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What is collaborative divorce, and how does it work?

by Maren Swanson

As helpful as the law can sometimes be to solve problems, I have come to believe that litigation and court-imposed solutions are rarely the best choice for divorcing couples.

At a recent gathering of family lawyers, we were asked to throw out words we associate with the litigation process in family law cases. The words included:  war, conflict, anxiety, fear, risk, distrust, dissatisfaction. There was not one positive or reassuring word suggested, even though we were not asked to focus on the negative.  As another option, I now offer my divorce clients a collaborative family law process.

In collaborative law, both parties:

  • commit to not going to court
  • work together with their collaborative attorneys—usually in 4-way conferences—until they reach a settlement that is truly acceptable to both of them
  • treat each other respectfully
  • establish and work toward mutual goals such as financial security for both parties and the healthiest possible outcome for children

There is full disclosure of financial information, no secrets and no surprises. The outcome is entirely in the parties’ hands, which gives them an amazing sense that they are in control of the process rather than victims of it.

Neutral experts such as financial advisors, appraisers, child specialists, and therapist/coaches are often used.  This gives parties reliable information they need to help resolve disputes, and avoids an expensive “battle of the experts.”

In a traditional divorce, the parties are often focused on presenting themselves in the best possible light and the other party in the worst possible light. This is not a good foundation for the continuing interaction that often needs to occur, especially when there are children. In contrast, the parties to a collaborative divorce often find each other expressing positive views of each other as a person and as a parent and working toward what is best for everyone in the family.

While a collaborative approach may not be the cheapest way to divorce (though it is almost always less expensive than litigation!), I believe it offers the best likelihood of a result that meets the needs of both parties and of children impacted by the divorce. I am eager to talk to anyone about collaborative family law as an alternative to traditional divorce processes. Please contact us to set up an appointment!

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