Category:   Consumer Articles

Fixed Fees in Collaborative Family Law Cases*

A Scenario**

You thought the marriage to the love of your life was going to be forever. After his six-month affair with the attractive woman from his department at the ad agency he works for, you just do not trust him anymore as your husband.

You met at Emerson College and have been married for 15 years. He is a great father to your three children who are six, ten and 14. He is attentive to them, is a great provider and a respectful person. You want to get a divorce and would like to work this divorce out amicably using the collaborative process.

However, the cost of a getting a divorce concerns you as you still have loans from college at Mass. College of Art and graduate school at Emerson College, the mortgage from your home, the auto loans and child care costs. Using a collaborative law process to get divorce seems too expensive. Your Husband has some small loans left from Harvard University where he got his MBA. Both of you make a good living, but the expenses are so high in the Boston area that you have to carefully watch your budget. You don’t want to spend hours in court, have others hear your private issues and spend lots of money in legal fees. You have some savings. So what can you do?

What’s New?

There is something new in Massachusetts that is catching on to make the collaborative law process something that you can pursue. Many attorneys in Massachusetts are accepting fixed fee collaborative cases which could be more affordable.

How Does the Collaborative Law Process Work?

Collaborative law uses a team approach where each person has an attorney representing him or her, a collaborative coach and often a financial professional. Each person hires their attorney and agrees that they will not litigate with their attorney trained in the collaborative process. If negotiations break down they will need to find litigation counsel, which provides a strong incentive to keep negotiating with their collaborative attorney. The collaborative coach and financial professional will provide professional assistance during the collaborative process, but will not provide counseling or financial advice, respectively, after the collaborative process has been completed.

The professionals on your team (your attorney, your husband’s attorney, the coach and the financial professional) do a pre brief before each meeting and a post brief after each meeting to talk on how they can best help resolving your situation.

What is Fixed Fee using the Collaborative Law Process?

In a fixed fee case, the collaborative professionals on the team, agree with the parties to work with them for a certain number of meetings for a fixed price. The fix fee is an agreed upon amount to pay for a certain number of collaborative meetings, a document review, drafting of an agreement and (with the attorneys) an appearance in court. Each person needs to pay their attorney at a certain amount they agree with their attorney and they share the cost for the coach and the financial professional. Coaches and financial neutrals may also be able to provide services at a fixed fee. If the divorce cannot be resolved in a certain number of meetings, such as three or four meetings, then the parties to this process can contract for more meetings at a certain fixed price with the professionals on the team.

Conclusion**

You find the fixed fee collaborative process to be a very good option for your situation as you want to maintain a good relationship with your husband for the children’s sake. You know what the cost will be up front. Your attorney will be at the collaborative law meetings, with your husband, his attorney and the collaborative coach. The collaborative coach could help with working out a good parenting plan so both of you can spend quality time with the children. The financial professional can evaluate your finances and may make some recommendations to maximize the cash that you have available. You could even meet with the collaborative coach or the financial professional without counsel during this collaborative process to save money, if all agree. You are so glad you found out about fixed fee in collaborative law process, as it seems to be something that you could afford, do what is best for the children and help with your long terms plans for your finances.

*This article is not meant to provide legal advice, but is for information only.
**This is a fictional scenario.

The Volunteer Attorney Representing Children (ARC) in Massachusetts:

By Amanda Driscoll, Law Clerk*

Some of the most significant issues in Massachusetts Family and Probate Courts are those involving unemancipated children.  The court has jurisdiction over those children pursuant to Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 208, Sections 19, 28, 28A, 29, 30, 31 and 31A.  In 2013, a program called Attorneys Representing Children (ARC) started in Massachusetts which an attorney voluntarily represents the child’s interest in a divorce case or other probate matter.

In determining the outcome of these cases, the court must consider what is in the best interest of the child.  Accordingly, a child’s preference is one piece that may be helpful to the court for this determination.  There is a wide variety of other resources available to the court in identifying the child’s desires and interests.

Sources of information provided by the child’s parents, teachers, or other third parties may be introduced as evidence at the trial or hearing to help the court make a decision that genuinely is in the child’s best interest.  In addition, a guardian ad litem, or “GAL” may be appointed to perform an investigation or evaluation of the child’s home and family, and render a report to the court, pursuant to Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 215, Section 56A and Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 208, Section 16.  The GAL’s report may also be introduced into evidence and the GAL may be cross-examined at the time of the trial or hearing.

