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.

Our 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 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 at our family law offices in Lakeland, St. Petersburg, and Bartow, FL, 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 us 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

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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


Neil Goff

Lakeland, FL


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I highly recommend Sutton Law Firm. They are truly caring attorneys that take the time to listen and help explain the complexities of the law. The staff is truly exceptional. Their professionalism, attention to detail, and genuine concern for clients is evident. Andrea Taylor has been a stand out and I appreciate all of their expertise and commitment to delivering top-notch legal services.

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Anita Rodriguez

Bartow, FL


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I highly recommend Ms.Sutton to everyone. She has incredible knowledge and very professional. Her and her staff, the ladies at the office went above and beyond, listened to me and helped me and my children through a very difficult case. They are kind and caring human being. I am forever grateful to the Sutton Law firm.

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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

During a collaborative divorce, the lawyers may agree to hire neutral professionals from various practice areas who do not have ties to either spouse. These outside professionals can provide 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
two people shaking hands over legal paperwork with scales of Justice in the background

Three Convenient Offices In Central Florida

Our Lakeland-based family law firm understands that divorce is a difficult time of transition. Your days are already full, so navigating these legal avenues can be an unwelcome burden on your plate, especially if you're busy caring for children as well. Attorney Debra J. Sutton wants this process to be easier for everyday people, which is why our firm has three different offices purposefully spaced throughout Central Florida. We will be pleased to meet with you at our family law offices in Lakeland, St. Petersburg, or Bartow, FL—whichever is most convenient for you.

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 "I cannot thank them enough."


Debbie Mandish

Bartow, FL


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Deborah Sutton is absolutely the best. She is so knowledgeable when she tell you something you can believe in it. Also dealt with Taylor that is a PA at the law firm. What a wonderful person the whole crew there at Sutton Law firm will stand behind you. I cannot thank them enough.

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Mary Ann Snellings

Bartow, FL


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The Sutton Law Firm guided me in my divorce. I followed her counsel, just like a guidance planned system (GPS) from the beginning to the conclusion of my divorce. Thank you to the whole Sutton Law Firm including the office and legal staff!

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Practice Areas Eligible  For Collaborative Law


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 Lakeland, St. Petersburg, or Bartow, 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.

When and Where Can We Meet You? Arrange a Consultation With Debra Sutton

Debra J. Sutton is an attorney who aims for successful and agreeable outcomes in all situations. She is an excellent choice to represent you if you're interested in taking a collaborative approach to your divorce or another legal matter related to the well-being of your family. 

We invite you to book an appointment at one of our three Central Florida offices—one in Lakeland, one in St. Petersburg, and one in Bartow—for a thorough review of your case and an assessment of your options. Send us a message online or call us at:

(863) 533-8912

A Client Shares Her Experience "Deeply knowledgeable of the collaborative law process."

"For the first time in my life, I needed to hire an attorney and I highly recommend Debra Sutton and Sutton law firm. Debra is deeply knowledgeable of the collaborative law process. Debra and her staff have helped me through an exceedingly challenging time in my life. The whole staff is always thoughtful and caring while I am in the office. I will use Sutton Law Firm in the future if I have need of legal services." Dawn W., 5-Star Google Review

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

Collaboration During Litigation

Court hearings take time to schedule. 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.

Our firm 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 Lakeland, St. Petersburg, and Bartow


Lonnie Bates

Bartow, FL


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If you are looking for a law firm in the Polk county for family law. Your selection of Sutton Law Firm is a counsel that will do a excellent job for you. being out of state Ms Sutton is very direct and cares about your case. Her assistances are always helpful and take you inquires in a helpful and timely manner. You can't go wrong with Sutton Law Firm.

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Bryan Serdynski

Bartow, FL


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For 2 years I hit walls in my divorce and child custody untill 6 months ago when I found Debra Sutton. I can't began to tell you how much she has changed everything for me. Ms. Sutton and her entire staff put my children before anything and I have never met an attorney do that, it's as if my children are one of their family members. Thank you so much to everyone at Sutton Law Firm for everything you did for me and my kids.

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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.

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