A Brief Overview of Collaborative Divorce
Collaborative divorce is a process where you and your spouse negotiate an acceptable agreement with assistance from specially trained professionals. You each hire a collaborative attorney who advises and assists you in negotiating a settlement agreement. You meet separately with your own attorney and the four of you meet together on a regular basis. A collaborative divorce also involves other professionals, such as child custody specialist or accountants as required by your unique circumstances.
Both spouses and their attorneys sign an agreement that requires the attorneys to withdraw from the case if a settlement is not reached and the case goes to court. Collaborative divorce attorneys will not represent you if you end up in divorce court, nor will the other team members with who you have been working.
Your agreement will eventually be presented by you to a family court judge so he/she can sign the agreement. Once an agreement is reached on all issues, the legal part of the divorce is a simple, uncontested procedure that doesn’t require a trial or litigious hearings on points of evidence and pretrial maneuvers such as interrogatories and disclosure.
Basic Steps in the Collaborative Process
Step 1: Contact a Collaborative Professional
Most couples initiate the process through a discussion with a professional that works as a team member in Collaborative practice, usually an attorney or mental health professional. As part of this step each of you will select an attorney. Often Collaborative attorneys will meet with you at no or very low cost in order to discuss the process with you and explain the basic principles which guide the process.
Step 2: You and Your Team hold the Initial Collaborative Meeting
Once both you and your spouse have retained Collaboratively-trained attorneys, the first Collaborative Meeting will be scheduled at a convenient time for everyone. At that first meeting, you will sign a “Collaborative Law Participation Agreement.” This Agreement will confirm that you agree you are not going to court, and your divorce can proceed at a pace that’s more comfortable for you both.
You and your spouse commit to communicating fully, frankly and respectfully; to participate with integrity; and to negotiate in good faith. Your attorneys will discuss all aspects of the process and your rights and obligations during the negotiations.
Step 3: You and Your Team Work To Gather Needed Information
You, your spouse, and your team will get together for settlement conferences, instead of court appearances, and your case will be customized for your unique circumstances. Lots of communication will happen via phone calls and emails, as opposed to the exchange of formal letters that are often confrontational and oppositional in the litigation process. This type of informal communication can save you money. The time this step takes will depend greatly upon you, your spouse, and your particular situation. This step often uses what are commonly referred to as "Four Way" sessions, as you, your spouse and your attorneys make up the team. Often each team member will have specific tasks to complete; i.e. each of you may be asked to gather information of a financial nature while the other works on other information needed for the four way discussions.
Step 4: You and Your Team Work Through Options and Future Considerations
Through a series of meetings and conferences, the team works with you to identify your shared interests, individual needs, ideas and attitudes about everything from child care to educational desires, employment options and the division of assets and liabilities. These sessions also bring about options and ideas for forming the eventual agreement. As this stage progresses you negotiate and reach a consensus with your spouse/partner as to the specific aspects of the divorce.
Step 5: You and Your Team Draft an Agreement and Obtain Court Approval
Once the negotiations are complete and everyone accepts all the terms, a Marital Settlement Agreement is drafted. Once this Agreement is signed by both of you, it is presented to the Court for approval. A hearing is scheduled and in nearly all Collaborative cases the hearing takes only a few minutes. Once approved by the judge the divorce decree is granted.
While is may seem like a straight-forward process, it is not necessarily rapid, or easy. Every family situation is different. A couple with no children and few assets, debts, or real estate for example is quite different from a couple with significant assets, a family business, or second or vacation homes. All family situations can be successfully resolved via the process if the parties - you and your spouse - are dedicated to it.