UNBUNDLED LEGAL SERVICES
(Limited Scope Representation)
Guidance for those who know what they want,
but lack the legal knowledge to implement their ideas.
By Harold Brienes, Attorney-Mediator
Although the current economic climate is not as dire as it has been, many of us are still affected by the downturn. As a result, more and more of my clients prefer to handle as many of the aspects of their divorce as possible. Others are less concerned with finances than they are with taking full ownership of their divorce and of their lives. Unbundling is an excellent way of accomplishing both purposes.
If you are one of those who, for any reason, want to steer your own ship through the shoals of the Connecticut family law legal system, then Unbundled Legal Services, also called Limited Scope Representation can work for you. I offer what I term “Divorce Coaching” to these clients. (I recently wrote an article that explains Divorce Coaching in great detail. You can find a link to it on the homepage.)
Unbundled legal services is a relatively new concept. It grew mainly out of two concerns many people feel when they hire lawyers: 1) the loss of autonomy in surrendering major life decisions to their lawyers; and 2) the cost of a full-service commitment. Like you, more and more couples prefer to “own” their divorce by being proactive in as many of the procedural and substantive aspects as possible. But, as in any specialized area dominated by professionals, it can be difficult — sometimes treacherously so — to navigate the rough waters without assistance. So, to make their journey easier, I guide those clients over the rough places. Then they have the satisfaction of doing as much for themselves as they can or want to do.
What my clients need to make wise decisions is information. Do you want to know how divorce works in Connecticut? Do you have questions about the law? About alimony or child support? About property division? About custody and parenting time (formerly known as visitation)? About the legal effects of relocating your home after the divorce? Or what may happen if you marry again, or have a significant other? Can you date while your divorce is in progress? Knowing the answers to those and other legally-significant questions can give you the information you need to proceed on your own.
Or, do you want information to assist you with drafting and filing the paperwork that starts your case? Would you like a bit more support from your divorce mediator, such as hands-on help with drafting that paperwork? Would an overview of the process be helpful? Would a list of all the paperwork you’ll need from the day you file for a divorce until the divorce hearing suffice? Are you comfortable navigating the court system by yourself or would you feel more secure with some help?
Unbundled Legal Services, offers you as little or as much help as you need. And you pay only for the services you want.
WHAT ARE UNBUNDLED LEGAL SERVICES?
Now that you’re familiar with the concept of Unbundled Legal Services, it’s time to find out how to make it work for you. In a typical mediation your attorney-mediator will offer a bundle of legal services. I’ve listed below some of the most important bundles your attorney-mediator can offer. As you read through them, draw up a three-column list of the following:
- Column 1) Those bundles you believe you have the knowledge to do yourself without help;
- Column 2) Those bundles you’d prefer doing yourself, with some guidance;
- Column 3) Those bundles you definitely want your attorney-mediator to do.
After choosing a mediator or collaborator who offers Unbundled Legal Services, you will meet with him or her and discuss how you want to proceed with the unbundling of the tasks ahead.
HERE ARE SOME OF THE BUNDLES YOU CAN CHOOSE FROM:
- Understanding Connecticut divorce procedure, including the process options you have;
- Collecting, reviewing and assessing your financial documentation, including tax returns, proof of current income, banking, investments, retirement assets, real property, personal property, credit cards statements, appraisals, collectibles, and any other facts and documents that bear on your economic condition;
- Helping you decide who will be the plaintiff and who the defendant, and what that means;
- Drafting the plaintiff’s initial divorce papers;
- Having the papers approved and signed by the court clerk;
- Arranging for a marshal to serve the defendant with those papers;
- Filing the divorce papers in court & paying the court entry fee;
- Filling out, understanding and filing the Case Management Agreement;
- Filling out, understanding and filing the Affidavit Concerning Children;
- Filling out, understanding and filing other paperwork essential to your divorce case;
- Drafting court papers for the defendant to serve on the plaintiff;
- Preparing current & future budgets;
- Preparing and updating your financial affidavits;
- Preparing the required Parenting Plan;
- Assisting you with the required Parenting Education Course;
- Preparing child support worksheets if you have children under 18;
- Guiding you both on issues of alimony, property division, parenting (formerly known as custody and visitation), post-secondary education orders for your children, relocation of your residence after the divorce, and concerns that apply to your marital situation;
- Researching legal issues, when necessary;
- Working on communication and negotiating skills;
- Finding specialists:
- Child Specialists to assist with practical advice to help your children cope emotionally with the trauma of divorce. This can include how to tell your kids about the divorce; learning what they actually feel rather than what they tell you they feel; spotting potential problem areas at home, in school, among their friends, before they erupt.
- Financial Specialists to evaluate the economic circumstances you will face after the divorce, and how to maximize your net disposable income; to educate you on the tax implications of dividing your assets, and how to minimize or eliminate the tax burden.
- Divorce Communication Coaches to work with you as needed to help when communications falter and issues arise that interfere with the positive energy required for effective, good faith negotiations.
- Other specialists if needed, on such topics as Social Security, Immigration, Longterm care, Special Needs Trusts, Real Estate, Medicaid, QDROs (needed to divide 401(k)s, pensions, etc);
- Helping the two of you negotiate a settlement of all the issues;
- Writing your Divorce Agreement (in Connecticut known as a Separation Agreement);
- Keeping tabs on filing dates;
- Preparing paperwork needed for the divorce hearing;
- Accompanying both of you to court on the day of your divorce hearing;
If you find some items on that list confusing or even daunting, don’t be discouraged. Even if you understand what the listed tasks mean, you may not be sure how of to get them done. And, of course, if you don’t know that, you can’t be expected to know whether you should assume responsibility for taking them on. That’s something we can talk about.
Among the things your lawyer-mediator or collaborator doesn’t do are filing motions in court and arguing your case before the judge. That’s because in mediation there are no motions to file, and there are no arguments to make. Everything is done respectfully, in the privacy of your mediator’s office. You will go to court once and only once: on the day of your divorce. In addition to saving you the considerable expense of paying lawyers to file and argue motions, both you and your spouse will be spared the searing experience of exposing your private life to anyone who happens to be in the courtroom.
As you unbundle, my job will be to accommodate you only in those things you prefer not to do yourselves. Some clients want me to do more, some less. The beauty of this is obvious; you pay only for those services you request, and you keep your hands on the control at all times.
If you’d like more information, please contact me at 203-372-9055 or send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for spending the time with me learning about Unbundled Legal Services.
Mediation & Collaboration work best when each spouse cares about the other’s outcome.