Collaborative divorce is a settlement process offered as an alternative to traditional courtroom divorce. In a collaborative divorce, the divorcing parties commit in writing to engage in voluntary, non-adversarial, and flexible negotiations with the goal of reaching a mutually acceptable agreement. Each party in a collaborative divorce is assisted in the settlement discussions by a specially-trained collaborative divorce attorney.
Collaboratively-trained attorneys offer legal advice, guidance, and advocacy to their clients. The parties meet as often as necessary, along with their attorneys, to discuss and resolve the legal, financial, and practical issues in their divorce. As appropriate, the collaborative divorce attorney brings in a team of professionals including accountants, mental health practitioners, counselors, and financial advisors. A child specialist may also be consulted.
Collaborative divorce helps divorcing couples lower costs, lessen conflict, and maintain control over decisions affecting their lives and the lives of their children. The longer the divorce process takes, the more expensive and disruptive it becomes. Parties can become entrenched in their own positions on various issues which then makes it difficult to compromise. The emotional, psychological, physical, and financial toll on the members of the family increases as time goes on.
While collaborative divorce can be less expensive than a litigated divorce, its true value may be that it helps preserve family relationships. The collaborative divorce process encourages the divorcing parties to maintain respect for each other and to protect their children from the fallout of contentious litigation. Furthermore, children learn through their parents how to approach and deal with difficult situations such as these in a positive way.
In a collaborative divorce, the parties agree from the start to focus their efforts on maintaining a civil relationship while negotiating an agreement on issues including custody, child support, parenting time, alimony, and division of assets. The parties sign an agreement to engage in settlement discussions and not to file a complaint for divorce until a settlement is reached. Both parties are compelled to disclose all relevant financial information through an informal exchange.
Collaborative divorce lawyers help the parties establish priorities and negotiate solutions that are fair and reasonable. The collaborative team helps family members work through the emotions that accompany divorce, to keep the family moving in a positive direction. The parties set legal, financial, and practical goals for the future. The parties work together with their attorneys and other members of their collaborative team to reach a realistic, mutually acceptable, negotiated agreement.
Collaborative divorce is a constructive, future-looking approach to divorce. Since most divorce cases do not go to trial, it makes sense for a divorcing couple to work together from the outset toward the goal of reaching settlement in a less stressful, quicker, and more productive way. The sooner a divorcing couple is able to establish a new structure and routine for their family, the sooner the return to a sense of normalcy.
Is collaborative divorce right for you? Take this two-part quiz.
- Do you want to maintain some control over decisions that affect your family?
- Are you and your spouse able to communicate with each other?
- Do you and your spouse each give priority to your children’s wellbeing and future?
- Do you trust your spouse to be truthful about finances and other issues?
- Do you believe that children need and are entitled to maintaining healthy relationships with both parents?
- Have you come to terms with the fact that your marriage is ending?
- Do your children have a good relationship with your spouse?
- Do you believe you can work with your spouse toward a resolution of financial and practical issues including child custody, alimony, and equitable distribution?
- Do you want to develop a problem solving approach to everyday issues that arise during the divorce and afterwards?
- Do you want to get back to a sense of normalcy as quickly as possible?
If you answered ‘Yes’ to most of these questions, then collaborative divorce is a good alternative for you. We can help you get started on the collaborative divorce process.
- Do you want your lawyer to take an aggressive approach, hold fast to your position on each issue, and refuse to compromise?
- Are you afraid of or intimidated by your spouse?
- Do you believe your spouse is completely at fault for your divorce?
- Do you believe a judge should make decisions about your divorce and your family rather than you and your spouse working together to resolve issues?
- Is there a history of domestic violence?
- Do you have any issues that could impact your ability to engage in settlement negotiations?
- Do you think your spouse has “hidden” assets that he or she will fail to disclose?
- Do you want to “win” your divorce case?
- Do you want to try to limit the amount of time your spouse spends with your children?
If you answered ‘Yes’ to any of these questions, collaborative divorce may not be the right choice for you but we can help you with other divorce options.
What are the advantages of a collaborative divorce?
- Collaborative Divorce is less time consuming and less expensive than a traditional courtroom divorce.
- Collaborative Divorce respects that family relationships continue following divorce.
- Collaborative Divorce allows divorcing parties to retain control over resolving issues.
What is the average time from beginning of negotiations to granting of divorce?
Courtroom divorce: Up to 12 months from the date of filing a complaint, in general, however it may be longer, especially if there are any complicated financial, child custody, or other issues that the parties are unable to resolve. If the case goes to trial, it will take even longer than a year.
Collaborative divorce: Four to six months (although it could take longer) depending on the number of negotiating sessions needed to resolve the issues.
How does the collaborative process work?
You and your spouse would each hire a collaboratively trained attorney. Before, or right after the first meeting, you and your spouse will meet with a divorce coach (chosen by the collaborative attorneys based on the issues in your case). A divorce coach is a mental health professional who will help the two parties navigate through the emotional issues brought to the table, so as to help the parties focus on the future and not the past.
How do we resolve issues relating to custody and parenting time?
The divorce coach will help with the custody and parenting time issues and will meet with the parties together and separately to aid the parties in coming to a resolution of how best to share or split time with the children. These issues can also be raised and resolved at the collaborative meetings. Once an agreement is reached with regard to these issues, it will be added to the Marital Settlement Agreement which sets forth the agreements reached on all issues.
How are the financial issues such as alimony, child support and equitable distribution decided and finalized?
The goal of the collaborative process is to reach an agreement on all issues relating to a divorce case. Throughout the meetings, the parties and their attorneys, along with the appropriate professionals (financial professionals, appraisers, etc.) will obtain the information about assets, debts, incomes, and expenses. Once the information is available, the collaborative team, which includes the parties, will discuss options and the parties will make decisions about how best to divide assets, allocate incomes (for alimony and child support) and deal with any other issues in the case. You will reach agreements on each issue along the way. These agreements will be memorialized in writing. Once an agreement is reached on all issues, a Marital Settlement Agreement will be drafted and signed by both parties. Then either party, through their attorney, can file for divorce and get divorced.
What happens if we cannot reach an agreement during the collaborative divorce process?
Although both of the parties agree not to go to court, if you can’t reach an agreement after trying all alternatives that we have at our disposal, then either party can leave the collaborative process, which will cause the collaborative process to end. At that point, each party will have to obtain a new attorney to litigate the case. The collaborative attorneys cannot continue to represent the parties in accordance with the collaborative rules.
Will we need to go to court at some point in the collaborative divorce process?
In order to obtain a divorce, one of the parties will have to file a Complaint for Divorce. Once there is a Marital Settlement Agreement, the filing is easy and in most counties in New Jersey, we can put the divorce through on the papers, so there is no need for the parties to attend a divorce hearing.
What happens if issues arise post-divorce, i.e. one of the parties is not abiding by the agreement?
As in any divorce, once there is an agreement and a Judgment of Divorce, if one of the party’s is not complying with the agreement and depending upon what your agreement says, you can go back to the collaborative process to resolve the issue, you can go to mediation to resolve the issue, or you can file a motion with the court to adjudicate the issue.
Contact a Collaborative Divorce Attorney Today!
Stark & Stark’s collaborative divorce lawyers can help you start the process today.