What it is: Collaborative Divorce is a process for resolving issues that “opts-out” of the courtroom. Each spouse in a Collaborative Divorce has his or her own attorney for legal advice and guidance. The spouses commit to resolving all issues outside of court, and most of the work of reaching a settlement takes place in four-way meetings in which both spouses and their attorneys get together with a specific agenda. Parties in a collaborative divorce have higher obligations to disclose information, and they commit to working toward a settlement that addresses as many of the family’s interests as possible.
Who it is for: Collaborative Divorce is ideal for couples who want or need to maintain a good working relationship even after the divorce, such as parents or co-owners of a family business. It also is an excellent process for unusual or complicated situations that call for creative solutions. Collaborative divorce is a good option for couples who feel they need the reassurance of a lawyer by their sides, but who want to resolve the divorce with dignity and fairness.
Who is it not for: Collaborative Divorce might not be suitable in situations where there is a high degree of distrust (e.g., if one spouse is suspected of hiding assets), if there are untreated alcohol or other drug addictions, or if domestic violence is a concern. Because special rules of confidentiality apply to negotiations in Collaborative Divorce cases, if one spouse decides to leave the collaborative process and asks a judge to decide issues, then the collaborative attorneys must withdraw and new lawyers take over for the litigation process. This rule can help people stay focused on settlement, but it also creates a risk that a spouse could use this provision to force the other spouse to hire a new lawyer. For this reason, if either spouse is not really committed to handling the divorce out of court, Collaborative Divorce is probably not appropriate.
Who all gets involved: At a minimum, a Collaborative Divorce requires each spouse to have an attorney trained in the collaborative process. Most of the time, the spouses also each have a divorce coach to help them address emotional issues that arise in divorce and to help the divorce process go smoothly. Neutral financial experts can help the spouses have confidence that the numbers being discussed are accurate and unbiased, and a neutral child specialist provides the children of the divorce with an opportunity to have their voices heard in a non-threatening manner. Other neutral experts are called in as needed to help the spouses make good decisions for their families.
What about the cost? Collaborative Divorce is not necessarily less expensive during the divorce process, but collaborative cases tend to have fewer problems after the divorce because final settlement agreements are usually more comprehensive than in traditional divorce cases. Money spent in the Collaborative Process is usually spent more wisely than in a traditional divorce. For example, rather than having two financial experts prepare separate, competing valuations that might be biased toward the people who hired them, spouses agree on one neutral expert to prepare an unbiased valuation they both can trust. Rather than “venting” about emotional issues to their attorneys (and paying attorney rates), spouses have coaches who are trained mental health professionals to help them navigate the emotional currents of the divorce at a lower hourly rate. Rather than paying another lawyer to be a guardian ad litem to discover the children’s wishes and to represent the interests of the children (often at lawyer rates), the parents hire a neutral child specialist to do similar work with a mind toward children’s developmental needs. This is not necessarily a cheaper product, but in many ways it can be a better use of family funds than a traditional process.
Where can I learn more? Check out the Collaborative Family Law Council of Wisconsin website at www.collabdivorce.com.