A Better Way for Families to Transition


FAQs: Collaborative Divorce Attorneys, Alternative Separation Processes


How do I know I will be fairly represented?

Each party is represented by attorneys who have been trained in the process, philosophy and principals of collaborative law. The attorneys’ commitment to each person is to facilitate communication between the partners to insure the process is open and productive. Each attorney agrees to represent the client in the collaborative process only and not in a courtroom setting. Each attorney is ethically responsible to make sure that the entire settlement is fair to each party.


What kind of information is exchanged in a collaborative divorce?

Full disclosure is required. As a part of this honest and respectful approach to divorce, both spouses voluntarily sign an agreement to share all pertinent information. This is the only way that a collaborative approach works. It requires the integrity of both parties and their attorneys.


What happens if one spouse tries to gain an advantage over the other spouse?

If this does occur, the attorney representing the client who is less than fully honest is required to withdraw from the case, unless the client who was dishonest agrees to explain what happened to the other party and attorney and the clients then mutually agree to continue. For example, if a document is withheld or altered, or if a client delays progress for his/her own gain, the attorney representing that client would end representation of the client if the client did not want to disclose what he/she had done. If the client did want to disclose and discuss, coaches would be utilized to help the clients talk about what happened and make decisions about going forward.


Why is collaborative divorce an effective way to reach an agreement?

A collaborative divorce attorney views the other client’s attorney as a partner in a problem-solving process, as opposed to an adversary. Instead of trying to gain the biggest portion of assets for his client, regardless of the emotional and financial cost, collaborative attorneys do not threaten or insult the other client. Their goal is to encourage a positive problem-solving approach that will lead to a solution that addresses the needs of both clients, thereby decreasing future feelings of resentment and encouraging future cooperation. As opposed to a traditional divorce practice, collaborative attorneys use creative problem solving by pulling their clients in the same direction to solve the same set of problems.

The use of child and financial specialists and/or coaches greatly heightens the effectiveness of the process. When children are involved, the child specialist provides information on children and divorce that helps parents be more comfortable making decisions about the parenting plan and co-parenting. The financial specialist provides information and future projections to assist clients in making important financial decisions. Making these important life decisions is less daunting and confidence in choices greatly heightened when specialists have been part of the process. In addition, coaches can help keep the process on track, and assist clients emotionally as needed.

And, collaborative divorce spends less of the financial resources that you will need in the future. When people become overly engaged in the emotional side of divorce and fight it out in the courtroom, they tend to forget about the financial demands that follow a divorce, thereby squandering their financial resources. It is very common for spouses to end up with huge attorney fees following an adversarial divorce.


Isn’t it expensive to use professionals in addition to the attorneys?

While more professionals may be involved in a collaborative divorce case that does not mean more meetings, but rather that each professional is providing their unique expertise as needed. It is very efficient. For example, clients may meet with the child specialist in a 3-way meeting to discuss child-related issues; that meeting with one professional costs less than the clients meeting with their two attorneys in a 4-way meeting to discuss the children, and the clients are actually meeting with someone who specializes in children which makes more sense. The same occurs with financial planning. Coaches when used often help clients be ultra prepared for the substantive decision-making meetings and keep the process on track, which means more productive meetings versus ineffective meetings that cost money yet not much gets accomplished. So while full team meetings (which are rare) are expensive singular meetings because all professionals attend, over the course of the process meetings are specialized and very cost effective. Research has found collaborative divorce to be cost effective. A 10-year study of collaborative divorce found it cost less on average than traditional divorce where agreement is reached outside of court, and of course cost far, far less than litigation. Importantly, clients who used collaborative divorce reported being very happy with the process.


Why use collaborative divorce instead of mediation?

In divorce mediation, clients negotiate with each other through a neutral third party (the mediator) who facilitates a discussion of the issues with a goal of making an agreement. The mediator is not permitted to provide legal advice. As with any mediation, an agreement is not mandatory. That is, either party can walk out of the mediation at any time. Sometimes there is little face-to-face interaction between the parties. The mediator may relay and negotiate proposals between each party and their attorney while they sit in different rooms. The parties may elect not to have their attorneys present at the mediation in order to make the mediation less adversarial. If the attorneys do not attend the mediation and a tentative agreement is made between the parties, the attorneys review the agreement afterwards to determine if it meets their client’s needs. If the agreement is seen as inadequate, it may be negotiated further.

In a collaborative divorce, both clients and their attorneys meet together. Each is committed to negotiating an agreement in a cooperative way. Moreover, instead of trying to resolve all the issues at one time, a series of less time consuming conferences are conducted on different days to focus specifically on one major issue at a time, such as property division, income and child custody. The resulting agreement is usually more acceptable to each party because the process is broken down into structured steps, there’s less pressure associated with each step, and there’s a high degree of involvement by each party.


Why use collaborative divorce when many attorneys claim to settle most of their cases?

The traditional process of getting a settlement takes place under the threat of a trial. Information is not shared freely and spouses relate to each other in an adversarial way, contributing to a non-constructive working relationship following the divorce. With this sort of relationship, emotional damage is almost certain and future problems are more likely to develop, regardless how thorough the settlement may appear on paper. Forging these settlements depends on fear and intimidation, thereby bringing an almost certain future of distrust.

In contrast, the collaborative divorce process is focused on a creative, respectful, and participative problem-solving approach. The result is a quicker, less costly, more individualized, less stressful, and a more useful transition for each spouse. Instead of trying to erase the years spent in marriage, each client can bring closure to the past and move into the future in a meaningful way.