Couples facing divorce may want to explore a relatively new option for legally ending a marriage; it’s called collaborative divorce. The approach emphasizes cooperation over confrontation and problem solving over grievance airing, and was developed as a way to minimize battles over property division, sky-high legal bills and emotional anguish of a traditional divorce process.
Laws surrounding the collaborative divorce approach also were designed to safeguard the interests of any children involved and promote the preservation of the parents’ relationship with each other and the children, post-divorce. This approach also offers divorcing couples more control over dispute resolution, the details of the final settlement agreement and privacy surrounding the settlement.
Here’s how it works. Divorcing couples agree in writing to forgo the courts and work together on developing a fair settlement. In traditional litigation, the parties prepare their cases to persuade the judge that only their view has merit. All actions are driven to that goal. In the collaborative process, while couples may not always agree on everything, they are encouraged to try to understand each other’s needs, interests and point of view. This is designed to enhance trust, reduce hostility and facilitate a settlement that works for everyone.
In collaborative divorce, each spouse is assisted by a lawyer so they have the benefit of individual counsel. The attorneys also commit in writing to act honestly and professionally and to treat the other attorney and the clients with respect and dignity to allow for a friendly divorce. All negotiations take place during four-way meetings with both parties and their counsel. Attorneys guide settlement meetings, gather documents and strategize with their clients.
There are many financial misconceptions about divorce law and what is achievable when one household becomes two. Consequently, couples often need a reality check with regard to their future financial situations following divorce. Frequently, a divorce financial analyst is included as part of the collaborative divorce team. He or she functions as a neutral financial expert in order to help the couple equitably divide assets, clarify the long-term effects of the division and work out the nitty-gritty of the monetary settlement. The financial analyst also provides the team with tools to clarify the couple’s financial situation — spreadsheets, charts and graphs are often useful in illustrating the big picture in black-and-white. In a collaborative divorce process, it is best to find a certified divorce financial planner who is trained and experienced in the methods of collaborative divorce and mediation.
Not every couple is suited for the collaborative law process. If the breakup is particularly contentious, or one spouse has been verbally or physically abused, has a mental disorder, or drug or alcohol issues, a more traditional approach is probably a better choice.
One significant drawback to the collaborative approach occurs if the process breaks down and the couple cannot agree on a settlement. Both collaborative attorneys who worked on the case must withdraw from the process and each spouse must hire a new attorney — essentially going back to square one. In addition, all documents must be “discovered” again according to time constraints and procedural rules of the court. This will likely prolong the process and increase the legal costs of the divorce.
Join Patricia Barrett at one of her upcoming 2013 Houston Leisure Learning classes on July 29 and September 29. She will also be presenting at the Guide to Good Divorce seminars in Houston on July 20 and September 28. For more information on divorce financial planning or divorce mediation, visit Patricia’s website, Lifetime Planning.