The Modest Means Program: Making Collaborative Divorce Services Affordable

The CLII Modest Means Program

By David Louis

The Collaborative Divorce Process offers a unique opportunity for spouses to divorce in a more supported and productive way. In Collaborative Divorce a team of trained and compassionate professionals works together to help divorcing spouses end their marriage in a respectful and dignified way. Doing that not only helps the divorcing couple. It helps their children too.

There’s a drawback to Collaborative Divorce, however: it’s not always the least expensive way to divorce. The overall cost of engaging a team of divorce professionals can create an economic barrier that limits access to this valuable program. Families who lack the financial resources to hire a team, simply can’t choose Collaborative Divorce.

Recognizing this challenge, the Collaborative Law Institute of Illinois has created a new program. The Modest Means Program is a groundbreaking effort aimed at making Collaborative Divorce available to low and middle-income couples at a deep discount.

The Professionals Involved in the Modest Means Collaborative Divorce Services

The CLII Modest Means Collaborative Divorce Program is made up of CLII Fellows. All of these divorce professionals are trained in the Collaborative Divorce Process. What’s more, they meet the stringent continuing education and licensure/certification requirements set for CLII Fellows. Each Collaborative Divorce Team in the Modest Means Program will include an attorney for each spouse, a Financial Neutral and either one or two neutral divorce coach(es), depending on the circumstances of the case.
The Collaborative Professionals in the Modest Means Program include seasoned Collaborative Professionals with extensive experience. Newer Collaborative Professionals will also be part of the Collaborative Teams.

Professional Fees for Modest Means Collaborative Divorce Services

In keeping with the program goal of making Collaborative Divorce services affordable, the professional fees for the Modest Means Collaborative Divorce Program are significantly discounted below normal billing rates. For spouses who qualify for Minimum Fee Services (see eligibility guidelines below), each Collaborative Professionals will charge only $15 per hour. In a typical Collaborative Divorce case with a full professional team, this would total $60 per hour when work is being performed by the entire team.

For spouses whose household income exceeds the limits for Minimum Fee Services, but is below the limits set for program eligibility (see eligibility guidelines below), Reduced Fee Services would apply. In those cases each Collaborative Professional will charge $40 per hour. For a typical collaborative professional team (4 professionals), the Reduced Fee Services would total $160 per hour for work being performed by the entire team.

It is estimated that Participants in the Modest Means Collaborative Divorce Program will get an 85%-95% discount from the normal fees in a Collaborative Divorce.

Modest Means Program Coordination and Supervision

The CLII Modest Means Program Committee consists of a group of CLII Fellows from all professional disciplines. This Committee is responsible for the overall operation and supervision of the program. The Committee Chair, David Louis, serves as the Modest Means Volunteer Program Coordinator. He is the point person for initiating the applicant screening process, attorney referrals and professional team recruitment.

How a Modest Means Collaborative Divorce Case Is Started

If you are interested in participating in a Collaborative Divorce through the CLII Modest Means Program, here is how the process works.

1. Online Application and Certification Form

Each spouse must complete a brief online application. This application provides basic information about each spouse. The application also requires each spouse to agree to comply with the rules of the program.

2. Online Preliminary Financial Information Form

In addition to completing the online application, one of the spouses must also complete the Preliminary Financial Information Form. This provides basic financial information for both spouses.

3. Screening Process

a. The Volunteer Program Coordinator will review the online applications. If the Preliminary Financial Information Form indicates that the couple is eligible for services, the Volunteer Program Coordinator will send the couple a more detailed Financial Statement. The couple must complete and return this form to the Volunteer Program Coordinator.

b. If the couple meets the financial eligibility guidelines, a Divorce Coach who is participating in the Modest Means Program will contact the divorcing couple. The Coach will meet with each spouse individually and with both spouses jointly. The Coach will determine whether the case is appropriate for the Collaborative Divorce Process. These meetings will be conducted with no charge to the divorcing couple.

