Even when emotions are at their highest, most couples agree that the last thing they want is to go through a traditional divorce, enduring anger and stress, spending hundreds of dollars in legal fees, and relinquishing control to a judge. Collaborative divorce provides an alternative for couples who are able to work together to work out their own divorce without going to court. Even if they are unable to work together, a good collaborative team can still obtain resolution of the case.
To begin the process, both spouses sign a Participation Agreement, which documents the boundaries they agree to abide by. They promise to always be respectful and work together in good faith. They must agree to full disclosure of financial and other relevant information. In doing so, they agree to complete confidentiality and transparency in all matters. Most importantly, both spouses agree not to go to court for a judgment. If for any reason they feel collaborative divorce is not working, their current attorneys withdraw, both spouses hire new ones, and their divorce proceedings go to court. In a collaborative case, couples are able to be creative as they work through their issues, tailoring their decisions to accommodate their family's particular situation. They may consult various professionals, creating a “team.” These professionals may include:
- Communication Facilitator – A communication facilitator promotes productive communication between the couple and the team. He or she helps everyone stay focused on the agreements in the participation agreement while helping the couple with problem solving and communication skills. A communication facilitator may also help the couple create a parenting plan that will be necessary in the final divorce document submitted to the judge.
- Child Specialist – Sometimes the communication facilitator will recommend a child specialist, who will help the children deal with the divorce and make recommendations about what is best for them. He or she may also help parents learn and implement co-parenting skills.
- Financial Specialist – A financial specialist helps the couple create a list of all assets and debts. He or she also helps make up present and future household budgets, discusses options for solving financial issues that might arise, and gives general advice to both spouses about future issues, such as taxes.
- Miscellaneous Specialists – Some couples may need to deal with issues such as real estate, business evaluation, estate planning, retirement plans, antiques, etc.
Once the couple goes over each issue with their teams and attorneys, the attorneys will draft a final decree of divorce as well as all other final documents such as deeds and retirement orders and file them with the court. Once the judge signs them, the divorce is final.
There are benefits to collaborative divorce. They are confidential and private, unlike traditional divorces, where all your dirty laundry and finances are made public. It gives couples control over property division and child custody instead of giving that authority to a judge who knows nothing about them or their family and many times doesn’t care. Couples can set their meetings based on their own schedules, rather than be at the mercy of a judge's busy calendar. Collaborative divorces can save the couple money, too, if the divorce can be settled quickly and amicably. None of this could be possible in a traditional divorce process.
One of the interesting things about collaborative divorce is that sometimes the couple end up reconciling because they’ve learned how to communicate. If anything, they walk away able to get along amicably for the sake of their children.