There is a new movement in divorce practice locally whereby spouses enter into an agreement not to litigate their case in court. Instead, the two spouses make a commitment to engage in comprehensive settlement negotiations on all of the issues in their divorce. The process is known “collaborative divorce.”
In the process, both parties retain a collaboratively-trained attorney to represent them in the negotiations. In addition, the spouses may choose to jointly hire a family specialist to help advise them in custody-related issues, and a financial specialist to advise them on the impact of various financial proposals and their consequences. Similarly, the parties agree to retain joint experts, if needed, such as real estate appraisers and business valuators.
The process generally consists of a series of meetings attended by both spouses, both attorneys, and either or both of the family or financial specialists, as may be necessary to the discussion at the meeting.
The end goal of the process is to reach an agreement that will become the basis of the parties’ divorce. At the end, there is a brief mandatory legal procedure in court to grant the divorce and adopt the agreement. The court would be available for addressing any enforcement that may be needed.
If the parties struggle with achieving a settlement, the attorneys are specifically trained to employ proven techniques and strategies to accomplish the settlement task. In the end result, however, if the parties are unable to reach a settlement, they are entitled to and must resort to the litigation process.
The benefits of the collaborative process are many. First, the anxiety and delays occasioned with divorce litigation can be reduced, as the meetings are generally less stressful than court hearings, and can be scheduled to accommodate busy parents’ schedules. Second, the costs can be reduced by avoiding many of the formalities associated with the normal divorce litigation process. Further, the parties can share professionals, hiring one rather than two. Third, the parties can control the end result, allowing them to sculpt a resolution that may contain creative provisions that a court would not likely make part of a final divorce decree. Fourth, parties with children are able to maintain a more amicable relationship, thus facilitating higher cooperation on post-divorce interaction, which naturally happens with their joint children.
Collaborative divorce clients have expressed many added benefits of using this new technique, including the fact that their dignity and self-esteem are protected. The parties are empowered in the process to participate in their own case. Their children can be spared much unnecessary turmoil. The process promotes creative solutions. The process allows both spouses to move ahead in their lives with less baggage. The process is private rather than conducted in public courts. The focus is placed on collaboration rather than confrontation.
The best way to begin the process if for either or both spouses to meet with a collaboratively-trained lawyer, who can educate one or both of the spouses on the process, and obtain rosters of collaboratively trained attorneys in the community.
Article by Timothy B. Theissen