How to Avoid Divorce Court Through the Collaborative Law Process,
An Interview with Sharon Faulkner
Sharon Faulkner is a divorce attorney in New York, practicing at Ostertag O’Leary Barrett & Faulkner. Sharon offers a wide range of legal services in family law from litigation to Collaborative Law. Sharon is known for working with her clients and opposing counsel to reach amicable out of court settlements through Collaborative Law. She is focused on developing a strategy for each client that preserves their financial and emotional well-being through the entire divorce process. In this article, Sharon shares advice on how to avoid divorce court.
Sharon Faulkner was interviewed by Divorceify Co-founder, Sonia Queralt.
Sonia Queralt: Tell me about the type of divorce professional that you are and how you help people through the divorce process.
Sharon Faulkner: I’m an attorney who has been practicing divorce law exclusively for 17 years in New York. I do traditional litigation, draft agreements, consultations, and in the past five years, I’ve moved my practice towards Collaborative Law.
Queralt: What is collaborative law and how does that process work?
Faulkner: It’s an alternative to litigating and a way to resolve for couples to resolve all the issues that they need to address in their divorce in a civil and respectful manner. Both agree that they’re not going to resort to going to court and that they are going to stay at the negotiation table with the professionals on the collaborative team to come to a resolution that works for the entire family unit.
Queralt: How does the collaborative team of professionals come together, and who are some of the type of professionals that are at the negotiation table?
Faulkner: The collaborative team consist of attorneys (one to represent each party), mental health professionals who function as coaches, and financial neutrals. Sometimes we’ll bring in other professionals, like a child specialist, business valuators or appraisers. Most professionals who practice collaborative law belong to a group. I belong to the Hudson Valley Collaborative Divorce and Dispute Resolution Association.
Queralt: What types of clients benefit from collaborative law?
Faulkner: Clients with children can benefit because it forces them to consider what their children’s needs are from a mental health perspective because the coach usually takes on the role of developing the parenting plan, something that they’re more skilled and qualified to do than the attorneys. The financial neutral takes on the task of interviewing the parties, finding out what the financial picture looks like so that we all dealing with the same set of operative facts. Being able to have the right professionals deal with the right pieces of the divorce process allows lawyers to do what we’re good at.
Queralt: What type of clients are not suited for the collaborative law process?
Faulkner: Anyone can benefit from the collaborative process, but honestly, some couples do not need the process to reach a resolution. They probably would not need to resort to litigation either.
Queralt: What are some differences between the collaborative law process and mediation?
Faulkner: Mediation is usually with one neutral mediator who is not representing either of the parties, and the mediator’s role is to try to facilitate an agreement. In the collaborative law process, both parties are represented by attorneys. The two clients, and the two attorneys, all sign a participation agreement that says that they’re going to negotiate in good faith and they’re going to continue to work towards a resolution. It’s meant to be a transparent process and if anybody breaks any of the rules, the collaborative process is over. So it keeps everybody honest and at the table, but all the while along the way, there is still an attorney by your side advocating for you.
Queralt: On average, how many collaborative law sessions does it take for people going through the collaborative process?
Faulkner: Well, we have an actual road map that was developed that sets out the meetings we will have that we go over with the clients when we pick the people who are going to be on the team. The clients meet with the team professionals by themselves without the lawyers and then we have a second meeting as a group that focuses on the finances, so we can establish the common set of operative facts we’re all dealing with and ask questions. Then we go back into smaller meetings between the team of professionals and the client to work with them on what we call their “interest and concerns.” This is important as it is not contemplating what they propose as the final resolution, but rather forcing them to think about what is truly important to them. These are then presented in another group meeting. Then knowing the other side’s interests and concerns, and having the financial picture, we meet again with our client to develop proposals to meet as many of the interests and concerns of both clients. Once we have our proposals we meet again as a group to present them and that’s when the negotiating starts in earnest. Eventually we end up with a separation agreement.
Queralt: Do the clients also have to be present in court when the attorneys present the separation agreement to the judge?
Faulkner: Once the clients sign the separation agreement, the clients decide when they want to get divorced. At that point all that is involved in my state is just submitting an uncontested divorce. Nobody has to set foot in a courthouse. If people are committed to staying out of court and are serious about wanting to get divorced in an amicable way, then the collaborative process is right for them.