How Collaborative Divorce Works: FAQs

How Collaborative Divorce Works

When people think of divorce, they often picture flashy celebrities fighting over millions of dollars in the tabloids.  The reality is that recent surveys have found 69% of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings.  In fact, other surveys have found that money is the leading cause of stress in a marriage.  So most divorcing couples are actually fighting over a lack of money, and they do not have much to split up at divorce.  In that situation, it often makes sense to work together on a collaborative divorce.

1. Why use collaborative divorce?

Perhaps the biggest reason for using a collaborative divorce is saving money.  According to the Huffington Post, a couple that works together on a divorce agreement can sometimes get it done for as little as $299.  On the other hand, a contested divorce can easily cost $15,000 to $20,000. Collaborative divorce is also much more informal and may not require having a lot of professionals involving themselves in your relationship.  It can be much faster too because the judge will hopefully just approve an agreement between the spouses instead of having to make a decision. This process will not work for everyone, of course. If a couple has significant assets and a sharp dispute over who should get those assets, then a traditional litigated divorce is both likely and probably the best course of action.  

2. How does collaborative divorce work?

In general, a collaborative legal process just means that both sides are trying to resolve a problem together instead of “fighting to win” in court.  A collaborative divorce can work many ways. The most simple is for the two spouses to simply come to a divorce agreement themselves. Another option is to hire a mediator, who can be a lawyer but does not have to be.  This mediator will help the spouses talk through their disagreements and find a consensus.

In a traditional collaborative divorce procedure, each spouse will hire his or her own lawyer.  Those lawyers will sign a “participation agreement” that says they are committed to using cooperative techniques instead of being overly combative.  The collaborative process then calls for a series of meetings. Some of the meetings will be “four-way,” meaning that each spouse and each spouse’s lawyer will be present.  Sometimes the lawyers for each side will talk separately. Other professionals like financial planners and child therapists will be brought in as needed. These professionals need to be neutral and committed to helping each spouse equally.  A mediator can also come in to help find an agreement.

3. What if it does not work?

Collaborative divorce procedures require the lawyers to try and be open with each other and avoid confrontation.  If that does not work, the collaborative lawyers will usually be required to step aside. Each spouse would then have to hire a new lawyer to move forward with a normal contested divorce procedure.  This basically means starting from scratch so most people do everything they can to avoid this outcome.

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