What is the Collaborative Divorce Process?
If you have heard the term “Collaborative divorce,” my experience tells me you’ve probably also heard a lot of misinformation about the topic. As a trained Collaborative attorney, it is important to me that people understand what makes a Collaborative divorce different from a traditional litigated divorce.
In a nutshell, Collaborative divorce represents a different way to divorce. The parties settle their disputes outside of court and therefore, control the outcome of their divorce (instead of the court making the decisions.) This means that our divorce lawyers here in Pennsylvania will work with you to solve issues in the most peaceful manner possible – without involving your typical court scenarios.
To have a Collaborative divorce, the only thing the parties have to agree upon is to participate in the Collaborative process and to abide by the rules set forth in the Collaborative Participation Agreement. The two sides don’t have to like each other (one side may even want to save the marriage.) Many of the same emotions present in traditional divorces – pain, fear, distrust, anger – are present in Collaborative divorces. The difference is a willingness to work with the Collaborative team to overcome those emotions to reach a settlement that reflects the needs and interests of both parties. Family mediation services are an option that many people seek out.
Contrary to what some attorneys may tell you, not all divorces are Collaborative. The term Collaborative, when used with an upper case “C,” refers to a specific type of a divorce. It means that the attorneys involved in the case have been specifically trained in the Collaborative process (as outlined by the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals). Collaborative attorneys have extensive formal training in the principles and techniques of mediation and specifically, the Collaborative divorce process.
The Collaborative model is built on a four-step process: information gathering; evaluating needs, goals and interests of each party; brainstorming options for resolution; and achieving resolution. Within each of these four steps the parties are afforded the opportunities for creativity and fluidity that cannot be achieved through traditional litigation.
Couples who choose the Collaborative divorce process pledge to follow an established set of guidelines:
They will not resort to the courts to resolve their case. They will work diligently and in good faith to reach an agreement that best suits their needs. They will not allow decisions about their children, their home, their savings accounts, their retirement accounts and their futures to be made for them by judges or hearing officers. Rather, they will work together to reach agreements that meet the needs of both spouses as they go forward.
Both Husband and Wife will be open and honest and will produce information on their assets and debts freely and voluntarily. They understand that by merely producing information about a particular asset, they aren’t somehow tacitly agreeing to give that asset over to the other spouse. In Collaborative cases, nothing happens until both parties say “yes.”
Both parties agree to think about and analyze their needs and interests for the future. Rather than the guerrilla warfare approach to traditional divorce where the focus is on how much damage can be inflicted on the other side without regard to whether that damage helps or hurts the inflicting party, participants in a Collaborative case pledge to consider what they need and want in the future and then undertake creative problem solving to see if both parties’ goals can be achieved.
The parties pledge to explore options and solutions until they reach an agreement that works for both spouses. At times, additional help may be needed in the form of financial planners, real estate appraisers, pension valuators or parenting experts, to name a few. When helpful to the process, the parties agree to work with these experts to fashion a result that addresses their individual needs and interests while respectfully addressing the needs and interests of their spouse.
Collaborative divorce is not a fad. What began with one attorney in Minneapolis nearly 25 years ago has grown to become an internationally recognized process that now includes more than 5,000 practitioners from 24 countries around the world. In the U.S., nine states have adopted the Uniform Collaborative Law Act and another six have introduced the legislation.
If you’d like to see if Collaborative divorce is the right course of action for you or if you’d like to discuss any other topic related to issues of divorce, custody, support or family law in general, please contact me or call (800) 615-0115.