Below is an excerpt of our discussion with Jacqueline Newman, a well-respected collaborative New York City divorce lawyer and an expert in matrimonial law in New York.
Divorce Saloon: Hello Ms. Newman, good morning and welcome to Divorce Saloon!
Jacqueline Newman: Thank you! I am really excited to be here.
Divorce Saloon: Great. So, as you know, we have been interviewing a bunch of lawyers lately and we have been trying to get to the bottom of divorce practice in New York, around the country and around the world. To that end, we contacted your firm because you guys are superlawyers and we wanted to know your thoughts on the current trends in divorce especially in Collaborative Divorce Law since you are an expert in collaborative divorce law, right?
Jacqueline Newman: That’s basically right. I practice all three process choices for divorce: mediation, collaborative law and litigation. I also specialize in prenuptial agreements.
Divorce Saloon: How long have you been a matrimonial law expert?
Jacqueline Newman: I have been practicing for over 15 years.
Divorce Saloon: And what attracted you to this type of work?
Jacqueline Newman: I have always wanted to be a matrimonial attorney (even since junior high school). My parents were both psychotherapists, so the big joke in the family was that I was too aggressive to be a marriage counselor, so I went the other way.
Divorce Saloon: Hm…interesting…. So is it everything you anticipated? And what is new and different in the last 5 years or so in the field?
Jacqueline Newman: Yes, of course. It is everything and more. As to the second part of your question, I am finding more and more clients are opting to divorce via the collaborative law process, rather than traditional litigation so that is different. Many clients are getting tired of the expensive and lengthy process of litigation. Plus, they do not like great uncertainty when it comes to the most important aspects of their lives and uncertainty is the only certainty you can get when going to Court.
Divorce Saloon: Right. That’s true. That’s actually what I want to talk to you about today, is Collaborative law. I would like to focus our discussion on that if that’s okay with you?
Jacqueline Newman: Sure.
Divorce Saloon: So can you tell us a bit more about that? What is it and what do potential clients need to know about it in order to decide whether to choose it or not?
Jacqueline Newman: Well, let’s see if I can give you the short version. In a collaborative law divorce, each party would be represented by an attorney trained in the process. I recommend working with attorneys who are trained by the NYACP (New York Association of Collaborative Professionals) because that way you know that you have a professional who is properly educated in the process. The attorneys and the clients sign what is called a Participation Agreement which outlines the process and is an agreement not to go to Court. The collaborative process is a voluntary process, so if one spouse decides that he or she does not want to do it anymore, then the process is terminated. The kicker to this process is that the collaborative attorneys cannot represent their clients in Court if they signed the Participation Agreement and the process breaks down. This puts a lot of significance on settlement. One of the positive aspects of the collaborative process is that we bring in other professionals who are also trained in the process – it is a team approach. So a typical team would be the two attorneys, a divorce coach (or two, although I prefer the single coach model), a financial neutral and a child specialist (if applicable). I often tell clients that I am the most expensive player on the team, so why wouldn’t you work with the team professionals who are less expensive and specialized? The theory of a collaborative case is to focus on the common goals of the parties and to find a settlement that works best for the family as a whole. It recognizes issues that are often disregarded in a courtroom litigation. People are given the tools to carve their own settlement that is tailored to their family’s specific needs. When the process works, it is a much more respectful and dignified way to divorce.
Divorce Saloon: That was a great explanation. Thank you. I am sure that potential divocees will appreciate that….So is the collaborative model a good choice for all divorcing litigants?
Jacqueline Newman: I wish it were but I don’t think so. The collaborative process is somewhat self-selecting. If you want blood – it may not be a good process to choose. If a client does not want to take responsibility for the decisions they make for their family and would prefer to have a third party do it, again, it may not be the right process. However, if there are two clients who want to figure out a settlement that takes into account their children’s needs and try to maintain a working relationship with each other after the divorce, it is a great way to accomplish those goals. In most cases I encourage clients to try the collaborative process before entering into litigation. The Courts are not going anywhere, so if the collaborative process does not work out – you can still “have your day in Court” (which is never what they think it is).
Divorce Saloon: Good point. Those courts are literally etched in stone…so how common or popular is collaborative law in New York?