Although these methods of gathering information are quite helpful to the court in making a decision that is in the best interest of the child, they also have some down sides.  For example, parents that are in the midst of divorce, modification, or removal proceedings might be too fixated on the litigation to have a clear understanding of the child’s interests. In turn, counsel for the parents are more likely to be focused on the position of their client, rather than those of the child. In addition, third parties who also have a close connection with the child, such as teachers or therapists, may not have discussed the topic with the child, and may feel uncomfortable getting involved.  Furthermore, one needs another Guardian Ad Litem on privilege if a child’s therapists may be called to testify to waive or assert the child’s privilege.  A therapist may also decline a court appearance for fear of damaging the therapeutic relationship he or she has with the child.

As a result of the costs of GAL appointments, several counties in Massachusetts have developed ARC programs in order to provide legal representation for children individually.   The ARC program does not pertain to court matters such as involving abuse or neglect where the Department of Children and Families (DCF) is involved. Some attorneys have volunteered to participate in the ARC program to help children.  The ARC attorney’s job is to act as the child’s voice in the court.  Similar pro bono programs are now currently in operation in Massachusetts in the Probate and Family Courts of Bristol, Middlesex, Norfolk, and Plymouth Counties.  Attorneys willing to volunteer their time for the ARC program are placed on a list of panel counsel, and are court assigned cases in which DCF is not involved, on an as-needed basis.  Based on the time commitment of this involvement and expenses incurred, counsel are not expected to take on more than one ARC case per year.  The appointment of an ARC attorney in representation of a child in divorce or probate matter enhances the potential of an early settlement. Alternatively, an ARC attorney will help the court  in advocating for the child, along with other sources provided, so the the judge hearing the case has enough information to make the best possible ruling for the case.

*Amanda Driscoll graduated from Suffolk University in May 2013 with a major in public administration and a minor in business law. While at Suffolk University, Ms. Driscoll was in the Griffin Honor Society,  the Secretary of the Suffolk University Environmental Club and an Eco Ambassador of Suffolk University Sustainability. She currently attends Mass. College of Law in Andover, Massachusetts, where she expects to graduate with a juris doctor degree in 2018 and Suffolk University in public administration, where she expects to obtain her masters degree in public administration in 2017.  Ms. Driscoll received a CALI Award for the highest grade achievement in the study of Writing and Legal Research in June 2016.

Nesting: The Modern Era Convenience for Divorce

By Amanda Driscoll, Law Clerk*

What is Nesting?

When it comes to divorce, nesting is a new trend that is on the rise nationwide. Nesting is the process by which the mother and father take turns being available in the home, while the children remain within the “nest,” or family home, consistently throughout the process. For instance, the father may have certain days or time intervals each day, while the mother occupies the other time interval, like a shift change in a sense. Nesting allows divorced parents to give children stability and reduce financial burden by providing themselves with the proper amount of time to wait before selling the family home or investments.

History

The idea and use of nesting is thought to have originated in 2000 in the United States, upon a Virginia court agreeing that the best solution for two young children involved in a family with two divorcing parents was for the children to remain within the family home. Generally, nesting arrangements were designed with the mother staying in the family home with the children during the school/work week, while the father would stay at the home on weekends. Since its origination, nesting has become increasingly popular within the States, even appearing on multiple US television TV series.

Currently, the concept of nesting has crossed over the Atlantic, with a growing number of British courts encouraging shared parenting, rather than one parent receiving sole custody. Generally speaking, courts would not ordinarily force a divorced court into nesting, otherwise referred to as “bird’s nesting,” but a groundbreaking Canadian case in 2003 proved to be quite an exception to the divorce settlement norm. In this case, the judge instructed the divorcing parents to stop treating their children like ‘frisbees,’ and enforced a mandated bird’s nest custody arrangement for the couple without such being requested by either party.

Are there any negatives in this process?

Despite the positive impact nesting has had by many couples who have tried it, parting ways while still keeping their children as their top priority, some therapists, may oppose this type of activity. They caution that the arrangement encroaches on the parents’ privacy during a time necessary to establish their own new lives and adapt to new routines. Another concern involves whether such close collaboration with the divorcing partner allows for closure and the ability to move on. Also, the nesting routine might confuse children, seeing their separated parents still so closely involved with one another. Finally, if the parents fight over money, and struggle with having to transport their belongings to and from the apartment, without a sense of belonging that either domicile is their own, it may be difficult for the children.

