Increasingly, couples are looking to collaborative law as a more positive way to approach divorce. In a collaborative divorce, the spouses and their attorneys negotiate a divorce settlement without going to court. The focus is on resolving issues through cooperation.
If you can't stand to be in the same room as your soon-to-be ex-spouse, a collaborative divorce probably isn't for you. But if you can discuss issues with respect, you may find a collaborative divorce is a faster, cheaper and more satisfying way to end your marriage than battling it out in a divorce court.
Advantages of Collaborative Law
In a traditional divorce, a judge makes the decisions and controls the proceedings. A big advantage of a collaborative divorce is that the spouses and their lawyers control the decisions and proceedings.
Collaborative divorce law is also:
- Generally less costly than litigation
- More private than filing papers and making arguments in court
- Less stressful, as it generates much less fear and anxiety than court proceedings
- Less time-consuming, as you can usually reach agreement and finalize the legal proceeding within a short time
The Participation Agreement
The participation agreement is a key feature of the collaborative divorce. This agreement is signed by both spouses and their lawyers. It typically requires everyone to agree that:
- All efforts will be made to negotiate a divorce agreement without going to court
- Each party will share information freely and work to reach agreement
- If experts are necessary, all parties will agree upon the neutral experts who are hired
- If litigation is necessary, the collaborative attorneys will be replaced by traditional divorce attorneys
The Collaborative Process
Steps in the collaborative process include:
- Full disclosure. A first step is to disclose your assets and income. You should voluntarily share this information and verify it with documentation and tax returns
- Four-way conferences. You, your spouse, and your lawyers (and sometimes other neutral professionals) meet to discuss the issues and seek ways to arrive at agreement
- Resolve issues. You'll decide issues like the division of your property and debts, child custody and support, and spousal maintenance or alimony
- Draft an agreement. Your lawyers will draft legal documents that detail your agreements. These legally binding documents are then submitted to the court for approval without you having to go through a long court hearing
What Happens If Settlement Can't Be Reached?
The collaborative process gives many couples the structure and resources they need to privately settle their divorces. Many find it reinforces good communication skills that allow them to resolve issues that arise even after the divorce, like those related to child support, education and visitation.
Sometimes though, negotiations break down in the collaborative process and a settlement can't be reached. When that happens, the collaborative lawyers withdraw from the case and each party hires a new divorce attorney to tackle the issues in court.
If you're planning to divorce, talk with a collaborative divorce lawyer about your situation. See if you can end your marriage without litigation. The earlier this is done, the better the chance is that you and your spouse to be oriented toward a settlement approach.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Is my divorce suitable for using the collaborative process?
- Are you a member of any associations of collaborative lawyers?
- Will a collaborative divorce cost less than a traditional divorce in my case?