What is Collaborative Divorce?
Collaborative Divorce is a process that also allows parties to maintain control of decision-making in their family law case, but, unlike a one-day mediation session, parties in the collaborative divorce process make their decisions over a period of several joint meetings and private consultations with their attorneys in order to develop a comprehensive settlement agreement. The collaborative divorce process allows clients and their attorneys time to gather, process, and review necessary information in order to develop settlement options appropriate for their circumstances and to make informed decisions.
How is Collaborative Divorce Different from a “Regular Divorce”?
(or what Most People Understand Divorce to Be?)
One of the central tenets of a Collaborative Divorce is a commitment to resolve your case outside the courtroom. Collaborative Divorce allows people to work on resolving the issues in their divorce privately and outside the courtroom, in a comfortable office setting with the support of experienced professionals who have extensive training to assist the parties in resolving their issues. In a Collaborative Divorce, the parties’ only appearance in court is to be present with their attorney when the judge is presented and approves the Agreed Decree of Divorce.
Collaborative Divorce requires that both parties honor the process and operate in good faith. It requires that both parties “rise to the occasion” of resolving a significant change in the family relationship.
One of the single most important reasons to choose the Collaborative Divorce process is a case that involves children. Divorcing parents have the opportunity, in the Collaborative Divorce process to teach their children, by living example, how reasonable adults resolve disputes and problems with respect and dignity.
Who are the Participants in a Collaborative Divorce Process?
In a Collaborative Divorce, each party is required to have an attorney so each party’s individual interests are protected and informed decisions are made. In addition to the two lawyers, there are often at least two (2) neutral professionals in a Collaborative Divorce: (1) a neutral financial professional (NFP); and (2) a neutral communications coach or mental health professional (MHP).
Why Neutral Professionals in the Collaborative Divorce Process?
The neutral professionals are critical for the process and contribute to the likelihood of success in a Collaborative Divorce. One set of neutrals assists with resolution as opposed to multiple independently retained experts who challenge, compete with and dispute each other to persuade a judge or jury. The cost benefits are evident.
In a situation where emotions are high and, to some degree, exposed, a neutral mental health professional serves to help each party say what he or she needs to say in a way that can be more openly and calmly received by the other party. MHP’s help the clients explain what they need in a manner that avoids the anger and defensiveness that often comes with a divorce. And even if strong emotions are expressed, the MHP is present and able to help the team manage the emotions in the room.
Neutral financial professionals are specially trained in gathering the information absolutely necessary to understand the parties’ marital estate and to develop a resolution which preserves and protects assets to the greatest extent possible in the divorce context. NFP’s have expertise in both identifying the necessary information to be gathered and assisting the parties in processing the property and financial information toward the goal of a financially sound settlement.
Neutral Professionals add to the efficiency and thoroughness of the collaborative process. The NFP efficiently gathers and organizes the financial information of the parties’ estate. By using one neutral financial professional to gather and process the financial information provided by the parties and substantiated by supporting documents, there is no duplication of effort and cost for each party to prepare individual inventories.
The MHP assists the parties to communicate effectively and, where applicable, to develop an agreed parenting plan for co-parenting their children moving forward. By using a neutral MHP, who is an expert in interpersonal relations and communication and the preparation of parenting plans, you can make decisions that are in your own best interest and the best interests of your children.
When is a Collaborative Divorce Not a Good Process Choice?
Not everyone or every case is a good fit for Collaborative Divorce. I recommend you consult with an attorney trained and experienced in the collaborative divorce process to decide if it is the right process for you and your family law matter. Both parties must feel safe throughout the process, confident that disclosures and commitments made in meetings will honored.
When clients make a truly informed commitment to the Collaborative Divorce process and have the support of their lawyers and neutral professionals in the process, the likelihood of a collaborative settlement agreement is high.