What is Collaborative Divorce?
A Collaborative Divorce is a form of alternative dispute resolution, which simply means that the case is resolved out of court. In a Collaborative Divorce, the only time the clients go to court is to present their agreed final order (a Final Decree) for the judge’s signature (called a prove-up). A Collaborative Divorce is still a contested divorce, but it is worked out through a series of meetings with information gathering, option development, option evaluation, and negotiations. Each client has their own attorney, and neutral experts are available to help the couple develop a parenting plan for their children, and to help them prepare inventories of all their assets and liabilities, along with some financial planning to enable them to be prepared for their lives after the divorce. Compared to old-fashioned litigation where the couple goes to court and asks a judge decide the issues in their case, in a Collaborative Divorce the clients make their own decisions/agreements with the support and advice of their attorneys and the support of the other neutral professionals in the case. This is important because judges, through no fault of their own, will take little time to know the parties, or their case.
Collaborative Divorce began back in the late ’80’s/early ’90’s when the idea came to a family lawyer who had grown tired of seeing families torn apart by fights in court (litigation). He envisioned a process where families could divorce differently — with dignity and privacy. Divorce, by its very nature, creates animosity. This animosity is greatly amplified during the contested litigation process. Couples often come out of litigation as bitter enemies with an inability to communicate. If they had conflict before the divorce, the litigation process often amplifies it to a high conflict relationship which is obviously an obstacle to sound parenting. As the couple will remain parents after the divorce, it is inherently a good idea to limit the conflict in their post-divorce parenting world.
When is Collaborative Divorce a Good Option for Couples and Families?
Collaborative Divorce is not limited to any particular kind of divorce. It is appropriate for any contested family law matter (and is spreading to other disciplines such as probate), excluding those involving family violence. However, there are certain types of cases where a Collaborative Divorce particularly well-serves the family, such as when young children are involved.
Collaborative Divorce Protects Children
Collaborative Divorce is partially designed to limit the harmful impact of divorce on children. Collaborative Divorce is a much better forum for divorces when the parties will continue to be connected through their children and have to work together to co-parent. If a divorcing couple has young children, they still have to raise those kids together as their parents even though they’re no longer married. Even when there are adult children of the marriage, parents never really quit parenting. If the parents cannot communicate, then they cannot co-parent. If they cannot co-parent then they have essentially divorced the children, figuratively tearing their children apart. The Collaborative Divorce process helps clients learn to communicate and effectively co-parent after the divorce. With Collaborative Divorce, the parties are given tools to help overcome the animosity that has developed in the relationship. Throughout their lives, even when their children are adults and have children of their own, everyone in the family will be better served if the parents are able to communicate, a skill set that is improved when a divorce is handled in the Collaborative Process.
In Collaborative Divorce the Clients Have More Control Over the Outcome
There are also cases where there are no children involved, but the parties still want to avoid being in the courtroom atmosphere. In a Collaborative Divorce, the clients retain more control over the outcome of their case than when a judge makes all of the decisions. Clients also feel like they reach a better resolution to their case through the Collaborative Divorce process because they know their situation better than a judge who is basically a stranger and has a limited time to hear their case. Also, the benefits of using neutral financial experts to assist the parties cannot be overstated.
A Collaborative Divorce Provides a Private and Confidential Environment
Other than the final, generic “prove-up” hearing (required in every type of divorce and most family law matters), there are no court appearances in the Collaborative Divorce process. While certain information can be protected in a litigated divorce, your litigated case is still in a public forum where the public can attend to listen to your case. Collaborative Divorce is strictly confidential and all matters are conducted in closed-door sessions. Most of us find it easier to get to the “truth of the matter” in private, whereas a public discussion is chilling on what some parties want, and need, to say.