One method to help avoid such nesting tension is by setting strict ground rules regarding assigned chores and a particular time of day in which each partner is free to take a break.  According to many psychologists, one of the most effective methods is to establish a plan that involves limited direct contact, such as one parent that drops the children off at school, while the other parent is assigned to pick them up. There needs to be a clear-cut plan that can be followed consistently in order to end the nest, providing closure for both partners while maintaining the nesting arrangement until closure can be attained for both the parents and children alike. Nesting should never be used indefinitely.

Psychologists generally say that children can adapt without emotional harm from even the worst divorces, so long as the parents work together as a team. Moving houses, or going long periods of time without seeing one of the parents can be overcome by children, provided that conflict is not involved in the divorce arrangements. Tension, constant arguing, or situations where the parents don’t communicate has a detrimental effect on children.

Attorney Debra L. Smith of Watertown, Massachusetts suggests that parents should take the high road and treat their child’s other parent with respect and be civil towards that parent. The reason is that the other parent will be in the child’s life as they will see them at school and sporting events, graduations, weddings and even later in life by sharing time with their grandchildren. A long term plan that could be that a good therapist, counsel or mediator can work with the divorcing couple to create a solid parenting plan and spell out arrangements for parenting time, as well as joint parenting decisions.

One option that can potentially create a sense of neutrality for parents who agree to share custody of their children is deciding to keep their house, while also sharing a one-bedroom apartment in close proximity to the home, the cost of rent and ability to nest.  This can provide the parents with a feeling of escape, and relaxation, by leaving the home and taking the time to become a single parent.

Resources:

Sovich, Nina, When Parents Divorce, the Children Get the House, Wall Street Journal. (October 26, 2016). Available at: https://www.wsj.com/articles/when-parents-divorce-the-children-get-the-house-1477496914.

Bernstein, Elizabeth. The Child Focused Divorce. The Wall Street Journal. (September 6, 2011). Available at: https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424053111904537404576552631228768332.

Kruk, Edward, “Bird’s Nest” Co-Parenting Arrangements: When Parents Rotate in and Out of the Family Home, Psychology Today. (July 16, 2013). Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/co-parenting-after-divorce/201307/birds-nest-co-parenting-arrangements

Sanghani, Radhika, ‘Bird’s nest custody’: The smart new way to divorce, The Telegraph, (February 7, 2016).

*Amanda Driscoll graduated from Suffolk University in May 2013 with a major in public administration and a minor in business law. While at Suffolk University, Ms. Driscoll was in the Griffin Honor Society,  the Secretary of the Suffolk University Environmental Club and an Eco Ambassador of Suffolk University Sustainability. She currently attends Mass. College of Law in Andover, Massachusetts, where she expects to graduate with a juris doctor degree in 2018 and Suffolk University in public administration, where she expects to obtain her masters degree in public administration in 2017.  Ms. Driscoll received a CALI Award for the highest grade achievement in the study of Writing and Legal Research in June 2016.

What’s On Your Lunch Box?

What’s On Your Lunch Box?
By Debra L. Smith, Attorney at Law

It is more difficult that it used to be to find a lunch box that is free from a concerning chemical smell.

To be more ecologically responsible, I purchased stainless steel Lunchbots and To-Go Ware Tiffin Sidekick to take lunch, plus Klean Kanteen water bottles for drinking water on the go.  Sandwiches fit easily in the Lunchbots and snacks fit in the To-Go Ware Tiffin Sidekick. The stainless steel Lunchbots avoid the use of plastic bags being placed in the environment after use. Klean Kanteen water bottles avoid my being exposed to BPA that is in some plastic bottles. Water tastes good in these water bottles.
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“Are Personal Care Products Safe?”

“Are Personal Care Products Safe?”

 

     We expect our shampoo, soap, deodorant, creams, sunscreen and make up we use on a daily basis to be safe, but are they?  The Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow has concerns about the safety of our personal care products.  They are sponsoring a Safe Cosmetic Week of Action from June 18, 2005 to June 26, 2005.  During this week, their volunteers have been talking to counter staff and managers at local department store cosmetic counters and cosmetic stores and leafleting outside of stores about toxic chemicals in cosmetics, gathering petition signatures and posting ads in communities throughout the country.

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