In my opinion, most people assume if you are getting divorced, litigation is your only option. This involves two attorneys asking for certain terms, and a judge making all of the decisions that end up in your divorce decree, including a parenting agreement. There are alternatives to litigation, which include mediation and collaborative divorce. These methods of divorce allow the two parties to define the terms of their divorce. Want to hear more?
Jason Sposeep is a Partner at Schiller, DuCanto & Fleck, who stated that a third of his practice is collaborative divorce. I sat down with Sposeep and asked him a few questions to help my readers better understand collaborative divorce law.
JP: What is a collaborative divorce?
JS: Collaborative divorce law is a form of dispute resolution that allows for negotiations based upon both party’s interests.
It’s different from the positional bargaining that takes place in litigation. We don’t take extremes to try to come to some middle agreement. We are able to attach the outcome to their actual goals related to finances, children and other issues. It’s interest based. You’re using goals in order to reach a conclusion as opposed to getting as much as you possibly can.
JP: Tell me about the collaborative process.
JS: First, it’s most important that both parties hire an attorney who is specifically trained in collaborative law. We then bring a coach (a mental health professional) to assist in the case.
What you have to understand is that during a divorce, there are two transactions going on at the same time; the legal transaction and the emotional transaction. And 99% of the time, the emotional interferes with the legal, and to have someone who is specifically trained at a less hourly rate to deal with the emotional divorce transaction while I focus on the legal transaction is a much more efficient way to settle.
We also bring in a financial neutral who will assemble financial information, run cash flow scenarios and future projections, and potentially be the one person to value a given business. This saves tremendously on discovery costs and the expense of warring experts.
If there are children involved, we often times hire a child specialist. That person helps put together a parenting plan that is specifically tailored to the parties’ children and the family’s needs. That person has a mental health background, providing a benefit that a lawyer can’t because we don’t have that specific training.
My role is to make sure that the agreement reached is legally sound, that it passes muster with the court, and that the ultimate agreement has the best chance of not being subjected to litigation following entry of judgment (meaning the document keeps them out of court in the months and years to come.)
JP: Why such a large focus on collaborative law in your practice? In other words, why do you think it is so effective?
JS: Collaborative law spoke to me because I see the absolute turmoil that litigation can play on a family. The courtroom takes the control away from mom and dad. In the collaboration process, it’s the absolute opposite. The parties take control and can come up with their own ideas to make the best life for both them and their kids, instead of having a judge make those decisions for them. I often see judges making decisions in 15 minutes for a 15-year marriage. That makes no sense to me.
Also, with the help of mental health professional, we can facilitate conversations that would never take place in a litigation setting.
Collaborative divorce is a much more holistic approach that provides a platform for families to have long-term continued success as they jointly raise their children post divorce.
JP: You mentioned that have a personal connection to divorce. Tell me about that.
JS: I live joint parenting. I’m divorced and remarried. I have a daughter from my first marriage. So I empathize with people’s frustrations and pain from a personal perspective. It’s a big challenge in my life, but I’ve learned, especially through what I do, it is best to take the high road. We are in many respects the modern day blended family. We help each other. We figure things out. If we had a litigated divorce, we would not have had nearly as good of a platform to be able to have these conversations that are majorly benefitting our child. The key to success is mutual respect and understanding that this is a two way street.
Jason Sposeep is a partner at Schiller, DuCanto & Fleck. He began his career there in 2001 as a law clerk, and has a practicing attorney since 2003. Jason was on the Board of Directors of the Collaborative Law Institute of Illinois (“CLII”) for many years and continues to play an active role on the CLII Community Outreach Committee. He is currently a director on the Chicago Kent Alumni Board of Directors. Jason graduated from the 2010 American Bar Association Trial Advocacy Institute where he enhanced his skills and competence as a trial lawyer. In 2011, he completed the two-day Harvard Law School Negotiation Program to improve his dispute resolution skills. Jason has and continues to lecture at Chicago Kent College of Law, Loyola Law School, DePaul Law School, the Illinois CPA Society and the Chicago Bar Association and other legal agencies on a number of family law issues including Collaborative Law.