4. Professional Team Recruitment and Composition

a. Once the Divorce Coach determines that a case is appropriate for a Collaborative Divorce, the Modest Means Volunteer Program Coordinator will assemble a list of divorce professionals who are available to participate on the Collaborative Professional team.

b. Each spouse will be provided with a list of Collaborative Attorneys who are available to participate in their Collaborative Divorce case.

c. Each spouse will hire one of the attorneys on the list to represent him/her in their Collaborative Divorce case. That way, each spouse can choose his/her own Collaborative Divorce lawyer.

d. Unless the Coach who screened the spouses declines to participate, that Coach will become the Collaborative Divorce Coach for the case. By using the same coach, the Collaborative Divorce professional team will have a deeper understanding of the spouses and their situation right from the start.

e. Once the Collaborative Attorneys have been hired, they will select a Financial Neutral from a list of available Collaborative Divorce financial professionals.

5. Case Initiation

Once the Collaborative Professional Team has been assembled, the case will begin. The Modest Means Collaborative Divorce case will follow the same protocol as any other Collaborative Divorce case. It will start with a meeting where everyone will discuss and sign the Collaborative Divorce Participation Agreement. The Collaborative Divorce Participation Agreement sets forth the guidelines for the Collaborative Divorce Process. It includes a requirement that the professional team must disqualify themselves if either spouse terminates the Collaborative Divorce process.

Eligibility Guidelines

For couples to be eligible to participate in the Modest Means Program (and get discounted fees), they must meet the following requirements:

1. Both spouses must submit the initial online application.

That means that both spouses must be committed to participating in the Collaborative Divorce Process.

One of the key aspects of the Collaborative Divorce process is that both spouses must willing participate in the process. They must both agree to voluntarily disclose their financial information to each other and to the Collaborative Divorce Professional Team. They must both participate in the Process in good faith. That’s why BOTH spouses must apply to participate in the Modest Means Program in order to become eligible for the program. If either spouse isn’t willing to do this, their divorce case is NOT appropriate for the Collaborative Divorce Process.

2. The spouses must meet the income and net worth guidelines for the Modest Means Collaborative Divorce Program.

a. The income eligibility guidelines are based on the Federal Poverty Level for Income and Size of Household. There are two sets of guidelines:
(1) Minimum Fee Services – These guidelines are established for the lowest income couples, and result in the lowest fee for Collaborative Divorce services.
(2) Reduced Fee Services – These guidelines are established for lower middle income couples, and result in a significantly reduced fee (compared to typical professional hourly rates) for Collaborative Divorce services.

The income eligibility guidelines are as follows:

Family Size Maximum Income for Minimum Fee Services Maximum Income for Reduced Fee Services
2 people $32,920 $65,840
3 people $41,560 $83,120
4 people $50,200 $100,400
5 people $58,840 $117,680
6 people $67,480 $134,960
7 people $76,120 $152,240

b. A couple must meet the following household net worth guidelines:
(1) Liquid Net Worth (total liquid assets, such as cash, bank accounts, stocks and bonds, less credit card and loans other than mortgages) cannot exceed $44,000
(2) The total of real estate equity (market value less outstanding mortgages) and retirement accounts cannot exceed $163,000.
(3) Neither spouse can be a part or full owner of a business.
3. The divorce case must be “suitable” for the Collaborative Divorce Process

Not every case is appropriate for a Collaborative Divorce.

If the Collaborative Divorce Coach who interviews the applicants determines that, in his/her professional opinion, the case is appropriate for the Collaborative Divorce Process, ONLY THEN will the case be admitted to the Modest Means Program.

Some of the key factors which may be considered in making this determination are as follows:

a. History of abuse.

b. Drug or alcohol use.

c. Willingness of both spouses to abide by collaborative practice principles.

d. Ability of both spouses to negotiate in good faith.

e. Ability of both spouses to truthfully provide full financial disclosure.

With the launch of CLII’s Modest Means Collaborative Divorce Program, resources will no longer be a limiting factor for couples who choose to use a civil, dignified process to end their marriage, using the diverse skill, expertise and compassion of the Collaborative Divorce professional team.

The CLII Modest Means Program is now accepting applications. If you are interested in applying to this program CLICK HERE.

David Louis is President of Louis Divorce Mediation Services in Chicago. He is a Mediator, Conflict Coach, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst. www.louisdivorcemediation.com