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Collaborative Law in Bucks County (Transcript)
author  |  eleanor flannery, esquire

Show: Collaborative Law in Bucks County

Aired: 10/12/2010 6:00 PM UTC

Host: Tim Adams

Description: Join Collaborative Law Radio today to hear Eleanor Flannery, Esq share her thoughts on collaborative divorce in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.  With nearly 30 years experience in family law in Bucks and Philadelphia Counties, Eleanor will talk about her journey in family law.  Eleanor has been selected as a Pennsylvania Super Lawyer for Family Law.  This high honor is bestowed upon the top 5% of lawyers in Pennsylvania as chosen by Philadelphia Magazine and Law & Politics.


[Start of Transcript]

[Tim Adams]
0:19: Welcome to Blog Talk Radio's Collaborative Divorce Radio for Tuesday, October 12, 2010, coming to you live from Yardley, Pennsylvania.  I am your host, Tim Adams, President of the Bucks County Collaborative Law Group.  The Bucks County Collaborative Law Group is a private non-profit organization focused on changing the face of divorce not only in Bucks County but all of Pennsylvania.  Our webpage is buckscountycollaborativelaw.com.  Today's special guest is a founding member of the Bucks County Collaborative Law Group, Eleanor Flannery.  She is an associate of the Law Offices of William L. Goldman.  She is a graduate of St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia, as well as Rutgers University School of Law.  After graduating law school in 1981, Ms. Flannery joined her husband in private practice at Flannery and Flannery in Philadelphia until 2002.  While in private practice, she was also a clinical instructor at Temple University School of Law, as well as a Master in Custody and Support for the Court of Common Pleas.  She has also been selected as one of Pennsylvania's Super Lawyers for Family Law.  This is a high honor bestowed upon the top 5% of lawyers in Pennsylvania as chosen by Philadelphia Magazine and Law and Politics.  Eleanor is a founding member of our group and someone that I personally enjoy talking to about collaborative law.  And with 30 years worth of experience, I think she is going to share some unique thoughts here today about collaborative law.  So Eleanor, welcome.



[Eleanor Flannery]
2:01: Hello.  Thank you, Tim.  I really appreciate the opportunity to talk to you today about collaborative law.  It's an exciting new area for me and I make sure that we can share this and get the word out about collaborative.



[Tim Adams]
2:14: Sure.  Eleanor, I gave a little bit of your biography but you know tell me, how did you start your career in Family Law?  And how did you move towards Collaborative?



[Eleanor Flannery]
2:27: Well, I started my practice as you said with my husband.  We practiced together for 13 years, and we had a -- I guess you would call that a neighborhood practice so I do things like wills and estates, some real estates, but the bulk of my practice was devoted to Family Law, because that's what people in the neighborhood needed.  It started out probably about 50% Family Law but by the time I left the practice with my husband, it was probably doing 85% to 90% Family Law.  So it's just something that developed -- the more you do it, the more people come to see you.  When I left the private practice with my husband, I went to Temple Law School where I took clinical programs.  One of them was a trial custody mediation and the other on was representing tax-exempt organizations, which was not related to Family Law.  From there, it's just a natural progression seemed to me to go to work in the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia and that's where I worked as both a Support and Custody Master in hearing cases of one of both of these issues.  And eventually, they trained and I started me to be just a Custody Master, and I was there for about four and a half years.  So it just seems like Family Law was where I was destined to be but while I was -- through those years, I kept looking for something else that would work better for families.  The typical custody litigation just seems to be -- it's so stressful for families going through a divorce or a custody dispute is stressful enough without the problems that go along with the court system.



[Tim Adams]
4:08: So for 30 years, you've done -- you had your -- virtually all of your experience, not only practicing but also teaching parts of Family Law and actually hearing cases.  Correct?



[Eleanor Flannery]
4:23: Yes, I did.  When I was at Temple, when I was teaching the custody mediation clinical program, I was working with students and in the early history of Law School, where they would represent clients and would help mediate cases, and I was supervising them through that process.  When I went to the court and with hearing cases and making recommendations concerning how custody should be and set up for families, the court also had a mediation program and I run that program.  So I would mediate in the court, supervise all the volunteer mediators and help get that program up and running.



