What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “divorce”? Bitterness? Anxiety and sadness? Devastation for children and families? The reality is that many couples go through the motions of a typical courtroom divorce, only to end up angry and frustrated, and with an undesirable outcome for their family, finances and future imposed upon them by a judge. Yes, the typical courtroom divorce is often messy, combative, costly and destructive, but what if there were another option?
Couples need an option that promotes a peaceful environment, meets their long-term needs, addresses their concerns, protects their children and other relationships they share with each other and sets them up to co-parent effectively after their divorce.
Collaborative divorce is a peaceful, non-adversarial alternative for couples who want to reach a settlement on their own terms, and preserve the family system as best as possible. Alongside a team of collaborative divorce professionals, couples will address the legal, financial and emotional aspects of separation, and amicably negotiate an outcome that works best for them.
Collaborative divorce is a peaceful, non-adversarial alternative to the traditional litigated approach. This process addresses the legal, financial and emotional concerns, which accompany divorce by partnering couples with an interdiscplinary team of professionals who encourage strong communication, transparency, cooperation and respect. This team includes two Collaborative Law attorneys, one parenting coach who is also a communications coach plus one financial professional. The last two team members are neutral. Neither one sides with either spouse. Collaborative Law does not allow dueling experts nor the high cost that comes with them.
What’s the Difference?
Many couples are familiar with the traditional courtroom approach to divorce. It’s a route that pits spouses at one another, works to find fault, aims to create a win/lose scenario and ends with a judge handing down a resolution that often doesn’t align with the couple’s long-term goals.
But collaborative divorce tells a different story, one in which the couples partner with a team of attorneys, a financial professional and a divorce coach to clearly communicate needs and goals, strategize for the family and future, and develop a settlement that meets the spouses’ terms.
Litigated courtroom divorce …
- Fault-finding, adversarial approach seeks to create a winner and loser.
- Formulas and standard orders are used by a judge to determine a settlement.
- No built-in support to cope with divorce-related finances and emotions.
- Often painful and destructive for families and children.
Collaborative divorce …
- Encourages spouses to work amicably and cooperatively to create a customized settlement.
- Team of professionals partners with couples to address legal, financial and emotional concerns which accompany divorce.
- Children are given a voice via a child specialist throughout the divorce
- Develops a solid strategy to effectively co-parent during and after their dispute.
Collaborative attorneys may look like your run of the mill family lawyers, but they receive special instruction on how to navigate the collaborative process, how to interact with coaches and other collaborative professionals, and how to get couples on the same page about settlement options. They’re committed to seeing spouses work cooperatively through the process, staying out of court and keeping the team moving forward. In fact, if for some reason a case dissolves and is unable to be negotiated through the collaborative approach, the spouses will have signed documents to prevent either attorney from representing or testifying against either of them in a litigated case. It’s each collaborative attorney’s role to facilitate discussions that identify their client’s ideal outcomes. Each attorney will discuss his or her client’s values, goals, concerns and fears in order to help develop creative solutions throughout the process.
Aside from a much calmer, more supportive, less tense and often times less expensive divorce, benefits to working with a collaborative divorce attorney include:
- Cooperation and Teamwork — The collaborative attorney will be a team player, and help his or her client interact cooperatively with their spouse and the rest of the collaborative divorce team.
- Excellent Communication Skills — Each spouse’s needs, goals and concerns are important, and each collaborative attorney will work to convey these effectively with both spouses and the entire team.
- Creativity and Problem-Solving — Creating a mutually-beneficial settlement can be complicated, but every collaborative attorney will work to devise creative solutions to meet each spouse’s needs.
- Valuable Legal Counsel — The legal system can be complicated. The collaborative attorney will help his or her client to understand all legal elements involved throughout the process.
What to Expect from a Collaborative Divorce Attorney
Expect a collaborative divorce attorney to be team player interested in cooperation. This will keep the team moving forward to an amicable settlement and have the greatest chance of success. The best collaborative divorce attorneys focus on bringing the best team to each case.
A collaborative divorce attorney must be current in his or her Collaborative Law training. Working in Collaborative Law requires training because the process is so very different from the usual divorce legal work. Because a collaborative divorce is much more than property division and child possession, the attorneys must be focused on understanding the root of the conflict between the spouses.
There is a local association of collaborative law attorneys. It is called the Brazos Valley Collaborative Divorce Alliance. There are four attorneys in this group: Wendy Wood Hencerling, Andrea James, Randy Michel and Shane Stibora. If you have any questions or wish to inform someone about this option, reach out to either me or to one of these attorneys.