Everyone knows someone (and probably more than one someone) with a divorce horror story. When people contemplate a divorce, one of the biggest fears they may have is that while they have simply fallen out of love, they could end up hating one another. In my family law practice, I have seen that happen too many times, and I am happy to tell you that there is another way.
Collaborative law, otherwise known as collaborative practice, is a relatively new method using a “team” approach to assist parties going through a divorce to resolve their issues without court intervention. The basic tenets of collaborative law include 1) the parties sign an agreement not to seek court intervention; 2) if either party decides to exit the collaborative process, both attorneys must withdraw (creating a disincentive to litigate); 3) the parties agree to full disclosure of all pertinent information; and 4) a process which fosters shared solutions which benefit both parties.
While negotiating a divorce is likely to include stressful moments regardless of the approach, doing a divorce collaboratively can make things less stressful. The team model permits other professionals to become involved, including mental health and financial professionals. For example, often one party is not emotionally prepared for the divorce, and those emotions can manifest themselves in the form of stubbornness in negotiating certain items. A mental health professional who is collaboratively trained (also called a coach) may be able to work with the parties to get to the root of the issue, and once found, address it in a productive manner.
Collaboratively trained financial professionals can be immensely helpful, performing alimony calculations, answering questions on tax planning and planning for retirement. Additionally, they can project the parties’ proposed settlements into the future, which often can help allay one or both parties’ fears about future finances.
Other benefits to obtaining a divorce collaboratively include putting the clients in the driver’s seat, possibly getting it finished quicker, and keeping a modicum of privacy if there are sensitive issues involved. With collaborative divorce, the sessions are scheduled based on the team’s availability, and can be flexible around travel schedules and work schedules if necessary. When you have a divorce in court, the Court’s schedule dictates, which can often mean long waits, and sometimes more than two years before resolution is reached. Scheduling client meetings at the parties’ convenience and assigning tasks prior to the next session can make sessions more productive and foster settlement. Finally, litigated divorces can often become messy; sometimes the parties’ “dirty laundry” is aired in divorce documents for the public to see. Doing your divorce collaboratively can keep all of that laundry out of the public domain, safely at the table of the collaborative session.