[Tim Adams]
4:59: Alright.  Well, one of the statistics that I've heard is that in 2009, there are about 1485 new cases, new divorces filed in Bucks County, and another 1800 re-filings either for alimony, custody, or support, could you tell us -- for somebody who is contemplating getting divorced or is may be considering re-filing, what's it like currently in the Bucks County Family Court for getting divorced?  What can somebody expect right now with a traditional litigated divorce?



[Eleanor Flannery]
5:48: Well, most divorces that are filed, people don't think that they're going to litigate right out of the gate.  Everybody has the expectation that they're going to settle something, at least some of the issues will be resolved by agreements, but that doesn't always happen.  Just so if you started out with that mindset, there is going to be some delay in the beginning where nothing gets on.  But from the time of filing until the end of the divorce, it could, in theory, take only about four months but that just doesn't happen.  That would be a case where somebody has -- they reached an agreement on all of the issues, that they don't have to do this, litigates support or custody or property division or alimony, and it's really a rare divorce where they don't have a dispute on some of those issues and they're able to reach an agreement that quickly.  But I could say, typically, a divorce would take a year and a half to two years to get through.  Now, there are delays build in to the court system.  Every time you file, you want to get into court on an issue.  You have to file either a motion or a petition, something has to be filed and then it's at least a month to six weeks or sometimes more before you get a first listing.  And that listing doesn't always mean it's going to be resolved.  And there's no way to file in something with the court and save and has them scheduled everything all at once.  Each individual issue that has to be addressed by the court requires a separate hearing or a conference, and sometimes it's more than one listing for each of those items.



[Tim Adams]
7:30: So it sounds like to me that if you're contemplating getting divorced in Bucks County, this is something that's not going to happen real soon.  As a matter of fact, it sounds a little complicated and cumbersome.



[Eleanor Flannery]
7:50: It certainly is.  And it's not just Bucks County too, by the way.  It's how their system is set up in Pennsylvania, so in every county, you have these types of delays.  And support is just resolved separately, custody is separately.  Division of property has to be doe separately.  So there's not just hearing or conference depending on it is you are looking for, that would determine whether it's scheduled for a conference or a hearing, but they are set up and all spread out over the time and nothing is said and not they're not combined together for resolution.



[Tim Adams]
8:27: Now, I heard something interesting, are the support records and the divorce records open in Buck County?  I mean could anybody just walk in and hear your divorce case?



[Eleanor Flannery]
8:42: Well, they do it.  The courtrooms are open and the records are open also.  Somebody can come in and look at us and they can ask for a file and they can look at it, just as though you can go to the recorder of deeds and say I would like to look at the deed for a certain property.  You can also see records concerning domestic relation matters.  Everything that is filed with the court is there, is public records.



[Tim Adams]
9:05: So, if I'm a small business owner or I'm a business executive in some public company and I have stock options or you know, anybody can view the finances of my business that are in the court record?



[Eleanor Flannery]
9:24: That's correct.  It's part of the discovery or I meant not really discovery, but if part of the documentation that has been filed with the court includes your tax return or profit and law statements, those documents are all part of the court record and it's there to be viewed.



[Tim Adams]
9:41: Fine.  So this has been a normal system.  This is the way that it has been set up.  How did you now start getting involved in collaborative divorce and why did you get involved Collaborative?



[Eleanor Flannery]
9:57: I mentioned earlier that I had some involvement with mediation, and I started my involvement with that process because I was looking for another way for people to resolve their disputes.  They would be more respectful for each other and it would -- in gender, a feeling of some trust and respect between the parties.  Because what I had seen through my career is that divorce or custody litigation -- if there was any trust remaining, it often just destroys it.  And I saw the -- and I recognized that parents would have to be parents for the rest of their lives, even when their children were 40 years old, they were still parents when they're going to have to get together at family events.  And I just hated what I saw where children would think, "Oh, what about the school play?  What's going to happen this time if mom and dad aren't going to get together?"  So that's what pulled me to mediation first.  But I found that mediation has some drawbacks to it.  I think that people have a difficult time not going through that process, trying to negotiate and settle their disputes without having legal council there at their side, and gets one of the great benefits of the collaborative practice, which is why I got into that is that even though you have the confidentiality, you don't have everything out in the court system, spread in your documents on, spread around there.  You can have the assistance right at your side.  You have a council who is there to help you through the process.  So although I'm committed to the collaborative process, my first responsibility and commitment is to my client to make sure that they get the best representation and that they are aware of what's going on, if they have full disclosure and they were able to work through this and come up with a resolution that satisfies them and satisfies the needs of the family, but certainly my first responsibility is the client.  I found collaborative practice met all those goals.  It gave people the ability to take control with their own lives, reach agreements that satisfied their family's need, and also gave them the ability to have council there right with them as they were working through the issues.



