. Below is a description of the professionals that may be involved in a collaborative divorce.
Collaboratively Trained Lawyer – a lawyer licensed by the State of New Jersey to practice law and is specially trained in mediation and the collaborative law process. When you search for a collaboratively trained lawyer, look for credentials showing a commitment to the practice of collaborative law.
Divorce Coach—a licensed mental health specialist who assists the parties and the other collaborative professionals in making conversations more productive and maintaining an atmosphere of cooperation. The Coach also helps the parties manage emotions that frequently undermine successful settlement discussions. It is important to note that while the Coach is a licensed mental health specialist, he or she does not provide therapy to either party. The Coach’s role is to keep a healthy dialogue going so that everyone moves toward a family-minded settlement.
Financial Specialist – this collaboratively trained professional can be a certified public accountant, certified financial planner, chartered financial planner, or a certified divorce financial planner. There are different ways these professionals can help. The Financial Specialist will assist either or both parties in gathering the financial information needed to prepare a budget and identify assets and debt. He or she will analyze the financial data and make recommendations regarding all of the economic aspects involved in the divorce. He or she can also run different tax scenarios to determine the best division of the assets and income so as to minimize the overall tax burden of the family, ultimately leaving more money available to the parties. Very often, a spouse who has not dealt with the family finances, or who is not comfortable managing money, can benefit from the assistance of a financial planner. There are other professionals that can be utilized in helping the parties reach an agreement such as realtors, appraisers, mortgage brokers, or estate planning professionals. If you are concerned about the costs associated with these professionals, studies have shown that while the initial outlay may seem expensive, the financial benefit of moving toward a cooperative settlement far outweighs the overall costs of traditional litigation, which many times requires the retention of the same professionals. When you bring in professionals specially trained in collaborative divorce, the process is streamlined and more efficient. Parties are more knowledgeable about the decisions being made and feel more empowered by the process.
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Wilson Family Law LLC
667 Shunpike Road, Suite 5
Chatham, NJ 07928
Office: 973-520-4275 Fax: 973-378-0603