How Does Collaborative Divorce Differ From Traditional Divorce?

What is collaborative divorce — and is it right for you? If you and spouse have made the difficult decision to divorce, it makes sense to explore the many options and pathways available for reaching a divorce settlement. Gone are the days when getting a divorce always meant having a judge decide your matters. In today’s divorce landscape, there are a number of alternative dispute resolution and out of court settlement options, including divorce mediation, divorce arbitration, and the subject of this blog: Collaborative divorce.

Often billed as a “kinder, friendlier” divorce, here are four key ways collaborative divorce differs from other divorce pathways:

1. Setting Mutual Goals: Before divorce negotiations begin, couples engaged in collaborative divorce typically sign an agreement that includes the setting of mutual goals, pledges to respect one another, and promises to be nothing less than truthful and forthcoming with relevant financial and personal information. This is unique to the collaborative process and is part of setting the tone for a respectful process.

2. Use of Specially Trained Collaborative Divorce Lawyers: A major difference in collaborative divorce is the role family law attorneys play. During the process, a collaborative lawyer may speak directly to their client’s spouse, in addition to the spouse’s lawyer, throughout negotiations. In traditional divorce negotiation, an attorney speaking directly to their client’s spouse, and not their attorney, would be unusual, unless the spouse is representing themselves in their divorce matter. Collaborative divorce lawyers receive special training in this process and style of negotiation.

3. Use of Neutral Experts: Another key aspect of collaborative divorce is the use of neutral professionals to consult with the couple on important matters. For example, couples in a collaborative divorce may hire a financial professional to help them set budgets and analyze tax implications, or a parenting expert to assess what child custody arrangement might be best for their children. Other experts can include appraisers, mental health professionals, divorce coaches to help them negotiate and any other specialist they need help from.

4. When Collaborative Divorce Doesn’t Work: In general, if one or both parties wish to discontinue the collaborative process, both attorneys are legally obligated to withdraw from representing their clients. This is done as an incentive for the couple to settle their case collaboratively and avoid the time and expense of starting the divorce over from scratch.

Who is collaborative divorce not intended for? it is generally agreed that collaborative divorce is not appropriate in situations in which one spouse is psychologically domineering or verbally abusive, or there is a history of domestic violence. Also, think practically. If one spouse has a history of dishonesty, it probably doesn’t make sense that he or she will suddenly become forthcoming in the collaborative process.

How do you know if this process right for you? Consulting with a collaborative attorneys to discuss your situation can give you the most definitive answer.