What is collaborative divorce?
The collaborative divorce process focuses on cooperation, not confrontation. It is a means of problem solving with the assistance and guidance of a lawyer for each spouse. The lawyers help the clients to determine and focus on what is important to them; they guide the clients in trying to understand one another’s concerns; they assist in exchanging information; they encourage the exploration of a wide range of possible choices; and they work towards reaching solutions acceptable to both clients.
The clients are responsible for gathering information and proposing solutions. The focus is on creative problem solving, not on what the lawyers think should be done and not on what a court could do.
How does the collaborative process work?
The clients and both collaborative lawyers work as a team. There is a commitment to an open exchange of all information relevant to the proceedings. After the initial meeting of each party with his or her individual lawyer, nearly all meetings are among all four “team” members – the two lawyers and the two clients.
Each party has an agreement with his or her own lawyer. The parties sign a contract agreeing not to go to court. Each lawyer signs a contract with his or her client promising to honor the commitments the clients have made to one another. If the process breaks down and the parties go to court for a contested case, the lawyers cannot represent them and cannot be called as witnesses. The clients acknowledge this requirement in their agreement.
How is a collaborative divorce attorney different?
Only lawyers trained in the collaborative divorce process participate in the process. Most collaborative law practitioners have also been trained in counseling or mediation before receiving collaborative law training.
The lawyers and the clients are committed to treating one another with respect; to listening to one another’s perspectives, interests and concerns; to gathering and exchanging all of the information each client needs; to exploring all possible options; and to focusing on the future in order to find solutions acceptable to both clients.
Each lawyer will represent his or her own client, but will also listen to the opposing party and the opposing party’s attorney. The lawyers try to point out to both parties any unreasonable expectations; the lawyers cooperate in gathering all information required or requested to let the clients reach a solution acceptable to them. The lawyers try to help the parties come up with the widest possible range of solutions to a problem or situation.
Collaborative practitioners have training and experience in managing legal situations which involve emotional or difficult issues. They are taught to use clear language when speaking and writing, and to avoid legal terms or to explain such terms in “plain English” when necessary. Collaborative practitioners are also taught to manage the communication and the problem solving process without “taking sides.”
Who are the other members of the collaborative team?
The collaborative divorce team may also include other supportive professionals. For example, a mental health coach may participate to facilitate the couple in the emotional process of letting the old marital struggle go and moving forward. This can be essential for addressing the needs of children in the family. They often have the greatest difficulty in the divorce process. The mental health coach can help with planning the adjustment process and custodial needs of the children.
Since the divorce process may involve the most complex financial transaction of a lifetime, a financial advisor can also be a part of the collaborative team. Such services can assist with asset distribution and post marital financial stability. All supportive professionals are trained in the collaborative process to work together with the attorneys and the family system.
What are the benefits of the collaborative divorce process?
Clients may find the process a less stressful way to resolve their differences than court or typical lawyer-directed negotiations. They have control over their own decisions rather than putting things into the hands of a judge. They may find ways to improve communication between them and they may be better able to focus on creative problem solving, with less blaming and vengeful behavior. Often, the collaborative process is less time consuming and less costly than going to court.