What is collaborative divorce?

Divorce proceedings in court can be time consuming, expensive, and emotionally draining. Using the tools of the court is more muscle than some people want when restructuring their family. Often people turn to mediation. The only problem is that settlement must be reached without the help of a lawyer and one party can often be left feeling taken advantage of if they are dissatisfied with the outcome. Is there a better alternative? The answer is yes. It is the newest option in family law-- collaborative divorce.

Collaborative divorce is an option of couples who feel they can work out their divorce settlement themselves but still want legal protection. Although not right for everyone, collaborative divorce strives to bring about settlement in a manner that addresses the needs of both parties. In many ways, collaborative divorce allows the parties to end the marriage but retain a functional relationship.

Lawyers retained for a collaborative divorce process are specifically trained to reach "win-win" settlements instead of "win-lose." Collaborative divorce attorneys must be skilled in guiding negotiations and managing conflict. In fact, if a lawyer finds out their client has withheld or misrepresented information, the lawyer is required to inform the other party and withdraw from the process. Collaborative attorneys are meant to be client advocates. They advocate not only for their client but for what is fair and just.

What if the process of settlement breaks down? If the collaborative divorce process falls apart and the couple goes to court, neither the lawyer nor anyone from their firm may represent the couple. So, it is in the best interests of the lawyers to help the couple reach an amicable settlement.

Settlements are reached in four ways meetings. Each party and their lawyer sit around a table. Issues are deal with one by one and outside help, such as mental health professionals and financial counselors, may be brought in as the need arises.

An agenda is set before the meetings so that each party and their lawyer can prepare. During the meeting divorcing spouses can set aside time to meet privately with his or her lawyer. The agreement reached is information, and at the end of the process, the lawyer draft it in a legally binding form.

Again, should the process break down, the couple can move to court and start all over. Not only that, but if there is one issue that can't be settled, the couple has the option to bring that sticking point to court without scrapping the rest of the settlement. The key is that the parties must agree on all of the specific issues. In fact, the parties even have to agree on who will decide the issue - a judge or mediator.

Negotiations, compromise and creative problem solving are the critical elements of collaborative divorce. With agreement instead of litigation, the hope is that couples will finalize their divorce satisfied with the outcome.