The term ‘collaborative divorce’ can sound like an oxymoron- words that just don’t go together. Many people assume that divorce has to be contentious and adversarial, so the word ‘collaborative’ doesn’t seem to be realistic. How can a process that involves pain, grief, anger, fear, and so many other emotions ever be called ‘collaborative’?
Collaborative divorce is a legal process that has evolved over several decades influenced by professionals (including judges, attorneys, mental health professionals, and financial processionals) who saw the negative impact of the traditional litigation divorce process on the divorcing parties and their families. We recognized the traditional litigation process often unnecessarily adds to the family’s pain because it so often fuels mistrust, fear, and anger instead of de-escalating conflict.
There are many misconceptions about collaborative divorce, most prevalent among the misconceptions is that the only people who can use a ‘collaborative’ divorce process are those who are getting along peacefully at the time of divorce. The reality is that very few couples entering the collaborative divorce process would fit this description. Divorce is a stressful life event and involves making difficult decisions for oneself and one’s children. Divorcing parties rarely agree perfectly about how these decisions should get made in the process, and the conversations about these topics are never easy. They are able, though, with trained guides, to reach agreements about how to resolve financial issues and care for their children after the divorce.
A collaborative divorce process is designed to allow the parties to make difficult decisions through the support of trained collaborative professionals who understand the conditions in which people, even under significant stress, can make important decisions. Important characteristics of a collaborative process include:
- The clients agree to work with trained professionals to reach an agreement instead of using an adversarial litigation process that puts decision making in the hands of a judge.
- Each client is represented by an attorney who is committed to transparency and sharing all relevant information between the parties.
- Meetings are scheduled in advance based on the clients’ schedules, with an agenda developed by the professional team to ensure clients are prepared for any topic to be discussed. Meetings are efficient and intentional to avoid unnecessary costs.
- The professionals supporting the clients, including attorneys, agree to abide by a code of conduct centered on transparency between parties, trust, and future well-being of the clients and their children.
- The attorneys work as a team with neutral professionals, usually a financial professional and mental health professional, who are trained to facilitate productive decision-making regarding parenting after divorce and financial divisions.
- The clients and professionals agree to complete the divorce process privately, with the team being bound to keep the clients’ private information confidential.
- The collaborative divorce attorneys are trained to not only advocate for their client’s goals, but also recognize the client’s spouse has important goals for the future.
- All necessary financial information is gathered in the most cost-efficient manner, usually by the neutral financial professional, in order to avoid duplication of work that often occurs in litigation processes.
- Divorcing parents are supporting in the divorce process to establish a parenting plan that is good for their children and successfully implement it after the divorce is final, for the benefit of their children.
“Collaborative” divorce is still a divorce- a divorce is a significant and stressful life event that reshapes life for everyone in the family. “Collaborative” signifies the commitment of the team to guide the clients through this very difficult time in their lives without creating even more fear, stress, and anger between the parties. If you are considering divorce, contact a CDT member to learn more.