gavel with wedding rings

Collaborative Law

A divorce can be contentious, leading to drawn-out court battles that leave you financially depleted and emotionally drained.

A collaborative approach to family law helps resolve disagreements out of court and can save you time, money, and frustration.

Sutton Law Firm represents people in Lakeland, St. Petersburg, and Bartow, FL, who choose a collaborative approach to family law.

What Is Collaborative Law?

Collaborative law is a voluntary process in which the spouses and their respective attorneys work together to finalize a divorce and resolve any differences out of court. A facilitator helps keep all parties on task, and outside consultants may be brought in to address needs that arise as part of the collaborative process, such as financial issues or mental health concerns.

While multiple parties may be involved during a collaborative divorce to address family law issues, the process typically involves a series of four-way meetings. This simply means that the spouses and their attorneys meet and work with one another directly.

Collaboration vs. Mediation

Collaborative law sounds a lot like mediation in that both seek to avoid family court, but they are different in key ways.

The Roles of Mediators and Lawyers

During mediation, a third party is hired to resolve differences between spouses. A mediator does not have to follow the collaborative procedure outlined by Florida state law, making mediation a more informal process. Lawyers do not have to be present when spouses decide on mediation, whereas lawyers for both spouses are present at all times during the collaborative process.

Mediation During Collaboration

We should also note that mediation is an option during a collaborative divorce. If our attorneys in Lakeland, St Petersburg, or Bartow cannot reach a resolution through four-way meetings, we can bring in a mediator to help achieve an out-of-court resolution.

Solely Focused on Resolution


If a collaborative resolution is not possible, Florida law prohibits the collaborative attorneys from representing their clients in family court. This ensures the process is focused on resolution rather than as a setup for contested litigation.

The Benefits of Collaborative Law How It Can Help in Family Law Cases

Save Time and Money

The collaborative divorce process tends to move faster than contested divorces. Saving time in a collaborative divorce means saving money on legal fees for both spouses, as well.

Avoid Court Battles

Collaboration reduces the emotional and psychological toll of a drawn-out battle in court. This is important if you want to maintain a relationship and avoid future conflicts with your former spouse.

Protect the Child's Best Interests

As always, the collaborative law attorneys will help keep parties focused on the best interests of any children involved. Collaboration shields children from the fallout of contentious divorces.

Maintain Confidentiality

Collaborative divorces are private. Any financial disclosures or family details are kept out of the public record and are confined to the four-way meetings between separating spouses and their lawyers.

Learn More About the Collaborative Process Contact the Team at Sutton Law Firm

Your relationship with your former spouse does not need to be adversarial. Collaborative divorce allows you to make family law decisions together, with an aim toward mutually beneficial resolutions and amicable outcomes. If this sounds ideal to you, it's important that you contact the Sutton Law Firm.

Attorney Debra J. Sutton has helped numerous couples with collaborative law needs. She has more than 30 years in practice and uses her decades in law and background in psychology to closely note the needs of each client based on their relationship with their spouse and their children.

We encourage you to contact our law offices online if you want more information about collaborative law and live in the Lakeland, St. Petersburg, or Bartow, FL, area. You can also request a consultation with Ms. Sutton by phone.

Call a Skilled Attorney Today

(863) 533-8912

exterior of the Sutton Law Firm
The Sutton Law Firm proudly serves clients in Lakeland and all over Polk and Pinellas Counties. We can help with your divorce and family law needs.

Reviews for the Sutton Law Firm Working for the People of Bartow, Lakeland, and St. Petersburg


Vicki Watson


Google logo

I have hired Ms. Sutton twice and both times she has gone above and beyond. She is professional but also caring. More then once she called me to calm my anxiety about my case. Her professionalism and knowledge of the law in the courtroom made me glad she was my lawyer. Hopefully I never need a lawyer again, but if I do, I will hire Ms. Sutton.

