For the last 30 years, Elizabeth Bennett has been paving the way for women lawyers in the Philadelphia area. With numerous contributions to the reform of family law in the state of Pennsylvania, she started her own divorce and family law firm that focuses on her progressive approach of collaborative law.
With her associates, Paula Borradaile and Sara McGeever, as well as Phyllis Bookspan (who is “Of Counsel” with the firm), Bennett has made Bennett and Associates one of the area’s leading family law firms. Together, their modern approach to handling these legal issues allows them to use a combination of efficiency, toughness and understanding to help guide clients through this time of change while setting them up for a successful future.
“We take a look at what is happening in their lives and determine what approach is best to use in their divorce whether it is traditional litigation or a collaborative approach,” says Borradaile. “We also utilize other outside professionals throughout the divorce process.”
Financial advisors and counselors brought in from outside the firm help guide clients through all the complexities of a separation, including spousal support and alimony, custody, custody modification and support, distribution of property, and retirement and pension distribution.
Unfortunately, many times, clients come to the firm unaware of their current financial situation and, thus, need extensive assistance in learning the ins and outs of financial security with a desirable and livable end result.
“It’s really important to set someone up for financial success in the future,” explains McGeever. “Sometimes we have clients—whether they be male or female—who, during the course of their marriage, were not responsible for paying the bills or investing their money so they have no knowledge of how much it costs to run their household. Not only do we require them to do a budget using their bills, but we also make sure the deal we are getting for them is realistic and manageable on that budget. We do whatever is necessary to set them up for financial success post-divorce.”
What is unique is the way the attorneys attain this security and comfort for their clients. “I try to help people get a good result,” says Bennett, “because, for so many people it is the most important financial transaction of their life in terms of permanent financial security. We really try to be cost effective and not let the system, which is so complicated, gobble up our energies and cost our clients a huge amount.”
Their unique approach includes collaborative law, a way of handling matters of divorce that Bennett essentially introduced to the Philadelphia area. Instead of immediately going to litigation in the courtroom, Bennett and Associates tries to maintain peace between the two parties and have the process go as smoothly as possible. By addressing the intertwined issues of divorce all at once—instead of an extended process that typically exceeds about 15 different meeting dates in court—the various topics can be more easily recognized, addressed and resolved through simple meetings designed to limit stress and discord among all parties.
“We help people do divorce in a civilized way, but we’re tough when people try and take advantage of their spouse and the system,” says Bennett. “We feel the court process is very fragmented and not really accountable to the parties—just the way it’s run with so many different decision makers,” in terms of support, custody and property division.
In addition to saving money, the collaborative approach also reduces the amount of tension between the spouses and especially when there are children involved. “It saves money and helps with the emotional aspect of it,” explains McGeever. “[It] puts children as the primary focus of the case, keeping them out of the conflict.”
However, for couples who do not find this option will work well for them—whether they are not able to agree on matters or cooperate with one another—the firm provides other options as well.
“We try to provide multiple types of solutions in divorce,” Bennett explains. “We like to start off by giving everyone the chance to be the best person they can be in the situation and collaborate, but we will litigate where necessary. Unfortunately, in some cases—abuse or economic fraud, for example—all issues must be litigated.”
Adds McGeever: “Each case is truly as different as the parties on opposite sides. Not every process will work for every client, and part of my job is to determine what approach will work for them.”
With the help of the attorneys and their knowledgeable assessments of each case, clients benefit from the seasoned expertise these women have through years of experience and adapting to cultural changes, with rewards often exceeding the client’s expectations. In particular instances, clients may initially be willing to give up certain assets or rights to which they would otherwise be entitled to avoid confrontation, not realizing the potential effects and damages this could have on their future.
“People have been grateful that I’ve pushed them to do things when they wanted to be conflict-avoidant when they realize for the long term that it’s important to hold your ground,” explains Bennett. “It’s an opportunity to help people and turn things around.”
What matters to the attorneys at Bennett and Associates most, though, is the lasting impact they have in helping clients rebuild and start a new chapter in their lives in the aftermath of a divorce.
“It’s really great to see clients come back and let you know they’re doing well,” notes McGeever. “It’s one of the most rewarding aspects of the job, not just that you get them their divorce but that you set them up for a bright future.”
Bennett and Associates
150 Strafford Ave., Suite 210
Wayne, PA 19087
610-254-9060 | www.ebennettlaw.com