At our law firm, we represent divorcing clients in western Pennsylvania in a range of divorce processes — from the courtroom or traditional negotiation to mediation or collaboration. Today we will talk about the potential benefits of the collaborative divorce process.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines “collaborate” as working together for a “special purpose.” Other definitions focus on two parties striving together for a common goal. This helps to explain collaborative divorce in which two divorcing spouses with professional support negotiate directly to create an agreement settling the legal issues in their divorce.
The idea of working cooperatively is in direct contrast to the negative stereotypes of divorce — think The War of the Roses. While an adversarial trial may be necessary for some couples, other options like collaboration can be more productive and cost less in the long run.
What collaboration looks like
In collaborative divorce, the parties sign a participation agreement laying out the terms of their negotiation. They agree not to go to court and to negotiate with respect and dignity toward settlement.
Each has their own attorney and the two spouses and their counsel meet in a series of four-way meetings to resolve issues like property division, alimony, child custody, child support and others. In collaboration, the parties may come up with creative solutions to family problems that a judge might not. In addition, they control the schedule and are not bound by a court calendar.
Collaboration may be less stressful because of the dedication to lessen conflict. The parties may still have trouble — they are agreeing to separate after all — but their lawyers can assist with impasses using techniques they learned in collaborative law training. In addition, the spouses may hire a divorce coach whose job it is to help them through difficulties in communication and emotion that come up.
In addition, the parties may jointly retain other kinds of neutral professionals to provide advice and information. Those neutrals can include parenting coaches, mental health professionals, child specialists, financial planners, accountants, appraisers, real estate professionals and others.
The parties agree that if the collaborative process breaks down, each must hire a new lawyer to represent them in a different divorce process. This provides additional impetus to come to agreement in collaboration.
Instead of traditional discovery in court in which formal requests for evidence are part of the trial process, the parties pledge in their agreement to be honest and openly share all necessary and relevant information, especially about money, assets and earnings.
In Part 2 of this post, we will discuss some of the reasons collaborative divorce may not be the right choice for some people.