Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Pro Bono Opportunities: Giving Back Collaboratively

By Joryn Jenkins and Jeremy Gluckman

As collaborative dispute resolution (CDR) grows in Hillsborough County and throughout Florida, several professionals have perceived a need to give back to the community, educate the public, and provide newly trained professionals with opportunities to work in CDR.  Thus was born a joint project of the Collaborative Law Section, Collaborative Divorce Institute of Tampa Bay, Tampa Bay Collaborative Divorce Group, and Bay Area Legal Services to provide divorcing couples of limited means the benefits of this interdisciplinary process.

For those who are not familiar with CDR, it is a private alternative to courtroom divorces.  Each client retains a separate attorney for the limited purpose of helping to reach a settlement without adjudication by the court.  A neutral facilitator guides the parties through the emotional process of dissolution.  A joint accountant or financial planner gathers the necessary financial information and provides financial guidance.

We are very proud to report that our joint program has produced the first pro bono collaborative divorce in Florida.  Nancy Lugo and Bay Area Volunteer Lawyer Program staff selected our first client.  The client chose Joryn Jenkins as her attorney.  Adam B. Cordover offered to work as her husband’s attorney.  Dr. Jennifer Mockler volunteered to serve as the neutral facilitator, and accountant Monica Ospina took on the role of the neutral financial professional.  All of the participants signed the pro bono collaborative participation agreement.

The clients had divided up their personal property.  There was no real property to distribute.  Timesharing and parental responsibility were therefore the critical issues to be resolved, especially because there was a significant other involved and a child born of that subsequent relationship.

The clients brought noteworthy effort to their collaborative table, and the clients and professionals, as a team, helped to sort out their issues.  Issues were identified in individual meetings with the clients and each neutral professional.  The parties and the full team of professionals met several times to resolve their disputes.  Dr. Mockler ably discharged her duties as the team leader, directing the discussion of the parenting plan details. Ospina increased the size of the clients’ limited financial assets by suggesting they not alternate the child tax credit every other year.  Rather, she suggested they maximize the value of that refund by annually awarding credit to the father.  The mother could already claim head of household status with her child born outside the marriage, so the father agreed to reimburse her share of the refund.

The clients reached a full settlement.  Before this is published, they will be divorced.  They will not have antagonized each other by swearing to horrific things about each other in pleadings.  They will have collaborated, under the tutelage of trained professionals, to forge a new and different bond as co-parents for the benefit of their children for the rest of their lives.

If you have an interest in working with our Pro Bono Committee, please contact our Pro Bono Committee co-chairs, Joryn Jenkins or Jeremy Gluckman.