COLLABORATIVE DIVORCE

What is Collaborative Divorce?

The collaborative divorce process is an alternative way for couples to achieve a mutually acceptable resolution of all issues with the support, protection, and guidance of their own lawyers, yet without going to court.The collaborative process avoids court, is confidential and gives control over the outcome to the divorcing couple.

In the collaborative process both parties agree from the start not to resort to litigation. All parties sign a “Participation Agreement” which sets the tone for collaborative law and is the framework for the process. With this commitment not to litigate in place and the threat of litigation taken off the table, an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect is created allowing for honest, open communication.

The Benefits of Collaborative Divorce

Traditional divorce litigation can be expensive and time-consuming.

A collaborative divorce is a voluntary dispute resolution process in which the parties settle without resorting to litigation.

Below are 6 benefits of choosing the collaborative divorce process:

1. The Collaborative process is client-focused.

The collaborative process requires that you and your spouse each obtain your own attorneys, which means you get to hire someone who is best suited to you. With your own attorney, you get to express your needs and wishes for the divorce, and your attorney represents you in meetings with your spouse and their attorney. This ensures that both you and your spouse’s needs are met.

2.Children are treated as a priority.

Everyone on your team will look to maintain you and your spouse’s ability to co-parent. Everything is considered with the children in mind, and your attorney, advisors, and divorce coaches will work to ensure that the wellbeing of your children remains intact throughout the divorce process. Collaborative Divorce protects children from the adversarial and contentious litigation process.

3.You can avoid court.

Keeping the process out of the courtroom until an agreement is reached eliminates hours spent in court for case management and other court-required events. This saves you both legal costs and your valuable time. The collaborative process differs from litigation in that you don’t need to go to court.

4.You’re in control.

You and your spouse reach an agreement with the help of your attorneys, which means you get to make your own decisions on how to resolve your issues. You work with trained professionals who ensure that you’re well-informed and supported throughout the process.

5.The collaborative method ensures confidentiality.

Since collaborative divorce occurs outside of court, the process remains confidential. Your sensitive information will not enter the public domain. Each meeting with your attorney and your spouse’s attorney is private and confidential, as only the final divorce agreement becomes part of the public record. You and your spouse have complete control over what becomes public record and what remains private, which would be impossible if you choose to engage in litigation.

6.Avoid unnecessary stress.

The divorce process can be stressful. However, by avoiding court, you can avoid conflict arising from delays and increased spending on attorneys. Instead, you save money with this swift, confidential process.

Because the parties have control over all aspects of their case they are generally more satisfied with the process and with the outcome.  Collaborative divorce is another alternative to the traditional litigation offering the parties an opportunity to be involved in and take control of the divorce process and the settlement of their case.

What Makes Collaborative Divorce Different?

The real key to the success of this process is the collaborative team. Collaborative divorce is based on a team approach. This team of collaboratively trained professionals includes attorneys, financial professionals and divorce coaches all working together to help the couple reach a fair, mutually acceptable and beneficial agreement with regard to all issues associated with ending the marriage.

Attorneys

In the collaborative approach each party hires their own attorney who will provide legal guidance, advice, advocacy and support throughout the process. Considering the far reaching impact of the final divorce agreement, it is important that the attorney be trained in the collaborative process and knowledgeable with regard to conflict resolution in a non-adversarial setting.

Financial Professionals

Financial experts assist the team by providing financial guidance. A certified financial planner provides advice regarding financial planning, budgeting and investment advice as well tax planning advice. An accountant provides tax planning advice and can perform an analysis of a party’s cash flow as well as value a business. A real estate agent provides guidance regarding the sale or purchase of a home. A mortgage broker provides mortgage assistance in terms of purchasing a home and guidance regarding qualifying for a mortgage.

Whereas a traditional litigated divorce will pit each party’s expert against their spouse’s expert as parties seek to “win” their case, the collaborative approach positions a team of financial experts all working in conjunction for the best interests of everyone involved.

Divorce Coaches

Divorce coaches consists of mental health professionals who are collaboratively trained and assist with child and parenting aspects of the divorce as well as communication skills. Divorce coaches help parents understand how divorce may affect their children and reduce the negative impact the process can have on them. They can help to set up a realistic shared parenting schedule that considers the needs of everyone involved, including the children. and which is responsive to the changing needs of the family as they grow.

