Tuesday, February 27, 2021

Collaborative Family Law Center Announced by Chief Judge in New York City

excerpted from The New York Times, February 27, 2007:


ALBANY, Feb. 26 — Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye, in her annual address on the judiciary, announced plans to create a new family law center in New York City that is intended to make divorce faster and cheaper for couples who want amicable settlements.

New York, which does not have no-fault divorce, is notorious for judicial delays that turn even the least fraught divorces into expensive, acrimonious affairs.

Judge Kaye, who has long championed overhauling state divorce laws, repeated her call for no-fault divorce in her speech on Monday, but that idea has stalled in the Legislature in the past.The planned Collaborative Family Law Center, which will serve all five boroughs, does not require legislative approval, and it will serve as a pilot project on alternative approaches to divorce when it opens in Manhattan this year. “Too much money, too much delay, too much agony,” Judge Kaye said in her speech, describing the state’s divorce laws. “We anticipate that spouses who choose this approach will find that the financial and emotional cost of divorce is reduced for everyone involved — surely a step in the right direction,” she added.


The new family law center would put the state’s imprimatur on an alternative approach to divorce proceedings that started in Minnesota more than a decade ago and has migrated around the country since then but that experts say is only sporadically used in New York. “It’s much less contentious,” said Henry S. Berman, who practices collaborative law and is a partner at Berman, Bavero, Frucco & Gouz in White Plains.

“If people come into collaborative law wanting to do the right thing and not wanting the last drop of somebody’s blood, and they’re open about their assets and income, it’s a terrific way to do it,” he said. “The litigators will tell you it doesn’t work when people aren’t honest and open, and that’s true. It takes a certain mindset.”

Under the process, lawyers still represent both sides, but they agree not to continue representing their clients if the negotiations fail and the matter ends up in court. That way, advocates of the process say, the lawyers are deprived of a financial incentive for failing to resolve the matter amicably. The participants also agree not to go to court for a certain period of time while the alternative process is under way. The sides would still have to negotiate grounds for the divorce, unless they used a so-called conversion divorce, which allows couples who stick to a separation agreement to divorce after a year without finding fault.

“The basic premise behind it is that by providing folks with access to lawyers who are knowledgeable in matrimonial law, who are committed to negotiating on behalf of their clients an amicable settlement without being stuck in the adversarial environment, they are able to limit expenses and foster a more collaborative process,” said Daniel Weitz, a state coordinator for the Office of Court Administration. Jacqueline W. Silbermann, deputy chief administrative judge for matrimonial matters, said the state’s embrace of the process would mean “we will have court oversight of the collaborative law center, and very importantly, we will be providing lawyers for people who can’t afford lawyers to represent them.” Some lawyers said the practice had limited appeal because many people in the midst of divorce want to maintain the threat of going to court while negotiating settlements. “I just see that people here are more apt to want to use lawyers to the full extent possible when they hire them, and that means letting them go to court if necessary,” said Alton L. Abramowitz, a Manhattan divorce lawyer who is chairman of the matrimonial committee of the New York City Bar Association. He noted that he was not speaking in his capacity with the bar association.

Though Judge Kaye’s call for no-fault divorce has stalled in the Legislature, Senator John A. DeFrancisco, a Syracuse Republican who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the two chambers were working on reducing the amount of time it takes to get a conversion divorce, from one year to a few months, a step that would move the state closer to something akin to no-fault divorce.

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