Collaborative Divorce is a great choice for any couple seeking satisfaction with both the process and the outcome of their divorce-related decision making. As with mediation, Collaborative Divorce is available only if both spouses choose it.
Collaborative Divorce is a relatively recent development in the practice of law. It was conceived in the early 1990’s by Stu Webb, a forward-thinking lawyer frustrated by the cost and pain his divorce clients experienced in the adversarial court process. Collaborative Practice has since developed into a robust legal subspecialty that to thousands of divorcing couples have used successfully.
To practice Collaborative Divorce, lawyers and the parties need to have a very different mindset than that typical of lawyers for clients in litigation. Instead of engaging in a costly win-lose battle (which, usually, no one wins), the attorneys and their clients work together to solve the clients’ shared problems and challenges. Instead of “How can we defeat the other spouse?” the question will more likely be, “How can both spouses (and any children) be okay in the future and not damaged by the divorce process?” Information sharing happens freely, legal advice is given openly, and no one “opposes” anyone. It’s not one spouse against the other. It is each spouse, with the other, working to sort things out with the help of a team of Collaborative Professionals.
In a Collaborative Divorce, the two spouses and their lawyers formally agree up front that, so long as they are in the Collaborative process, they will not use the adversarial court system. Instead, they commit to work collaboratively to find the best solutions for all concerned. If either spouse decides to use the court system, the Collaborative Process must end and both spouses will have to hire different lawyers to proceed in court. The parties’ commitment to forego litigation and the lawyers’ commitment to withdraw in the event of litigation provide a powerful incentive for everyone to work together to find the best overall answers to everything that needs to be decided.
Often in Collaborative Divorce, additional non-lawyer professionals work on the team with the lawyers to help the couple reach the best possible agreements for their family. Commonly, one or two “coaches” (licensed mental health practitioners trained in Collaborative Practice) help address the spouses’ emotional needs and help them communicate more effectively. A credentialed child expert may be engaged to help ensure that children’s needs are understood and considered. A neutral financial expert (often a CPA or Certified Financial Planner) may help to educate the parties about their financial picture and choices.
The Collaborative Process may be of greater value to the parties than other options. The entire process is visible to all participants — parties and professionals alike, and the professionals work as a coordinated team. An apt analogy is a medical patient with a complex condition involving multiple medical specialties. In that situation, it is helpful for the medical care and treatment plan to be coordinated among all the involved specialists, and for the professionals to share information and collaborate in the patient’s care. That is the Collaborative model in a nutshell.
Another common advantage of Collaborative Practice over the alternatives is the level of support available to each party in the process. Any perceived imbalances between the parties — e.g. in personality, bargaining power, or financial knowledge — are more readily addressed.
For more information about Collaborative Practice and how it might be helpful in your circumstances, contact me for a free introductory conversation.