Divorce is not easy, even in the most amicable situation. It is a process that is often full of paperwork, court appearances, meetings with lawyers, and anguish. In many divorces, there are good reasons to stop direct communication between spouses and to have most discussions take place through each spouse’s lawyer.
However, for some people, divorce is not all about arguing and negativity. Some relationships just do not work out as marriages, but the couple is able to come to an agreement that they need to divorce. Therefore, they can work together to make the process go as smoothly as possible. A great option for couples who would like to work together toward their common goal is collaborative divorce.
What Is Collaborative Divorce?
To begin our discussion about what collaborative divorce is, we need to first look at collaborative law. Collaborative law is a whole section of the law that covers more than just divorce. The focus of this type of law is to take disputes out of the courtroom, and put them in a setting that promotes troubleshooting and problem-solving between the parties involved.
Collaborative law focuses on negotiated solutions for parties on both sides of a dispute, rather than on who wins and loses.
As it applies to divorce, collaborative law causes spouses to engage in mediation and negotiations in face-to-face meetings. There may still be disputes, but the two have decided that they can and will talk about the issues at hand. Enough respect exists between the two parties that they can participate in the needed negotiations, and find solutions that will work for both of them.
It is important to note that collaborative law is its own specific area of the legal system, so you will need to choose a lawyer that specializes in, and has experience with, collaborative divorce.
Process of Collaborative Divorce
The collaborative divorce begins by hiring a lawyer who is well-versed in this area of the law. Next, you will privately meet with your lawyer. In other words, your spouse and his or her lawyer will not be present.
In this meeting, you will need to discuss what you want from your divorce, where your limits are regarding the negotiations that have to take place, and what your ultimate goals are for everything. By having this plan already laid out, you and your lawyer will be able to more confidently go into mediation meetings, and things should run more smoothly.
Then it will be time for your first “four-way” meeting with your attorney, your spouse, and your spouse’s attorney. Negotiations will start at this meeting. It is likely that there will be more meetings until everything has been settled. And you may need to bring outside experts into some of these meetings, such as accountants and child-support specialists. These professionals should be unbiased, neutral parties.
In the event that you and your spouse are unable to come to an agreement about something, you can bring in a licensed mediator, who is an expert in the laws that pertain to divorce disputes. These individuals are very good at conflict resolution, and offer informed guidance toward a compromise that satisfies both sides.
Each spouse will have to sign a “no court” agreement. This agreement will state that the attorneys must pull out of the case if it goes into litigation. The point of collaborative divorce is to stay out of the courtroom. Therefore, if the dispute ends up heading in that direction, the agreement has changed, and these lawyers are no longer relevant to the case.
When all of the mediation meetings are over, both parties should be satisfied, so it is time to file the paperwork. Therefore, you will contact a domestic relations court to file your paperwork, which will include the settlement agreement and the divorce papers. Since all the negotiations have already taken place, the filing will be a simple process, which will not be contested.
The Benefits of Collaborative Divorce
There are definitely some good benefits of going through a collaborative divorce process. When something goes to court, it can end up costing a lot of money. This rule of thumb certainly holds true for divorce.
However, by choosing collaborative divorce, you avoid all litigation costs. The informal discussions and negotiations involved in this type of divorce lead to satisfied parties on both sides. Simply by agreeing on how to divide what they have, both parties are protecting some of their assets, without spending some of what they have on litigation costs.
Families also benefit from collaborative divorce. If lawyers are trying to “defeat” the other side, court proceedings can put spouses in very stressful environments.
That stress does not just stay in the courtroom. It often follows each person into his or her place of work and social settings. Therefore, the pressure is felt by others in the family, especially the couple’s children. Collaborative divorce takes stressful courtroom situations out of the picture.
Here are some of the benefits that collaborative divorce offers families:
- There is less trauma because the setting is more relaxed.
- Negotiations are usually quiet and peaceful.
- There are no discovery hearings. Professional mediators can be brought in for additional help and guidance toward resolution.
- Custody negotiations are peacefully handled in a less formal setting, without the children being present.
- Communication is performed face-to-face in a direct manner, which prepares the family for better communication in the future.
The spouses themselves most certainly benefit from collaborative divorce. Remember, formal courtroom settings can have lengthy (and sometimes ugly) battles between lawyers. Therefore, avoiding them can relieve a great deal of stress from the people involved.
There is pressure to win arguments that occur during a traditional divorce —about everything from who gets the house to who gets the children. This kind of stress can lead to unhealthy side effects, such as anxiety and depression.
The collaborative divorce process fosters a healthy collaboration between the involved parties and promotes an environment afterward that is more suited to healing and moving forward. A traditional divorce process does not usually bring about this kind of outcome.
What to Consider before Deciding on a Collaborative Divorce
Collaborative divorce is not for everyone. But after some careful consideration, you could find that it is better for you and your spouse to proceed with your divorce. For some people, divorce is a necessary part of life. It can be a knock-down, drag-out fight, but it does not have to be.
Collaborative divorce could be the perfect way for you and your spouse to end things on a calmer, more cooperative note than a traditional divorce. There are some key things to consider when thinking about collaborative divorce.
First, you need to at least be on decent speaking terms with your spouse. If you have a hard time being in the same room with him or her, then collaborative divorce probably is not right for you. While you can have a professional mediator help with the negotiations, you will be meeting face-to-face with your spouse and your spouse’s attorney. Mediator or not, make sure you can speak to your spouse if you are thinking about collaborative divorce.
Next, consider any domestic violence issues or other kinds of legal matters that will be involved in the divorce proceedings. These kinds of incidents are protected by the Uniform Collaborative Law Act. In collaborative law proceedings, attorneys are supposed to be legal representatives who can help you with your negotiations. They are not there to litigate anything or win a battle.
Because of the protection granted by the Collaborative Law Act, the lawyers involved in your divorce may have difficulty handling issues such as domestic violence. Therefore, you may need to go a more traditional route with your divorce, if these kinds of issues exist in your marriage.
Finally, make sure that you consider how willing you are to be involved in your divorce proceedings. The collaborative divorce process weakens the attorney-client doctrine that governs privacy. This kind of divorce requires that parties be open and honest regarding the exchange of information. If something should happen during the process that leads the couple to need litigation, the open exchange of information cannot be reversed.
Going forward, any information that has been disclosed during the collaborative divorce process can be used in the litigation process, regardless of a change of lawyer. If you have sensitive information that could affect the outcome of your divorce, you may not want to enter into the process. Therefore, collaborative divorce may not be a good choice for your situation.
No one wants to go through a divorce. Couples who have decided to get a divorce should not have to endure the stress and trauma of courtroom litigation if they can get through the process in a calmer, more informal, more cost-effective way.
While collaborative divorce is not right for everyone, there is definitely still a need for traditional divorce in a courtroom. There are numerous benefits for couples who can work together to get through their negotiations without litigation.
The collaborative divorce process gives amicable couples a more peaceful resolution process and an easier transition for moving on from the marriage. After reading this article, you may have decided that this process is a good fit for your divorce. If so, it is time to start looking for a good collaborative law attorney.
Here is a resource to get you started. https://lawyers.findlaw.com/lawyer/practice/Collaborative-Law?DCMP=GOO-DIR_FAM-Collaborative&HBX_PK=collaborative+divorce+lawyers. We hope this article has been helpful, and we wish you luck as you move forward.