What is a collaborative divorce?

Collaborative divorce is a method of negotiating a divorce settlement whereby both parties, with their respective lawyers, meet together to reach agreements on each aspect of the divorce contract, including child custody, visitation, and financial arrangements. The main benefits include that parties set the terms instead of the court decreeing them and the resolution can be reached quicker.

What is a Collaborative Divorce?

Collaborative divorce is a relatively new method of resolving issues that people deal with when ending a marriage. Think of a collaborative divorce as a combination of divorce mediation and a traditional divorce that involves attorneys. Both spouses hire lawyers who agree to resolve issues using non-adversarial techniques. The goal is to negotiate a win-win solution that best meets the needs of both sides while avoiding litigation. Collaborative lawyers are committed to managing conflict, not creating conflict.

The Process

Both sides have to be cooperative and open to compromise for the process to be effective. If one or both parties are not willing to negotiate on the issues, the process is futile.  

At the beginning of the process, both parties and their attorneys sign a “participation agreement.” A participation agreement disqualifies the collaborative divorce attorneys from representing either spouse if they can’t reach an agreement on the terms of the divorce and they end up litigating. If the collaborative process isn’t successful, both sides have to get new representation before they begin litigation.

In the beginning both parties meet with their attorneys separately and discuss what they want to achieve through. For example, if one party feels that they need a specific amount of money to be paid in child-support or alimony they would make that known to their attorney before meeting with their spouse and his/her attorney.

After both parties know their goals, four-way meetings take place between both parties and their lawyers. These meetings may be joined by other professionals such as:

  • child custody experts
  • financial experts
  • and mental health professionals

A trained mediator might even be brought in if both parties are having trouble reaching an agreement. Other than the spouses and attorneys, all parties are neutral and should only be interested in settling the terms of the divorce without going to court.

Once both sides are in agreement on all the issues, the legal part of the divorce is relatively painless. Since the terms of the divorce have been agreed on, your divorce is uncontested and there is no trial.

The Benefits of Collaborative Divorce

There are many benefits to choosing collaborative divorce over a traditional divorce or mediation.

  • The collaborative divorce route might be for you if you want to work out the terms outside of court but you would feel more comfortable having the advice of an experienced attorney who is on your side. Since your collaborative lawyer will be representing you and nobody else, he/she can advise you throughout the proceedings and advocate on your behalf. Depending on the nature of your relationship with your spouse, you may have trouble speaking up or being assertive. You may want an skilled negotiator on your side in this situation.
  • If collaborative divorce is effective and you don’t have to hire new lawyers and go to trial, the process is more simple and less expensive than traditional divorce. The setting is more comfortable and informal.
  • Since the point is to come to a result that is fair to both sides, communication is more open. The parties involved are more likely to be honest and free with information that will help the process move forward more easily.
  • You can decide now how to handle post-settlement disputes. Rather than waiting dealing with future issues as they happen you can deal with them during the collaborative divorce process.
  • You negotiate a result that works for you. Rather than going to court and having a judge decide, you can negotiate the result that you actually have control over.
  • Most importantly, a collaborative divorce can spare a great deal of stress to the families that are going through the process. A lengthy, adversarial, trial can do further damage to already broken relationships. Although a marriage is ending people on both sides may still need to function as a family if there are children involved.

If you want to avoid litigation and work through the terms of your divorce with your spouse and the assistance of a trained attorney collaborative divorce is the best option.

References: Collaborative Divorce versus Mediation

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