[Tim Adams]
12:19: Now, you have raised an interesting point in trying to, about the difference between mediation and collaboration.  A lot of people -- not a lot of people know what collaborative law is and they think, "Oh, you know, it's just mediation."  And there have been some critics of collaborative law, who talk about there is a responsibility on the part of an attorney to zealously protect and defend and advocate for their clients.  And that some people think that collaborative is in some respects giving up on zealously protecting their clients.  You know, what's you r kind of thought on that?



[Eleanor Flannery]
13:08: Oh, I can't disagree more.  I mean our responsibility, even as a collaborative practitioner, is to advocate for our client's position.  They are not giving up any rights by agreeing to work through collaboratively in there, to try and settle their disputes, and each party has an attorney.  I'm not there representing either client.  If I'm representing, let's say the husband, my responsibility is to protect that client.  Although, I'm hoping that they will reach the end result of resolving all of their issues and to do it in a respectful manner.  I'm not there to protect the other side, which in that case would be the wife.  I zealously advocate for my client's whether it's through the whole litigation, the tradition litigation system, or through the collaborative practice.  The major difference is that we're trying to resolve them through a series of four-way meetings, rather than going into court.  Even with the traditional litigated divorce, we still resolve many issues by a four-way meeting.  It just happens to be standing may be in the hallway outside the courtroom.  But those types of negotiations, you've geared up for court, there has been hard feelings usually because people have mainly __14:31__ to come to a resolution.  They are all ready to go to court and they're standing outside the courtroom.  It doesn't do anything to in gender, a cooperative spirit between the parties when you have to get to the courtroom door to resolve the issues.



[Tim Adams]
14:47: So what you're really saying is that even though when we work in collaboratively together, the attorney still has to protect the interest of their client, as if they would in any other format of law.  So they're not giving up any kind of protection, but really in some respects it sounds like is that you're gaining more control because of the ability to negotiate, the ability to create more solutions to problems, and by offering this greater sense of control, perhaps, the agreements become more meaningful as supposed to those trusted upon them.



[Eleanor Flannery]
15:35: I certainly do think that the agreements that people reach are more meaningful to them than anything that the judge orders.  You know, when it's both of them -- both parties sit down and work, let's say financial issues or through custody issues, and come up with a plan that works best for them, it certainly is more meaningful and beneficial to the clients I believe than anything that the judge imposes.  The judge only gets to see the husband and wife or the mother and the father, for that few minutes or an hour, however amount of time that they have and before then, but even if you have a whole day trial at most it's about six hours that the judge makes it to see people.  And their lives are being decided based on six hours.  And the collaborative process allows them to make their own decisions, consider what they know about each other, consider their children if it's a custody dispute, and to create in the solutions that they come up with and hopefully it would be not a one-side-gets-all decision imposed on them, but something that would truly work for them and help them move forward in their lives.



[Tim Adams]
16:50: For those who are listening today, we're speaking with Eleanor Flannery of the Law Offices of William L. Goldman in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.  Eleanor has been a practicing attorney for nearly 30 years and has been focusing her energies and efforts in Family Law, specifically divorce and custody.  And she is sharing her thoughts today about collaborative divorce.  Eleanor, you know we have talked in previous shows a lot about the four-way meeting between the parties, an attorney for the husband and an attorney for the wife and then of course the husband and wife, what do you think is really more the unique character that really just segregates collaborative in the four-way meeting?  Some people have really talked about that that the attorneys are not adversaries, but they're much more of colleagues.  What are your thoughts on that?