Jacqueline Newman: It is becoming more and more common. I would say that almost half of the cases in my office are either mediation or collaborative law. I also know many attorneys who no longer litigate at all and their whole practice is dedicated to mediation and collaborative law — they seem to keep food on their table, so it must be working!
Divorce Saloon: What is the profile of the type of client who chooses collaborative law?
Jacqueline Newman: Like I said before, it is a set of clients who really want to walk out of the process respecting the marriage they had and with a workable agreement they were involved in making. Collaborative cases work well for anyone open to it. However, I find that this process is very beneficial for high net worth clients and high profile clients as it is private, you can control the schedule of the meetings (unlike Court dates which the judge dictates) and many want to have a say in what happens. That said, it is a great process for any client (regardless of income) that wants to have a respectful divorce.
Divorce Saloon: Have you found that the collaborative approach is effective? What percentage of these cases resort to litigation?
Jacqueline Newman: I have found the collaborative approach to be very effective. I am not aware of what percentage of the cases resort to litigation.
Divorce Saloon: How can this process or collaborative model be improved for litigants in your opinion?
Jacqueline Newman: I think the process can be improved by using the interdisciplinary model (the full team approach). The more than people realize that the significant majority of divorce cases settle, so it really is just a question of whether you want to settle after being involved with the collaborative process or being involved in litigation. The result is a settlement; it is just a question of which path you want to take to get there.
Divorce Saloon: What do you say to those clients who insist on going the litigation route?
Jacqueline Newman: Litigation has become more and more difficult in New York. I think the budget cuts have really impacted the Court system as judges are overworked and the courtroom hours are cut due to office staff not being able to work overtime. There needs to be more information available to clients to understand what it really means to “go to Court” with the hope that clients will take that information and realize how much better it would be for their families to stay out of Court. Also, there needs to be more clear cut case-law that applies to high income and high net worth cases. As many of my clients phase out of the statutory caps on income, it becomes very unpredictable what a court will or will not do when dealing with high income cases.
Divorce Saloon: How has technology and the digital revolution affected your practice, if at all?
Jacqueline Newman: Social media has played a huge role in our cases. It is very hard for a spouse to claim that he cannot afford the court-ordered child support payments, when he posts a picture on Facebook of his latest sports car purchase.
Divorce Saloon: Would you advise young lawyers getting out of law school to specialize in matrimonial law? Why or why not?
Jacqueline Newman: I often advise young attorneys to intern at a matrimonial law firm while in law school to determine if they want to go into this field. I think people either love it or hate it. It does not pay enough when you are first starting out for you to figure out whether you love it or hate it when you have law school loans to pay. Also, the field is mostly composed of small firms and solo practitioners , so it is a hard field to break into.
Divorce Saloon: What is the profile of your ideal client?
Jacqueline Newman: An ideal client is someone who is not looking for WWII, is reasonable and realizes that a protracted litigation will cause great harm to themselves and their family.
Divorce Saloon: What is the profile of your worse nightmare client from hell?
Jacqueline Newman: A nightmare client is someone who is looking for WWII and is too shortsighted to see that a protracted litigation will cause great hard to themselves and their family.
Divorce Saloon: Ms Newman, thank you for your time we appreciate your answers and time.
Jacqueline Newman: It was my pleasure.
Jacqueline Newman is the managing partner of Berkman Bottger Newman & Rodd, LLP, a law firm that practices exclusively matrimonial law. Ms. Newman’s practice consists of litigation, collaborative law and mediation. She specializes in complex high net worth matrimonial cases and negotiating prenuptial agreements. Ms. Newman has appeared as a commentator on various television shows and has been quoted as an expert in numerous publications, including Glamour Magazine, Crain’s New York Business, U.S. News and World Report, Woman’s Day and The Huffington Post.
Ms. Newman has been included in the New York Metro Super Lawyers Edition for 2012 through 2014 and was honored with a listing in The Ten Leaders of Matrimonial & Divorce Law in New York City, Age 45 and Under. She has recently been honored to be selected as the New York Divorce and Prenuptial Agreements attorney for the exclusive Haute Lawyers network. These activities and her reputation for ethical standards and professional ability among her fellow lawyers have earned her the highest rating, AV Preeminent Peer Review Rated by Martindale Hubbell. Ms. Newman is also the youngest attorney to be selected for inclusion in Thompson Reuters New York-Metro Super Lawyers Top 50 Women Attorneys for 2013 and again for 2014.