View on Google

Doug Battey


Google logo

I have used many times and very happy with. I have referred to other people that also been happy with also. Barbie at front desk very helpful. Debra and Matt are very thorough in putting documents together. Debra does not have loose in her vocabulary.

View on Google

Did You Know...


In non-collaborative cases, you may have to wait 60-90 days for a simple hearing or 90-120 days for more complex litigation. It is possible to resolve a collaborative divorce in the time it takes to get your first hearing in a divorce that goes to court.

Working With Collaborative Professionals Addressing the Needs of a Client

two people shaking hands over legal paperwork with scales of Justice in the background

During a collaborative divorce, the lawyers may agree to hire a neutral professional who does not have ties to either spouse. This outside professional provides an unbiased assessment of any legal, personal, or financial concerns that arise during the collaborative law process.

Potential neutral professionals include:

  • Financial advisors/CPAs
  • Tax advisors
  • Parenting consultants
  • Mental health specialists
  • Child therapists
  • Divorce coaches
  • Real estate brokers
  • Appraisers

Are You Interested in a Collaborative Approach? Our Attorneys Can Answer Your Questions

Collaborative law allows you to negotiate mutually beneficial arrangements with your former spouse while remaining in control of the process. The Sutton Law Firm can assist with divorce, division of assets and debts, child custody, child support, and parental time-sharing arrangements. Our goal is a resolution that avoids drawn-out court disputes. If you live in the Lakeland, St. Petersburg, or Bartow, FL, areas and would like more information, contact our law firm online. You can also reach Ms. Sutton by phone.

Legal Help Is a Call Away

(863) 533-8912

5-Star Reviews From Our Clients "The Sutton Law Firm is my go-to firm."


Jimmie Chestnut


Google logo

If you are looking for the most knowledgeable Attorney in Central Florida. Look no further. Debra and her staff are the best around. My advice to anyone that wants the best possible outcome for their case: Follow the staffs directions to the tee. Work as hard as you can to provide the detailed information that is needed for you case. The Sutton Law Firm is my go to firm, even if my needs are outside of their normal expertise. I would seek a referral, knowing that they have a working relationship with a number excellent Attorney's.

View on Google

David Smith


Google logo

Recently necessity required yet again I reach out to Ms. Sutton for legal matters. Debra has handled my legal representation for family matters for over 13 years. Never has she waivered from anything but professional and effective legal representation. She will remain your advocate throughout any process from start to finish and continue to provide prompt service after the case is completed. If you need an attorney who will be YOUR advocate during stressful times, this is the one. You won’t be disappointed.

View on Google

Cases Eligible for Collaborative Law


  • Divorce
  • Distribution of property
  • Alimony
  • Child support
  • Child custody
  • Visitation rights
  • Parenting time
  • Child relocation

The Collaborative Process What to Expect

Collaborative divorces are private. Any financial disclosures or family details are kept out of the public record and are confined to the four-way meetings between separating spouses and their lawyers.

Here are some of the basic steps in a collaborative divorce.

Collaborative divorces are private. Any financial disclosures or family details are kept out of the public record and are confined to the four-way meetings between separating spouses and their lawyers.

Legal Consultation

During the initial consultation at one of our law offices in Bartow, Lakeland, or St. Petersburg, our team will review your case and determine if a collaborative approach is ideal for you. In cases where abuse or other serious issues affect your ability to cooperate, we may recommend litigation rather than the collaborative divorce process.

Invitation to Collaborate

If needed, we can invite your spouse (and their legal representation if they already have an attorney) to consider a collaborative effort. We can encourage your spouse to hire a family law attorney who understands the collaborative divorce process.

Facilitator and Neutral Professionals

If all parties agree to a collaborative divorce, we can then determine who will be the facilitator and what kinds of neutral consultants and professionals will be necessary.

