Would you like to know about an alternative to having to go to court to get a divorce? The world of Alternative Dispute Resolution is gaining momentum as people become disenchanted with our traditional court system. Courts are backlogged. Judges have too many cases. The costs of litigating your divorce in court can be enormous. If you had the choice to control the resolution of your own case and craft a settlement that meets your needs and interests, or go to court to let a judge who does not know you decide what is best for your family, what would you choose?

Collaborative Divorce

Stuart Webb generated the idea of collaborative divorce around 1990 because he was tired of the traditional divorce process. The traditional, battle-it-out in court, litigated divorce can take a tremendous toll on everyone involved, including the spouses, the children, the lawyers, the judge, and the couples’ extended families, friends, and co-workers. There had to be a better way, thought Webb, and Collaborative Divorce was born! Collaborative Divorce is a fantastic alternative because it offers people who want a divorce a confidential, respectful, and less costly alternative to a litigated court divorce. So how is it different from the traditional process and what does it involve?

Generally, the traditional litigated court divorce starts with one spouse hiring a lawyer. He/She would probably ask friends and relatives for recommendations, and most people would probably suggest that the lawyer be “the best trial attorney in town” or “a real bull dog.” The other spouse will probably be fearful that the hired lawyer will be a true prizefighter and will go searching for his/her own champion to send into the ring. Oops! I meant the courtroom.

Let’s pause right here…

Does it make sense to hire the most aggressive lawyer-warrior to handle your divorce when somewhere between 90 and 95 percent of all cases never goes to trial? Would you agree that it would be more rational/logical to choose a lawyer who is a good communicator and negotiator? If your case has little chance of ever reaching the trial stage, it has a high probability of settlement outside of the courtroom. Therefore, it makes more sense to hire a lawyer who will work toward a negotiated settlement doesn’t it?

OK! Let’s continue…

Collaborative Divorce Process

In the Collaborative Divorce process, you and your spouse would coordinate your selection of the attorneys. Each attorney will need to be collaboratively trained, and will likely share a similar philosophy regarding collaboration, cooperation, respect, dignity, and humane treatment of everyone involved. Each of you will need your own, collaboratively trained lawyer. Ethically, a lawyer cannot reasonably represent each of you because you and your spouses interests generally are in conflict. Once the lawyers are chosen, you will need to select the type of model that is most appropriate for your situation.

There are different collaborative divorce models available. One model is called The Team Model. With the Team Model, after the attorneys are selected, the four of you (you, your spouse, your lawyer, and your spouse’s lawyer) will select a neutral mental health professional and a neutral financial professional. I say “neutral” because those professionals do not represent or advocate for you. They work to help you and your spouse reach an agreement. They will help you communicate more effectively with your spouse, and they will help you retain respect and dignity by preventing your spouse from bullying or threatening you. In fact, everyone involved signs an agreement, an enforceable contract to refrain from threats or coercion. If you or your spouse threatens to go to court, the agreement/contract is breached/broken and there may be some significant ramifications for that breach.

After the team is selected and the participate agreement is signed, there will be a series of team meetings, where all of you will work together to help you and your spouse craft a divorce settlement that is designed to meet you and your spouse’s needs and interests.

The collaborative divorce process is really a negotiation between you and your spouse. The other professional team members are there to help you and your spouse work through the issues. Ultimately, the power to settle is in your hands, not in the hands of a judge.

I have given you a brief glimpse into the collaborative divorce process. I firmly believe in it, and I counsel all of my clients on its benefits and drawbacks. If you are thinking about getting a divorce, please find a collaboratively trained lawyer in your area and speak to him/her about the collaborative divorce possibility. If you try collaborative divorce, you might get your divorce faster, for less money, and not destroy yourself, your spouse, your children or your financial estate in the process. How does that sound? Is it worth looking into?