You may have heard of a new way of doing divorce, called "interdisciplinary collaborative divorce". This article describes what collaborative divorce is, how it works, why it is better for most divorcing couples, and the few cases in which it is not appropriate.
WHAT IT IS
Collaborative Divorce means divorce without adversarial litigation. This does not mean it is a divorce without argument and disagreement. You do not need to be wearing a halo to qualify. What you do need to do, ahead of time, is to agree not to go to court. That's right. You make a 100% commitment to stay at the bargaining table with your ex-spouse until everything is worked out.
How is this enforced? Through an agreement everyone signs ahead of time, stating that if either party goes to court, all professionals involved in the case will resign. This ensures that every professional in the case will be 100% devoted to helping you resolve your dispute without resort to litigation. No one will be bargaining with their fingers crossed behind their backs.
In a traditional divorce, the proceedings are viewed like a battle, with each party hiring a gladiator to go to war on their behalf. Collaborative Divorce is different. Neither party is seen as "evil" or as an "opponent" on a battlefield. The problem, rather, is to find ways to disentangle the couple's lives in ways that leave as little damage as possible and to enable them to continue to work together to parent (and grandparent) their children.
Removing adversarial litigation from the range of options keeps matters within the control of the divorcing couple, and it opens up more creative possibilities for addressing conflict. There is a saying that when the only tool you have is a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail. Litigation is like a hammer. It is but one tool out of many that can be used to resolve disputes. When the hammer is removed from the conflict resolution professional's toolbox, a wide variety of other tools are used to take its place. Drills and screwdrivers come out of the closet, jigsaws take the place of saber saws, and solutions are carefully custom tailored to fit the parties' needs more exactly than could be done with a hammer.
How? Through use of Interest Based Negotiation and through use of a network of neutral collaborative professionals who apply their expertise to help the divorcing couple.
HOW IT WORKS
In Collaborative Divorce, each party chooses his or her own attorney to represent and guide that party through the process. The first meeting between parties and each of their attorneys is called a "Four Way Meeting". At this meeting, the issues and needs are discussed. Then, the parties and their attorneys decide what other professionals -- all neutral, collaboratively trained professionals, as well -- will be utilized to assist in resolution of the case. Accountants, child specialists, divorce coaches, appraisers, vocational rehab experts, may all be used depending on the needs of the parties. In a litigated divorce, resources are first put into the "Discovery" process (Interrogatories, Requests to Admit, and Depositions) to obtain information. In collaborative divorce, the parties agree to full disclosure and then put their resources into obtaining the neutral, professional help they both need to secure a fair outcome.
Once the facts are all on the table, the parties are able to engage in interest-based negotiation to work out solutions that are fair and meet the true needs of both sides. The goal of interest based negotiation is to enable the true needs and interests of the parties to be met. Parties remain in complete control of their agreement and can tailor it to reflect both their unique situation and their individual values and priorities.
WHAT MAKES IT BETTER?
Put simply, Collaborative Divorce invests in the family rather than in conflict. Instead of pouring precious family resources into litigation which builds walls and fences, private decisions are kept private, and resources are poured into solutions that help the family, such as a financial plan, a parenting plan, career planning, and fair division of assets. Studies show that couples are generally happier with collaborative divorce, that collaborative divorce is significantly less expensive than litigated divorce, and that all but a small fraction of cases do settle through the collaborative process.
WHEN IS COLLABORATIVE DIVORCE NOT APPROPRIATE?
Collaborative Divorce requires a commitment to fairness and full disclosure. If either party is not so committed, the force of the law may be needed. Any questions or concerns should be discussed more fully with your collaboratively trained attorney before making the decision to engage in a Collaborative Divorce.
HOW CAN I LEARN MORE?
Learn more about collaborative divorce, and locate collaboratively certified professionals, through the web site of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals. The author of this blog is a collaborative professional who represents parties in collaborative divorce. For more information, you may also refer to her professional web site, Just Mediation, LLC.