Collaborative Divorce FAQ

By Jennifer Prizeman-Utara, Esquire

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Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods such as mediation and collaborative divorce have become more popular in recent decades, as parties aim to avoid stressful litigation, control legal fees, and work toward mutually agreeable solutions.

If you are weighing ADR options to avoid a trial, here are 7 things to keep in mind about the collaborative divorce process;

1. The Process Starts with a Collaboration Participation Agreement

In this collaborative participation agreement, parties agree to two general ideas:

  • That they will collaborate in good faith. This means they will be honest and transparent during the collaborative process. The divorcing parties agree to use cooperative strategies to resolve their issues, agree in advance to have open discussion and full disclosure, and share information. 
  • The parties agree that their attorneys cannot represent them later if they abandon the collaborative process and end up going to court.

The parties must be fully committed to the process.

2. The Goal is to Reach a Comprehensive Settlement Agreement that Addresses All Issues

In order for a judge to grant a divorce, the parties’ settlement agreement must resolve all issues, including custody, division of assets, and spousal support. During the collaborative process, the parties will collaborate in good faith to find balanced, equitable solutions to all issues.

3. Collaborative Divorce Has Several Potential Advantages Over Traditional Litigation

While collaborative divorce can help parties avoid going to court, there are several other potential benefits.

  • More control: Many collaborative law participants feel empowered by the process, as they have more control over the outcome of their case and details of their agreement. If a judge needs to rule on issues in your case, there is a certain amount of uncertainty.
  • Less Expensive: Most divorce cases settle before trial, but traditional litigation that culminates in a trial is usually the most expensive divorce method. The ultimate cost will depend on your circumstances and the issues in your case, but collaborative divorce can be less expensive than traditional litigation. There are costs associated with paying a team of professionals to facilitate the divorce process, but it is typically less expensive than going to trial and resolving issues there. Rather than having “dueling experts” during trial, a neutral expert that both parties agree upon is used.
  • Speed: Depending on the issues that need to be resolved in your case, this type of divorce can also be quicker.

4. The Collaborative Divorce Process is Built Around a Team

In the collaborative law process, each party is separately represented by an attorney. While your team starts with your attorney, it often includes child specialists, divorce coaches, and neutral financial professionals that are trained in the collaborative process.

Child Specialists – these collaboratively trained professionals make sure the voice of the parties’ children is heard so that their needs are met.

Financial professionals like CPAs and CFPs – are often essential to evaluating your financial options and tax consequences.

Divorce Coaches – work with clients so that they have more clarity on the process, stay focused on their long-term goals, and are better able to streamline the questions and concerns they have for their attorney. At an emotional time when there are countless choices to make, divorce coaches offer holistic support for people navigating the divorce process.

Other professionals like real estate agents or mortgage brokers – might become part of the process if you are considering refinancing or selling/purchasing a home as part of your settlement agreement.

5. You Cannot Proceed with a Contested Court Matter with Your Attorney

At the outset of the process, the parties agree that their collaborative attorneys cannot represent them later if they cannot reach a settlement and end up taking the case to court.

This often incentivizes collaborative participants to work through difficult issues, since they will need to start over with a new attorney if they abandon the collaborative process.

6. Collaborative Divorce is Not Right for Everyone

The process can only work if the parties are able to respectfully work together in an open and honest manner. There are many ways to get divorced, and what works best for a particular couple depends on many factors. It is not recommended for parties, for example, with a history of domestic violence, coercive control or other type of abuse.

Unlike traditional litigation, there are no hard deadlines with the collaborative process. So it may not be the best option when one party is resisting getting divorced and trying to drag out the process as much as possible.

7. Not All Attorneys Are the Same

As with all attorneys, there are a wide range of personalities. Some have a softer touch while others have a more aggressive approach. Finding the right attorney that fits with your personality is important. The International Academy of Collaborative Professionals can help you find qualified, collaboratively trained attorneys and divorce coaches.

The best approach for your divorce depends on many factors, including the level of cooperation between the partners, length of the marriage, and whether children are involved. To discuss whether collaborative divorce is right for you, contact Z Family Law today.