No two families are the same and every divorce is different. Putting the future and well-being of your family in the hands of a court can be uncertain and unpredictable as well as costly and time consuming. It is this lack of control that so often fuels much of the conflict we often see in traditional divorce litigation. It is the feeling of being alone in the process that stirs hostility among the parties and heightens the emotional turmoil. In the collaborative process, neither party is alone. The couple has a team of professionals who know how to guide them through to finding solutions that will allow them to thrive as they move on with their new lives.

Couples choosing collaborative divorce agree from the outset not to battle in court. Instead, they sit down with professionals and work out settlements that meet the goals of their families. They pledge that if either spouse wants to bring the dispute to court, both spouses must retain new litigation counsel. This agreement fundamental to the collaborative process, keeps the parties at the negotiating table and requires attorneys to find creative resolutions rather than resorting to the court to intervene in an impasse.

Four-Way-Meetings

While attorneys frequently use “four-way” meetings to settle litigation cases, a collaborative “four-way” has distinct qualities.

First, the focus is on the couples’ goals and interest, rather than a clash of opposing demands formulated by counsel. A collaborative four-way is a problem-solving exercise in which the spouses and attorneys engage together in creating resolutions that meet the family’s goals.

Multiple Disciplines

Another unique aspect of collaborative divorce is that it is designed as a multi-disciplinary process. When appropriate, the couple may seek advice from professionals, in addition to their attorneys.

Forensic accountants can help determine the value of property and businesses and assist in evaluating options for alimony and child support. Financial advisors educate clients about investing and budgeting, and also assist clients in establishing accounts and transferring retirement assets. Mental health professionals, known as Coaches in the collaborative process, may be called upon to help the couple deal with emotions that keep them for focusing on financial issues or leave them unprepared to make decisions. Coaches also help the couple in communicating about the interests of their children and developing parenting plans, where they are unable to do so on their own.

These professionals may be engaged as neutrals that assist both spouses, or for the sole benefit of one spouse. The agreement to retain other professionals is reached by the attorneys and spouses together, so each family can assemble the professional team that will best help them resolve their conflict.

All the professionals involved in the collaborative law process are specifically trained to facilitate interest-based negotiations. The attorney’s role is to advocate for their clients as well as educate and guide their clients through the divorce process.

Here are some of the roles of the collaborative professionals:

  • Assist clients in gathering and analyzing information;
  • Help clients examine needs and interests to development settlement options and packages;
  • Help clients evaluate consequences and limitations of possible solutions;
  • Help clients evaluate settlement options in the context of established legal precedents;
  • Help clients weigh settlement options in relation to their values and interests;
  • Set the framework for negotiation;
  • Prepare the required legal documentation of the agreement and obtain a Judgment;
  • Help clients develop post-divorce agreements as needed;
  • Coordinate with other team members.

Client Benefits

For clients, the collaborative process offers a number of benefits. Their children are always treated as a priority, and everyone on the team works to maintain and support the couple’s ability to co-parent their children. The couple also keeps control of the timing of the process, unlike litigated cases where the court dictates the time frame. They can move more quickly or more slowly than a court would require, and can reach informal temporary agreements quickly and efficiently when necessary, rather than filing a series of motions that often result in court Orders that impede, rather than encourage settlement. The process is confidential so sensitive financial and personal information doesn’t enter the public domain. Keeping the process outside of court until an agreement is reached eliminates hours spent in court for case management and other court-required events, saving legal costs and the client’s time.

In fact, the collaborative process is usually quicker—about three to six months compared to between 18 months or longer, if litigated, and therefore; less costly than a traditional divorce. Finally, the couple and their children are less likely to come away emotionally damaged because they are not pitting themselves against one another in all-out warfare.

Attorney Benefits, Too

There are benefits for attorneys as well. Not attending court conferences allows attorneys to use their time and their client’s money, more efficiently.

Clients are more satisfied with the process as they see their attorney working for them in the four-way or five-way meetings, they appreciate the efficiency of the process, and they get durable agreements without delay.

Bringing in mental health professionals to help clients who are finding it difficult to focus on negotiations saves the attorney from the dreaded irrational fights over finances that come from unresolved emotional issues.

Another intangible benefit is the reward of seeing clients reaches agreements in a healthier way, without damaging each other or their children.

However, with that said, not every case will be appropriate for collaborative law, nor will every client be interested in avoiding the adversarial process.

