For those of you who, like myself, want bullet-point, clear and concise answers to your questions, here it is: “a nutshell” description of what it means to engage in a “collaborative divorce” and what it means to have a “collaborative attorney.”
What: Very simply, the collaborative divorce process is a way to resolve your family law matter outside of court. It involves a written agreement between both parties and their attorneys that states they will not go to court to resolve any of the issues. If the parties need to resort to litigation in court, their collaborative attorneys cannot represent them; they would need new legal counsel.
The agreement that the attorneys will not represent the clients in litigation is crucial to the process. It ensures that the attorneys are also vested in keeping the case outside of court, which means minimizing conflict and using a problem-solving approach. I often hear people say they don’t want to hire attorneys in their divorce case because the attorneys will just ignite the conflict and start arguments. If that is your concern, then the collaborative process is right for you because you will find attorneys whose goals are in line with your own.
Who: The collaborative process uses a team approach to maximize efficiency and expertise. Professional team members can include collaboratively trained attorneys, divorce coaches, child specialists, and financial neutrals.
A divorce is typically one of the most emotional and stressful events of a person’s life, and a divorce client benefits from someone who can help to ensure a safe environment, facilitate effective communication, and manage reactivity to stress. Instead of letting that fall onto the attorney (who may not have these skills), which often happens in non-collaborative cases, the collaborative process involves divorce coaches. The mental health professionals who serve as divorce coaches help clients manage emotions and effectively advocate for themselves in addressing the big issues throughout the process.
Similarly, law school trains lawyers on the law, not child development and the effects of divorce on children. If the parties have minor children, a child specialist, a mental health professional with training in child development, assists the parents and divorce coaches in crafting a parenting plan tailored to their unique children. Child specialists are neutral parties who provide a voice to the children in the collaborative process. They help parents determine how to serve the best interests of their children in the post-divorce family, rather than letting this up to the attorneys or the courts, which is what typically happens in litigation cases.
Finally, a neutral financial specialist can be brought into the team to help review the financial information and consider how different agreements might have different financial implications, especially with regard to taxes. The goal of the financial neutral is to look for creative ways to “maximize the pie” so that the family is in the best financial situation possible after the divorce.
So, what is the role of a “collaborative attorney?” A collaborative attorney is still an advocate, just in a different way. Instead of putting on “blinders” and thinking only of his or her client’s own positions and interests, the collaborative attorney considers the “big picture” and how to resolve the issues collaboratively and creatively with the other spouse, his or her attorney, and members of the professional team. A collaborative attorney will give his or her client sound, reasonable advice regarding the legal system and what a court might decide, rather than telling the client only what the client wants to hear. A collaborative attorney will work with the other members of the team, including the other spouse, in a collaborative, respectful, problem-solving manner.
You will find much more information regarding the collaborative process on this website. We also provide a free webinar called “Second Saturday Wisconsin” most months of the year. Check out the “Events” area of the website for the schedule. In addition, you can contact our members to discuss the collaborative process in more detail and decide whether this process is right for you. Just click on “Find a Professional” at the top of this page.
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Megann S. Hendrix, JD
2016 Chair of CFLCW