In one of my recent collaborative cases, the parties owned a complicated business entity and were seeking a way to stay business partners while dissolving their marriage. Usually we would not want divorcing spouses to remain in business together, however here it made sense based on the financial circumstances for these parties to do so. They were in agreement and had the wherewithal to handle it. In the event we had litigated this case, the business would have been a party to the action and more likely than not shares would have been liquidated to distribute to the parties, this would have been a terrible financial option for both parties and the business. We needed to figure out what life would look like for them after the dissolution, when they would no longer be life partners, but would remain business partners.
The problem for the team was figuring out how to structure this new arrangement to protect both spouses, and to enable the business to continue running smoothly. Complicating matters further was the need for approval from an overarching entity. In addition the parties wanted to ensure protection of their children in the event anything happened to either of them.
The team made the decision to hire a corporate attorney as an allied professional to assist. The first step was to bring the option to the parties at a full team meeting. They agreed to retain him jointly on behalf of the business. He was instrumental in getting this particular case completed for them.
The settlement facilitator, Laura Richter, explained, “As is stated in the IACP code of ethics, in order to fully address the client’s needs, interests, and goals, we as professionals must be willing to retain other professionals with special expertise. Since this case required expertise in matters relating to corporate law and contracts, which would have been outside of the purview of any of the professional team, Greg’s guidance and expertise gave me the confidence as facilitator to know that we were providing the client with the best counsel possible, given the intricacies of the case. And when matters came up where the client had questions or objections, Greg was best able to handle them as an expert in his field; and our clients were able to hear him.”
The Financial Neutral, Ronald Patella stated this: “I thought Greg was responsive and on point for all of our questions and issues. He was knowledgeable and easy to work with. I would certainly recommend him to other professionals.”
And Mara Bernstein, the other spouse’s attorney advised the following:
“Divorce is multidimensional event. As collaborative professionals, our team addresses the legal, emotional and financial aspects of our clients’ divorce. There are however times when the issues raised in our cases go beyond the expertise of the collaborative professionals. As a team, it is our responsibility to provide our clients with access to resources that will enable them to successfully reach a doable and durable Marital Settlement Agreement. We did that by bringing Greg into our case as the corporate law issues were beyond our purview. Greg provided the team with the counsel and advice to go forward to a successful completion of the case where we were confident that both parties were properly represented and advised.”
The “Greg” in the statements above is Greg Mitchell, a corporate attorney with Marshall Grant, PLLC. Even though we had a full team, two attorneys, neutral facilitator, and financial neutral, none of us was qualified to prepare the corporate documents to protect the parties, their business, and their children’s interests post dissolution. Mr. Mitchell’s contributions were well-received by the full team.
Collaborative practice allows all involved parties, clients and counsel, to take the ego out of these cases. The clients are coming to the professionals to let them handle the manner in the best way possible and we, as experts in our area, know where our limitations lie. We do not always have the expertise to handle all of the issues. By bringing in an allied member for our team, we are able to leverage our individual areas of expertise and expand to provide better service for our clients.
To all of those potential allied professionals, corporate lawyers, estate planning attorneys, real estate professionals, mortgage brokers, appraisers, child therapists, reunification therapists, substance and alcohol treatment providers, financial advisors, and many more, please join your local practice group and get collaboratively trained! We may need you as an allied member on the next case.
Christen Ritchey is a family law attorney and partner with Johnson, Ritchey & Feldman in Boca Raton, FL. She is the secretary of the South Palm Beach County Collaborative Practice Group, Board Member of FACP and the Co-Chair of the FACP Outreach Committee.