The First Four-Way Meeting

During the first four-way meeting together, the spouses and their lawyers sign the Collaborative Law Participation Agreement. This ensures spouses are committed to resolving disputes out of court and that their collaborative attorneys will not represent them if their case goes to litigation.

Subsequent Meetings

Additional meetings are required so financial disclosures can be reviewed and any issues of note can be discussed as a group. The goal is to achieve an amicable solution to various family law matters. The number of meetings and amount of time required for successful collaboration will vary based on individual needs and the complexity of the case.

Finalizing the Divorce

Once all matters are settled through collaboration, the divorce is finalized. Thanks to collaboration, spouses maintain a respectful relationship and do not need to set a foot inside court.

Pausing Litigation to Try Collaboration Instead A Way to Avoid Divorce Court Delays

Collaboration During Litigation

Court hearings take time to schedule, and the COVID-19 pandemic has caused additional court delays. Some spouses in divorce litigation have decided to pause litigation and take a collaborative approach instead to save time. Collaborative lawyers can attempt to fast-track a resolution rather than waiting for the next court hearing.

Collaborating on Certain Issues

Not all disputes need to be settled in court or through collaboration alone. Some spouses may decide to collaborate on parenting and time-sharing issues to expedite a resolution while handling financial disagreements through litigation.

lawyers collaborating over paperwork

What If My Spouse Does Not Want a Collaborative Divorce?

Collaborative law requires both spouses to agree to collaboration. If you would like to try a collaborative approach but your spouse is unsure if it's right for them, that can become a major setback. Similarly, your spouse may have already hired a lawyer, and their legal representation may be unfamiliar with the collaborative process or unwilling to participate.

The Sutton Law Firm, with locations in Bartow, Lakeland, and St. Petersburg, can offer assistance if your spouse is reluctant to collaborate. We can provide access to collaborative process groups so your spouse can at least consider the potential time and cost benefits of this resolution method. While this is no guarantee that your spouse will agree to a collaborative divorce, providing information and resources is worthwhile.

Reviews From Satisfied Clients Skilled Attorneys in Bartow, Lakeland, and St. Petersburg




Google logo

Debra Sutton and Sutton Law Firm are the epitome of what you hope lawyers are going to be... Debra and her staff worked tirelessly to resolve my legal issues on multiple fronts simultaneously dealing with opposing counsel who are inept, unethical and bordering on criminal - with grace, integrity and confidence. Debra was referred to me by a trusted attorney friend - the highest accolade an attorney can receive. This alone endeared her to me. However, she exceeded expectations and consistently went "over and above". I was never let down. I was cleared, she wiped the floor with my ex and his incompetent attorney. I owe Debra Sutton and Sutton Law Firm so much - they gave me my life back. I cannot recommend Debra Sutton and the Sutton Law Firm any higher! If you need her services, you will never have a better advocate in your corner.

View on Google

Buddy Johnston


Google logo

Debra set up my corporation, has advised me in various legal matters and has referred me to a specialist when I need it, and has assisted my family and friends when they needed her help. She advised my sister and brother-in-law during their turbulent financial times, and my lifelong friend when he had many questions about his son's divorce. She has been benevolent in her legal advice to the volunteers of my nonprofit organization, and she referred a troubled business owner friend to a legal immigration specialist who solved her problem. Debra's advice has always been professional, knowledgeable and from her heart. I trust her and would refer her for any legal matter anyone might have as she has always gone the extra mile to address my concerns.

View on Google
Debra J. Sutton

Sutton Law Firm

Debra J. Sutton is an attorney who is board-certified in both appellate practice and marital and family law by the Florida Bar. At the Sutton Law Firm, with offices in Bartow, Lakeland, and St. Petersburg, Ms. Sutton, Mr. Kovschak, and their team provide individualized, compassionate, and private legal services. Our popular practice areas include:

You can request a consultation with our board-certified attorney right now by filling out our online form or calling (863) 533-8912.

Contact Us Today

Rate, Review & Explore

Social Accounts Sprite