Static Banner After Header

Collaborative Divorce

Collaborative divorce, sometimes also known as “amicable divorce” or “uncontested divorce,” is a process through which both parties in a divorce agree to work together—either with a single lawyer or with a lawyer representing each party—to negotiate a divorce settlement.

The concept of a collaborative divorce is a relatively recent one, dating back to the late 1980s. But in recent years, it has been demonstrated that collaborative divorces have important advantages over antagonistic, contested divorce proceedings. Some of those advantages include:

  • Minimizing time in court;
  • Saving a great deal of time and money;
  • Maintaining a positive, productive relationship between both parties (especially important in cases where children are involved);
  • Informal divorce negotiations and mediations are much less stressful than traditional court proceedings;
  • You maintain a greater degree of control over the divorce process, rather than being at the mercy of the courts.

How does a collaborative divorce work?

First, each party hires their own attorney, or jointly hires a single attorney to act as a mediator. If each side is represented by their own attorney, it’s extremely important to make sure that both attorneys are amenable to the collaborative process. Some lawyers employ a more aggressive, litigious approach that ultimately undermines the collaborative divorce process. Usually, all parties and their lawyers will sign an agreement stating that if a resolution is not reached, or one party acts in a dishonest manner, then both lawyers will remove themselves from the case and require both parties to find new legal representation for the ensuing litigation. This helps to ensure that everyone is on board with the collaborative process, and minimizes the incentive for behaving antagonistically.

Generally, collaborative divorce requires that at the outset, both parties agree to approach the divorce process with the following points in mind:

  • The parties will rely on the expertise and guidance of their lawyers when necessary.
  • Disagreements will be settled in a manner that maximizes the benefit for both sides.
  • If children are involved, both parties will always keep the best interests of the children in mind, maximize their happiness, and minimize their involvement in the divorce process.
  • If necessary, neutral mediators will be brought in to assist with the process.
  • Both parties will operate in an open and honest manner, and neither party will attempt to use mistakes, oversights, or loopholes to their own advantage.
  • Beforehand, boundaries for the process will be laid out with the understanding that if these boundaries are breached, the collaborative divorce process will cease.

Once all of this is settled, each party has a private meeting with their attorney, in which they determine what they want, what they are willing to settle for, and what their ultimate goals are for the outcome. This way the respective lawyers will have an understanding of what their client’s expectations are and can better assist them in negotiating.

Once everyone has determined their needs and goals, both parties and their legal representation will meet, sometimes along with other neutral assisting parties such as mediators and child custody specialists. In this meeting—or series of meetings—the two sides will discuss all aspects of the divorce, and find a mutually satisfactory compromise for each concern. A comprehensive agreement that covers all aspects of the divorce will be written and finalized when both sides sign the agreement. The signed agreement will be submitted to the court and will usually be accepted as the judgment, the final step in the divorce process.

Is a collaborative divorce always the best choice?

Before considering a collaborative divorce, both parties need to take the time for some serious introspection. The collaborative divorce process requires that each spouse can set aside their differences and present feelings, and make the future happiness of the children—as well as that of both parents—the greatest priority.

Collaborative divorce is not a painless process. No divorce is. Feelings of anger, sadness, and grief are common during divorce. This does not mean that collaborative divorce will not work for you. But before deciding to pursue a collaborative divorce, take the time to be very honest with yourself, and to discuss the matter thoroughly with your spouse.

If you have reason to believe that a collaborative divorce might not work for you, then it may be best to pursue traditional divorce litigation.

The reason for this is, if you go through the collaborative divorce process but then decide to switch to traditional litigation, you may be starting from square one again, despite already having spent a great deal of time and money on legal representation. When collaborative divorces fail, the two parties can end up spending much more than they would have otherwise, because:

  1. The expense of the initial and fruitless collaborative divorce process;
  2. Starting the process over with new attorneys;
  3. Feelings of ill will produced by the failed collaborative divorce may result in a more antagonistic and lengthy divorce litigation process than would have been the case otherwise.

However, sometimes at least partial agreements can be reached so that the amount of time and money spent on litigation is actually less. This is especially true for couples with children; often there is an agreement as to how the parties will share their time with the children, but not on how the property of the marriage is split up between the parties. If an agreement can be reached as to custody, at least the children will have the stability and consistency they need while the parents sort out the property. If you believe that you and your spouse would be able to agree on some issues but not others, it is important to discuss this with an attorney when you have your first meeting.

We strongly support the collaborative divorce process, because we know that when it works, the quality of life for everyone involved is greatly improved. We always tell our clients that if you and the other party can come to an agreement, you are more likely to feel satisfied with the outcome than if you rely on a judge to decide for you both. We will be more than happy to consult with potential clients beforehand, and advise them honestly as to whether we believe a collaborative divorce is the best choice for them.