Couling Law and Mediation, PLLC
A Full-Service Family Law Practice
"What is Streamline Divorce(SM)?"
The key objective of Streamline Divorce(SM) is to help you avoid the expense, upheaval and trauma of a traditional divorce case by reaching out-of-court settlements before a divorce case is ever filed.
Streamline Divorce(SM) is a form-based, two-phase process designed to help our clients produce smart, stable, satisfactory and cost-effective divorce settlement agreements. The Streamline Divorce(SM) process also offers an "a la carte" menu of optional legal services, which the client selects based her or her own situation and preferences. Services may range from simply writing up a client's agreement with his or her spouse to assistance and information with specific issues (such as sale of a marital home, spousal support, etc.)
Using the Streamline Divorce(SM) process, the client and his or her spouse work through the forms and resolve as many of their issues as is possible. The client also utilizes the services of our experienced attorneys on an "as requested" basis. For the simplest Streamline Divorce(SM) option, we offer flat fees for document preparation phase (Phase I) and, in many instances, the fees for processing your case through court (Phase II).
"I want to use the quickest process possible. Can I file for divorce and then do a Streamline Divorce(SM) once the case is started?"
Please don't. It is not impossible, but hurriedly filing for divorce is not the best or most-cost effective way to initiate a divorce in most cases. For the majority of cases, the smartest, most cost-effective way to address a divorce settlement is before anyone files.
Even if the Streamline Divorce(SM) process is not the right process for your case, there likely is another appropriate out-of-court option to suit your particular situation. We can help you with those other options as well. In addition, with good planning and court approval, some Streamline Divorce(SM) cases can be processed much more quickly than traditional, litigated divorce cases. If it is important to finalize your impending divorce action in a shorter period of time, please discuss those considerations with us. There are certain statutory bases for shortening the required waiting periods.
"Who can use the Streamline Divorce(SM) process?"
Streamline Divorce(SM) is primarily intended for couples who have reasonably full knowledge about their family finances and who can work together in a businesslike way to make informed decisions for their children and themselves. The parties don't need to be actually "friendly" or "amicable" so much as (a) to be able to be civil to one another and (b) to agree that litigating their issues in court is financially wasteful and often damaging to the individuals and their children.
"What is the philosophy behind Streamline Divorce(SM)?"
The Streamline Divorce(SM) process was developed because, as family law attorneys with experience both within the court system and in private practice, we knew in our hearts and minds: "There has to be a better way."
It is our belief, and the belief of our satisfied clients, that the better way for clients to handle the personal and legal issues in the vast majority of divorce cases is to:
1. Know their full range of options before either party files a complaint for divorce. 2. Maintain privacy and mutual respect to the greatest degree possible. 3. Agree that adversarial litigation is not in their best interests.
4. Emphasize self-determination (and agree on their own to certain issues).
5. Enlist professional advice (attorneys and other experts) where necessary to help them produce a well-informed and mutually-satisfactory resolution; and
6. Minimize unnecessary costs.
Most divorce cases will never (and should never) proceed to trial. The statistics back this up. However, when a person "files for divorce" -- whether they realize it or not -- they have made a choice to step on board the "runaway train" of litigation.
The philosophy behind Streamline Divorce is to help divorcing clients move forward toward their best possible mutual outcomes without ever stepping on the runaway train of adversarial litigation in the first place.
"Can you offer flat fees?"
Yes. We offer flat fees for certain, truly "standard" cases. We offer reduced rates for many out-of-court options.
When hourly attorney fees are incurred in Streamline Divorce(SM) cases, they are approximately 10-20% below our current standard rates for traditional litigation cases.
We offer value and strive for excellence – however, simply being "cheap" is not the objective. We adhere to a "golden rule" philosophy. We would not want ourselves, our friends or our family members to attempt to handle their important family and property issues with the "cheapest" possible format -- particularly if that "cheap" format jeopardized their other important personal or financial interests. Our fee structure is designed to help clients minimize unnecessary expense -- mainly the adversarial lawsuit process itself. If we believe an expense is critical to producing a good outcome, we will not hesitate to recommend it.
