A version of this article, by Harry Munsinger, a partner in San Antonio family law firm Munsinger & Munsinger, and Michael Gallery, owner of OPIS Consultants in Highland Village, Texas, appeared in the latest edition of Roadmap, a newsletter for Collaborative Law Institute of Texas professionals. This is the first of two parts.
The International Academy of Collaborative Professionals found that most collaborative divorces resolve within eight months, well over ninety percent settle, around two percent of collaborative couples reconcile, and the remaining few opt for litigation. The average cost of a collaborative divorce is around $24,000, “easy” cases average around $12,000, while difficult cases cost approximately $32,000. Costs vary substantially by complexity of the case and cooperativeness of the clients, as well as how many team members are involved in a given case.
But, with all this information compiled on collaborative divorce, we know almost nothing about the relative costs of collaborative vs. litigation divorces. We don’t know if they take equally long to resolve, and we aren’t certain which clients are more suited to the collaborative process and which clients should choose litigation. Some seasoned collaborative practitioners believe clients with mental health problems, substance abuse issues, and unrealistic expectations are not good candidates for the collaborative process. However, we don’t know if these same clients would fare better in a courtroom or whether the stress of litigation might make their personal problems worse.
To answer these interesting questions, we compared the cost, difficulty, and time required to resolve a sample of collaborative cases with a demographically similar sample of litigation cases. Using standard survey methods, we collected demographic information on each client, the cost of each case, the time required to resolve the divorce, and ratings of how difficult the case was to handle. We recorded each client’s age, length of marriage, annual income, education, number of children, size of the community estate, the presence of mental health problems, whether the parties were realistic about the divorce, their level of trust, their ability to feel empathy, their level of anger, the amount of denial they showed, and the experience levels of the professionals involved.
We statistically compared the average cost, duration, and difficulty of collaborative divorces and litigated divorces to see if there are significant differences. Specifically, we wanted to know whether the average collaborative divorce costs less compared with the average litigated divorce, which type took longer to resolve, and which were more difficult to handle. In addition, we explored which personal characteristics of our clients contributed to the differences in cost, duration, and difficulty of collaborative vs. litigation divorces.
We found that the average litigated divorce in our sample cost $89,250, while the average collaborative divorce cost only $14,269. We also discovered that affluent clients, with average annual incomes around $100,000, are more likely to select the collaborative process for their divorce. Significantly, the likelihood that collaborative and litigated divorces cost the same on average is less than two in one hundred. If we replicated our study one hundred times, we would find two samples where the average cost of a collaborative divorce is equal to or higher than the average cost of a litigated divorce. In the other 98 samples, the average cost of a collaborative divorce is less than the average cost of a litigated divorce.
Moreover, the likelihood that affluent divorce clients chose the collaborative process by chance is less than two in 1,000. This means it would require 500 replications of our study to find a single sample in which affluent clients selected litigation more often than they chose the collaborative process.
Furthermore, we found no significant differences in the duration or rated difficulty of collaborative divorces, compared with litigation divorces in our sample.
In Part Two of this article, coming next week, Munsinger and Gallery talk more specifically about the involvement of financial and mental health professionals as well as differences between male and female clients.