Collaborative divorce is an excellent option for those clients who want the same control they would have over their case in mediation, but with a team approach. In these cases, a team will be convened to work on the case with the parties, and everyone on the team makes a commitment not to go to Court. If the case later goes to litigation, the collaborative team withdraws, and the parties must get new attorneys. The basic members of the team are collaboratively trained attorneys and divorce coaches. Unlike mediation clients, who are encouraged to consult with an attorney at least once but are not required to have attorneys, collaborative clients are required to have their own attorneys, both of whom must be collaboratively trained. This provides the parties with additional support and information throughout the process. Divorce coaches are mental health professionals who work with the parties to manage their feelings about the divorce, to help the communicate honestly and respectfully with each other, and to determine goals for the present as well as the future, to help the parties reach a settlement that benefits the whole family. Frequently a financial specialist is added to the team. Additional specialists may be brought in to deal with specific issues, such as child specialists, business appraisers, and the like, but this is only done with the agreement of the parties.
Collaborative clients are encouraged to seek a settlement that meets the highest and best interests of both parties. Team members will be focused on this goal as well. This is not a process where one party “wins” and the other “loses”. The goal is that both parties have their interests met as fully as possible through this process.
Like mediation, collaborative divorce is not controlled by a Judge, but by the parties. They are free to consider creative settlement options that might be irrelevant or not likely to be ordered by a Judge. They are also free to determine what if any role the applicable law will have to their case. Collaborative cases, like mediation cases, are private and confidential. Nothing that occurs in a collaborative case can later be used in litigation.
Unlike mediation, collaborative clients are not alone in the room with a neutral. They are not required to speak for themselves without support. Collaborative meetings take place with at least the attorneys or the coaches present with the parties, and sometimes with the entire team present. The presence of some or all of the team members goes a long way toward addressing any power imbalance issues.
Clients whose cases have extreme power imbalances, an inability of one or both parties to speak honestly and respectfully to the other, serious emotional issues that get in the way of considering settlement options, or a perceived need for revenge against the other party may want to consider a different option other than collaborative divorce. Many clients can be successful in the collaborative process, and the decision whether to enter into the collaborative process will be made by the client and attorney or client and divorce coach once the initial consultation has taken place. Like mediation, the collaborative divorce is not commenced except by agreement of the parties.
Collaborative divorces can be significantly less expensive than litigation, though more costly than mediation. Litigation cases are adversarial, and do not often feature cooperative planning or voluntary provision of documents and information. Collaborative cases require a full and voluntary exchange of information on an ongoing basis, so discovery disputes are avoided. The case proceeds as a series of informal meetings out of Court, which are more efficient and can be completed more quickly and cheaply than filing a motion, waiting several months for a hearing date, and attending Court for half a day to await a hearing that only lasts a small fraction of that billed time. Collaborative cases also often feature meetings with just one or two members of a team, rather than all meetings requiring the attendance of all team members each time. Experts are not hired except by agreement of the parties.
I greatly enjoy the creativity and cooperation of collaborative divorce work. It is very satisfying to help my clients get through a difficult period with good team support. I encourage all clients to consider whether collaborative divorce might meet the needs of both parties.