For understandable reasons, court costs and third-party costs are often fixed and not subject to reductions of any kind, regardless of whether a divorce is handled through the Streamline Divorce (SM) process or through the process of traditional adversarial litigation.
"Is Streamline Divorce(SM) available in my area?"
Right now, we serve the following Michigan counties:
Livingston, Genesee, Washtenaw and Oakland.
We are able to offer certain aspects of our services throughout the State of Michigan. At the moment, our services are not available outside of the State of Michigan.
"How do I know whether Streamline Divorce(SM) appropriate for my case?"
1) Do both spouses have reasonably full knowledge about our family's finances, debts and assets? 2) Even if we are not necessarily getting along, can my spouse and I work through a set of forms in an efforts to try to produce a mutually-satisfactory settlement and stay out of court? 3) Has either party has subjected the other to threats, violence, intimidation or pressure?
Then, if you are interested in the most basic, type of Streamline Divorce(SM), these are typical agreements the parties tend to make (and for these types of agreements we usually can offer flat fees*):
(A) If there are minor children, the parties can work out a mutually satisfactory parenting time schedule and agree to abide by the Michigan child support guidelines. (B) There is no real property to divide, one party will keep the house without complicated financial issues or real property will be sold and the proceeds divided on an agreed-upon basis.
(C) Each party keeps their own retirement funds, if any. (D) The parties can agree on who will be awarded vehicles, personal and household property. (E) The parties have a mutually satisfactory plan for handling their debts.
(F) There are no business interests to divide. (G) Neither party has received significant gifts or inheritance.
"What if I feel my case 'almost' could be handled as a Streamline Divorce(SM), but I need advice on some important issues that may not be so simple -- or where my spouse and I disagree right now?"
This is a very common question. The short answer is: We have multiple ways to help clients produce successful settlement using a "modified" Streamline Divorce(SM) process -- or a number of other excellent out-of-court options.
Our philosophy is to assist our clients in producing smart, stable, satisfactory and cost-effective divorce settlements. However, it is neither smart nor responsible to fail to enlist the necessary professional services to carefully address certain issues.
Some issues take time, information, careful thought and legal analysis in order to make the best decision for a particular situation. Issues where hourly advice or additional “a la carte” legal services probably will be required include*:
(A) Spousal Support - its amount, duration, conditions, etc. (B) Employer-provided Retirement Funds - division of pensions, 401(k) accounts, 403(b) accounts or other retirement assets where special court orders and third party approvals must be received.
(C) Marital Home Disposition - one party to take the family home and equity or debt must be divided; a party is allowed to reside in the home with sale to take place months or years after the divorce is finalized; third party interests or loans on a property must be addressed. (D) Division of family business or other business interests.
"I have an urgent family law issue. I am not sure Streamline Divorce(SM) is right for my situation."
The Streamline Divorce(SM) process is not right for all family law cases. When we say, "Don't file first," this is a broad general rule. There are very important caveats. The courts play an important role when a spouse's conduct or threats are out of bounds - physically, financially or otherwise.
Adversarial litigation sometimes is the best way to handle certain cases -- even if they are the minority of cases. If your family law matter requires urgent court action (for example, assets have been secreted, harm to person or property has occurred or been threatened), litigation may be your best first step. Where the parties cannot communicate at all or there exists violence or abuse, the Streamline Divorce(SM) process is not intended to address those important considerations of your case. Broadly speaking, though, we are confident that the Streamline Divorce(SM) process or other out-of-court options are best for MOST couples who have decided that their marriage cannot go forward and are united in the desire to move forward as positively as possible while staying out of court to the greatest degree possible.
“Do you handle any types of cases other than Streamline Divorces(SM)?”
Absolutely. We have a full-service family law practice. We also have a long history of handling business and real estate legal matters. We strongly believe Streamline Divorce(SM) or one of the other available out-of-court options is the most efficient and humane way to handle most divorce cases. However, not every can be handled as a Streamline Divorce(SM) or as an out of court settlement. We handle traditional court-based family law litigation as well as these more progressive out-of-court approaches.
"Is Streamline Divorce(SM) an Online Divorce or a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Divorce process?"