[Eleanor Flannery]
17:57: Well, I think it's a more collegial way to approach this for the attorneys, because they know that they've made a commitment to work with this party collaboratively and not to take the case into court.  Even if it falls apart and they don't resolve this, you won't be litigating the case with the clients.  But I think that's just a totally different mindset that we approach the case with.  You have a commitment to open disclosure to making sure that the documents and all the information is shared and it's a very different way to approach it.  I think, it's more healthy for the attorneys too not only for the clients.  To litigate a process and dealing with the stress and the emotions of the clients, that take a toll on the attorneys too.  I think this is a much healthier way for not only the clients but the attorneys who'd practice law.



[Tim Adams]
18:55: What do you think collaborative law is going to be in the next five years?  And you know, what's your hope and vision for collaborative law in Bucks County over that same time frame?  Where do you think it's headed?



[Eleanor Flannery]
19:11: Well, I would love to see it where it didn't have to be anymore litigated divorces, but I think that's a dream.  I see this is a growing field as more and more people are expressing an interest in it.  I get emails inquiring about it.  Sometimes, people will call up and not everybody is ready to come in and commit to it.  But I find it more and more when clients come in to see me for their initial consultation, and when they're either involved in a divorce or they're contemplating a separation.  They're really interested in that and I can see this is just a growing field.  I wouldn't be surprised if 25% of the divorces in Bucks County were settled collaboratively within five years, and I think that would be a tremendous contribution to the community.



[Tim Adams]
20:02: I'm hoping as well, because I think that ultimately, the people that are going to benefit from collaborative divorce and collaborative law with respect to Family Law, who are going to be the children of the family, because I think they're less likely to be utilized as pawns in a situation when people who are reasonably sitting down and talking about how to resolve their differences more respectfully.



[Eleanor Flannery]
20:40: I agree with that.  I don't think getting by or ever thinks they're using their children as pawns, but if you are not sitting down face-to-face with the other parents, it's easier to fight about the custody of the children when you're not actually talking to each other.  And it does a lot of damage to children and it's certainly unintentionally because nobody wants to harm their own children.  But the continuing bickering and back and forth into court for the parents, it certainly takes a toll on children.  I hear from the clients repeatedly about their children not doing well in school, that they're having discipline problems in school, and a lot of it they associate with the divorce and the custody litigation the parents are going through.  Even though here in Bucks County, the judges often will not speak to the children, so the children aren't there in the court building.  It still takes a toll and the children know that their parents are not getting along.  Often, their parents may become __21:41__ side comments to the children about a parent and not even realizing that they're doing it, but if they were working together, coming together in a four-way meeting and either working with the attorneys or perhaps if we bring in a child psychologist to help the parents work on a parenting plan.  It certainly changes the __22:01__ of the entire negotiation and discussion when they're face-to-face and talking about their goals, what they would like to see happen for their children and their aspirations.  In a litigated custody case, you don't have people saying, "I will see my children grow up, and I hope they go to college."  And that type of discussion just seems to disappear.  It suddenly just becomes an adversarial process that they're going through.



[Tim Adams]
22:29: Now, you mentioned child psychologist -- the collaborative can make use of outside partners, different team members that could provide some level of assistance and guidance.  Can you talk about some of the people that can be or types of professionals that could be utilized in the Collaborative?



[Eleanor Flannery]
22:55: Well, in the Bucks County Collaborative Law Group of which the both of us are members, we have child psychologists and we have financial advisers and accountants and may be some parenting coaches, too.  I'm not sure but we could bring in a parent coach, to help the people work through some of these issues.  And the child psychologist is certainly an excellent resource in helping the parents try to resolve the custody disputes and looking what would work best for the children.  The psychologist could give them some guidance in what would be age-appropriate schedules, which is something that just gets completely overlooked in the litigated case.  Not every child has exactly the same needs and even twins may not have the same needs, but a 4-year-old and a 15-year-old may not work well on the same custody schedule.  But it is the rare case where they have different schedules depending on the child's activities, their age, and even their temperaments.  And a child physiologist would certainly could help the parents work through that, and sometimes we would suggest to clients that they would go together to meet with the psychologist to talk about the issues concerning their children.  Sometimes, we bring the psychologist into the meeting, so it's a five-way rather than a four-way, and the psychologist may be there to help us just work through some issues.



[Tim Adams]
24:23: Though we have all these resources available, not necessarily everyone needs to use it right of the back.  Correct?



