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Collaborative divorce? What's that?

Posted by attorney Yevgeny Berner

Collaborative divorce refers to a legal option for couples who wish to resolve disputes without having to go to court. Collaborative law is a viable alternative to litigation when both parties are willing to compromise, communicate, and work together. It works well in lower-conflict cases where the parties want to maintain a working relationship moving forward throughout their divorce and into the future. Because divorce can be very emotional and often arises during intense conflict, the collaborative divorce process is not for everyone.

Collaborative law is a client-centered method that allows couples to make their own decisions about their family's future in a safe, supportive environment with collaborative divorce attorneys who are dedicated to helping them through one of the most challenging times in their lives. Both spouses must be represented by separate collaboratively-trained attorneys. Additionally, other professional team members, such as financial specialists that are specially trained in divorce financial matters, work with the parties and attorneys to help the parties reach the best settlement possible of their divorce or other family law matter.

The crux of the collaborative divorce process is that both parties are required to forego the ability to ask a court to resolve their disputes. Instead, the parties commit to resolving their disputes together with the assistance of the attorneys and other professional team members. This is done through ongoing, regularly scheduled in-person meetings attended by all members of the team. The parties work together to gather the necessary information, brainstorm possible solutions, evaluate all the different options available to them, and then work together to choose the one that they believe will work best for their family.

At the beginning of their collaborative case, couples sign a Participation Agreement that sets the ground rules for their collaborative divorce process. Participation Agreements vary from case-to-case, but the collaborative process requires that if at some point during the case either party decides to withdraw from the process and seek court resolution of one or more issues, both attorneys and all other collaborative professionals must withdraw from their representation and involvement in the case. All of the documents and work prepared during the process are generally inadmissible in court, therefore requiring the parties to start over from scratch with newly hired litigation attorneys. This can be very costly. Therefore, it is crucial for you to discuss the pros and cons of the collaborative divorce process with your collaboratively trained attorney to determine if collaborative law is right for you. While you may have the best intentions, some disputes just aren't right for the collaborative divorce process. For example, families with a history of serious domestic violence, controlling behaviors, or who have high-conflict disputes do not lend themselves to the equal footing required for a successful collaborative process. Your collaboratively trained attorney will work with you to determine the right process for you based on a number of factors that will be discussed at your initial consultation.

One of the primary benefits of the collaborative process is that spouses are able to maintain a working, respectful relationship with each other. This helps divorcing parties with children to maintain a strong co-parenting relationship for their children's benefit in the future. Even parties without children value the opportunity to work with their soon-to-be ex-spouse rather than against them. Unfortunately for some parties, the traditional family law court system is adversarial in nature and pits spouses against one another, sometimes creating conflict even where none exists. Instead of focusing on their differences, the collaborative divorce process encourages couples to focus on their needs and strengths while also respecting the needs and strengths of their partner. The ultimate goal is to reach a settlement that is fair to all parties and that is beneficial for any children involved. The collaborative divorce process is aimed at helping both parties through an extremely difficult period in a cooperative way.

Another benefit of the collaborative process is the unique opportunity that it provides to protect your family's privacy. While all divorces, whether traditional or collaborative, must be finalized in Superior Court, the collaborative process allows almost all of the details of your case from beginning to end to remain private.

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