No. Streamline Divorce(SM) is an efficient, form-based process to help divorcing spouses resolve all key issues -- or as many of their issues as they are able to resolve on their own. Some couples can use the Streamline Divorce(SM) forms almost like a DIY case, but they have the added reassurance of working with an experienced local attorney who can also assist the client with putting the final agreement properly through the court system. Streamline Divorce(SM) is designed to enable the client work hand in hand with our attorneys to the degree each client determines. Our goal is to assist each client in producing outcomes which the client considers successful -- and to assure that their final judgments, court orders and paperwork successfully and efficiently are entered with the appropriate court.
"Is Streamline Divorce(SM) the cheapest way to get divorced?"
Probably not. "Cheap" is not our goal. Our goal is to assist each client in producing excellent, cost-effective results based on the client's own decisions and resources. It is certainly is possible to end a marriage very cheaply, while doing a disastrous job of handling important marital assets, such a home, pension or 401(k) -- not to mention child-related issues or support. Streamline Divorce(SM) respects your autonomy on the issues you wish to resolve on your own and allows you to choose "a la carte" legal services for the important matters when expertise and experience are important to you.
"So then, an Online or DIY Divorce will be cheaper than a Streamline Divorce, right?"
Not necessarily. We frequently see how online and DIY divorces simply can't meet the requirements of state law and of local court rules and practices. Then, after paying a non-refundable fee to online divorce service, the client has nothing to show for their "fees" but a useless handful of "divorce paperwork" they can't get to go through the court. We have been asked to help clients with unsuccessful Internet divorces successfully finalize their cases -- after they had essentially wasted their online fees. If the client winds up in litigation because the parties found no "middle ground" between online divorce and heading to court, then the costs of the attempted "online" divorce can be astronomical.
The Streamline Divorce(SM) process was developed to help parties produce their own mutually satisfactory divorce settlement which is aided by an experienced local attorney. You WON'T deal with a computer server or a call center in a foreign country. You WILL handle the important issues regarding your life and marital assets with the option to seek advice from an experienced local attorney who can answer your questions and concerns at every step of the way based on local law and procedures.
"So, it sounds like you try NOT to go to court. I'm very concerned about protecting my interests. If I hire you, do I have to worry that you guys are wimps?"
No one has actually asked this question to our faces but we understand the concern behind the un-asked question. The answer is: "Absolutely not."
We are here to protect your interests. With Streamline Divorce(SM), you choose this option only because you determine that adversarial litigation does not serve your best interests.
We are committed to handling each client's case with intelligence, experience, integrity and utter firmness. We do go to court. We don't run from conflict. Our business is managing conflict -- but managing it well, and not stirring it up without justification.
We see nothing inconsistent between (a) practicing law with civility, respect and compassion and (b) producing excellent results for our clients. If a proposal is unacceptable, we don't hesitate to say "no." We will not hesitate to use the court system to address an injustice if that is the best direction for the client. By the same token, we intend to represent you in a manner in which you will be pleased you hired us -- and not feel you were over-charged, under-served or bullied by your own attorney. Ideally, if you and your spouse do divorce, our process should help you exhibit civility in your future dealings and communications (especially if you have children).
We see no evidence that the self-described "aggressive" lawyers produce better results. We simply think that, sometimes, obnoxious conduct mistakenly is equated with quality representation. In fact, we believe decisions made under extreme pressure, "on the court house steps," or at the 11th hour before the trial date are usually much worse for the client than decisions made carefully, with full information and with time to reflect. This is especially true for tax and financial issues are involved.
We believe that, on balance, clients fare better with quality information and self-determination as opposed to brute force, intimidation and artificial deadlines.
We have chosen a path in the field of Family Law which is consistent with our values and which produces a high percentage of satisfied clients who refer their family members, friends and colleagues to us -- and who voluntarily write up the testimonials of which we are so proud.
One of our guiding principles is the "golden rule" -- to treat our clients the way we wish to be treated and to handle their cases as if they were the cases of our own close friends or family members.
We wouldn't want our own family law issues handled by "wimps" – so you won't find any in our offices.
*These issues are greatly simplified for purposes of offering a general outline. This information is not intended to be construed as specific legal advice. As with anything involving legal concerns, you particular legal issue may dictate a different result. Please address your concern with your own attorney.
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