[Eleanor Flannery]
24:31: That's correct.  Yes.  We also have financial analysts and financial advisers that could help people or accountants that can help them work through some budgeting if they need help with that or with some financial advice that they might need, and they get help from it as a couple or perhaps we -- necessarily, we could refer somebody individually to a financial assistance.



[Tim Adams]
24:52: Alright.  In addition, one of the things that the Bucks County Collaborative Law Group also has is an addition to the financial advisers and accountants, we also have mortgage professionals and some real estaters who have been collaboratively trained to help people handle one of their single largest assets which tends to be their home.  So we have that capability as well.  Eleanor, you know in our few remaining minutes here, I would like to talk a little bit about how someone might be able to get in touch with you?  And how they would work with you?  And what's the person that you would like to work with the most?  So, a loaded question.



[Eleanor Flannery]
25:45: The person I would like to work the most?



[Tim Adams]
25:47: You know, what type of person is someone that you really enjoy working?  You know, what kind of person would really do well working with you?



[Eleanor Flannery]
25:56: Okay.  Well, I will raise your first question, I think was how would somebody get in touch with me.  I'm here at the Law Offices William L. Goldman in Doylestown and this firm was started in1951 by Mr. William Goldman, Sr.  
Mr. Goldman is still in the office.  He is not actively representing clients any longer, but he is the life of this firm.  He has been here -- and he has got a reputation in Bucks County and he is beyond the firm to provide service to clients; that was his goal and it's still the goal of this firm.  We are located at 90 East State Street in Doylestown.  We're just right around the corner from the courthouse and up the street from the county theatre, if anybody that is familiar with Doylestown.  You could reach me by writing to me here or you could call me at 215 348 2605, and finally of course we have an email.  A lot of the clients do contact us by email.  And my email address is flannery@goldmanlawoffices.com, and that 'offices' is plural.  You need that 's' on the end of it.  The client that I would like to work with best?  Well, I worked well with male or female.  I don't have a preference and certainly I would be thrilled to have somebody that we can be interested in resolving their issues collaboratively.  However, I still had been active in thriving litigation practice, so it's not one or the other.  My dream would be to have it be totally litigation -- I am sorry, back that off -- collaborative practice.  Because I think that I'm really making a difference there.  And certainly, there is some satisfaction with dealing -- resolving a case through the litigation, finally shepherding people through and coming to that point in their life where they are ready to go off and live their life, but the collaborative approach is just so satisfying.  I really would like to work with clients that would be interested and giving this a try.




[Tim Adams]
28:19: Well, you know, Eleanor, I appreciate you talking today about the collaborative practice and the Bucks County Collaborative Law Group.  Eleanor is one of my very favorite folks in the Bucks County Collaborative Law Group largely because she is a Rutgers graduate where I graduated as well.  But in addition, she really represents the best part of our group and our group is about 30 people right now who are really of the highest caliber I think in Bucks County, who are really geared toward changing the face of divorce in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, as well as Pennsylvania as a whole.  If you're interested in learning more about the collaborative divorce process, I'm going to give you two websites.  The first is buckscountycollaborativelawgroup.com, that's buckscountycollaborativelawgroup.com, and that is our website.  We have some very interesting articles written by our members, as well as some videos by Stew Web who is part of the national scene in the collaborative practice.  And then the next website is collaborativepractice.com.  Eleanor, thank you very much for attending today and talking and sharing your thoughts, I really appreciate it.  And our next show will be next week.  Thank you very much.



[Eleanor Flannery]
30:02: Thank you, Tim.  Are you still there?



[Tim Adams]
30:10: Yeah.  We're done.



[Eleanor Flannery]
30:11: Oh okay.  I thought when you're done, there's a sound change.



[Tim Adams]
30:13: Right.



[Eleanor Flannery]
30:14: Okay.



[Tim Adams]
30:15: Alright.  So thank you very much.



[Eleanor Flannery]
30:17: Thank you.



[Tim Adams]
30:18: And we will talk later.



[Eleanor Flannery]
30:20: Okay.  Thanks Tim.



[Tim Adams]
30:21: Alright.  Sure.  Bye-bye.



[Eleanor Flannery]
30:22: Bye.





[End of Transcript]



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