Divorce will always remain a significant life event, but that does not mean that it has to be damaging to the parties and their children. Collaborative law practitioners believe the collaborative process can guide clients and their families to a compassionate ending and a healthy new beginning.

Collaborative Process Roadmap

(Emergent Issues)

Seting The Framework / Commitment to the Process

Understanding the Process

Motivation & Process Choice

Seting Up Collaborative Team

(Emergent Issues)

Information Gathering

Identify & Develop Issues: 

  • Parenting
  • Financial
  • Legal
  • Emotional

Explore What’s Important: Goals, Needs, & Concerns

Develop a Shared Understanding

Discussing What’s Important: Needs, Interests, Values

Brainstorming and Option Development

Negotiating and Choosing Solutions

Memorializing Agreement

Summary Of Collaborative Process

Click the links below to download additional resources about the collaborative law process.

Differences Between Mediation, Collaborative Divorce, and Litigation

Click the link below to learn more about the differences between collaborative law and litigation.

When Is Collaborative Law The Best Choice For Me?

It isn’t for every client (or lawyer), but it is worth considering if some or all of these statements are true for you.

  • You want a civilized, respectful resolution of the issues
  • You would like to keep open the possibility of friendship with your partner down the road
  • You and your partner will be co-parenting children together and you want the best co-parenting relationship possible
  • You want to protect your children from the harm associated with litigated dispute resolution between parents
  • You and your partner have a circle of friends or extended family in common that you both want to remain connected to
  • You have ethical or spiritual beliefs that place high value on taking personal responsibility and handling conflicts with integrity
  • You value privacy in your personal affairs and do not want the details of your divorce and your settlement to be available in the public court record
  • You value control and autonomous decision making and do not want to hand over decisions about your future financial and/or child-rearing arrangements to a stranger (i.e. judge)
  • You recognize the restricted range of outcomes generally available in the public court system and want a more creative and individualized range of choices available to you and your spouse or partner for resolving issues/conflict
  • You place value on the continuing relationships that will exist in your restructured family situation
  • You understand that conflict resolution with integrity involves not only achieving your own goals but finding a way to achieve the reasonable goals of the other person
  • You and your spouse or partner will commit your intelligence and energy toward creative problem solving rather than toward recrimination or revenge fixing the problem rather than fixing the blame

Click the link below to download our Client Questionnaire and find out if you and your spouse are cadidates for collaborative divorce or mediation.

How To Tell Your Spouse About Collaborative Divorce

Download a copy of the initial letter to your spouse below.

What Are The Alternatives To Divorce Court in New Jersey?

As an experienced divorce attorney, I have worked with clients who have pursued many different avenues of divorce. For many people, litigation is costly, stressful, and ultimately not the type of divorce they wish to pursue. Here is a quick guide to New Jersey divorce processes that avoid litigation, all of which save you time as well as money by avoiding going to court.

1.Kitchen Table Divorce:

In a Kitchen Table Divorce, you and your spouse create the terms of an agreement together without professional assistance. You and your spouse discuss your assets, liability, cash flow, custody, etc. In order to finalize the divorce, one or both of you will need to hire an attorney. A Kitchen Table Divorce is often cheaper than mediation or collaborative divorce, but if the issues between you and your spouse are complex it may not be the best course of action to pursue. Consider the state of your relationship with your spouse, as well as your mutual understanding of your finances, assets, and liabilities when deciding if this mode of divorce is right for you. It is imperative that both you and your spouse truly understand your rights and what you’re consenting to before agreeing to complete a Kitchen Table Divorce. For more information on the Kitchen Table Divorce Process, see our information on the Kitchen Table Divorce Process.

2.Mediation:

Mediation is a form of divorce where both you and your spouse work with a mediator to resolve your issues. You can each hire your own attorneys as well as a mediator, or you may just hire one mediator. Through a series of meetings, your spouse, and your mediator work together to come to an agreement. For more information on mediation in the State of New Jersey, visit our Divorce Processes page.

3. Collaborative Divorce:

In Collaborative Divorce, you and your spouse you’re your own attorneys and attend a series of 4-way meetings. Other professionals, such as divorce coaches or financial planners may be present. For more information on the Collaborative Divorce Process, please visit our Divorce Processes page.

Click below to learn more about dispute resolution alternatives.

Take The Next Step

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