Collaborative Divorce is an alternative Dispute Resolution process which allows divorcing or separating couples to resolve their family law disputes by working together with a team of professionals to resolve their disagreements and come up with a marital settlement agreement that works for them and their family.
What is Collaborative Divorce?
Clients work directly with the team with the intention that the children can be saved by a long and hostile court battle. In collaborative divorce the parties exchange the information needed to reach an agreement and provide that to their team. The goal is a win/win situation for the parties and their children. The final judgment is built together clients to enable them to maintain an ongoing parenting relationship and to resolve their divorce without going to court or leaving the outcome of their case to a judge.
How Does the Collaborative Divorce Process Work?
Usually the clients and the collaborative attorneys will meet together at the beginning of the process in order to plan for the exchange of information, make interim decisions about parenting plans, payment of bills and temporary support during the process. They will also discuss concerns of each spouse. A team will then be assembled based on the issues to be discussed, such as property division and child custody. A collaborative team will include lawyers for each of the parties so that they may have their own independent counsel and the attorneys can work together to find solutions and compromises. The team will typically include a divorce or parenting coach and child specialists (both roles are filled by mental health professionals), financial experts such as a joint forensic accountant or financial planner, and other professionals. Often this will include a Real Estate Professional and a Mortgage Specialist where there is a community residence or rental properties to be divided or sold. The information gathered during the exchange will be shared with the other clients and professional team members. An informal discovery process is used as each spouse is expected to work together to provide relevant information to assist in resolving any issues. Each spouse will work with their attorney to address their goals in the process and then those ideas will be exchanged so that the team may discuss and present ideas for possible solutions. Both parties as well as the professionals on the collaborative team agree in writing that all communications made during the Collaborative Process will remain confidential and will not be used as evidence if the case later leaves the Collaborative Process and ends up in litigation. This allows for free flowing communications and the exchange of compromises in the process.
The collaborative process is ended with the signing and filing of a settlement agreement which is approved by both of the parties. Parties who go through the collaborative divorce process are generally able to continue to work together during the lifetimes of their children. They are saved the hostility and anger which is often seen in the litigation process and there is generally much more flexibility when emergencies come up in the future.
Should I File for a Collaborative Divorce?
When deciding to enter into a Collaborative Divorce the clients and Collaborative professionals agree at the beginning of the case that all issues in the divorce will be settled by themselves, without decisions imposed by a judge or through a custody evaluation or other prolonged litigation practice. If the case cannot be settled, the lawyers and other professionals must withdraw. The lawyers will assist their clients in obtaining new counsel to make the transition to traditional representation in the litigation process. However these cases are rare where the parties have a sincere desire to resolve matters amicably, Often when the parties do litigate there are usually some temporary orders in place and there may even be a partial judgment on the issues that have been agreed upon. This will significantly reduce the time that will be spent in court and the issues to be decided by a judge will be narrowed. Further many of these clients return to the collaborative process and are able to work together to resolve their differences in the future.
Many clients ask if the process is MORE expensive using a team of professionals. The simple answer is that the collaborative divorce process actually saves the family money. In a litigation case each party may be using their own expert witness. The time that the attorneys spend in court is billable from the time they leave their office until the time that they return. Often subpoenas need to be sent out to get the information that is needed. In a collaborative divorce, the time that is spent by the attorneys is focused solely on the case with the clients and is not spent waiting for the Court to hear the case.