Besides the emotional pain that comes from ending a relationship, divorce can be seriously disruptive and potentially damaging to the entire family unit. As a result, legal professionals have looked for a way to help minimize the disruption and ease parties through a divorce with as little pain as possible.
Collaborative divorce was conceived in the 1990’s by Minnesota family law attorney, Stu Webb. Since then, collaborative divorce procedures have been adopted throughout the United States and is now also found in other countries around the globe.
Collaborative divorce is based upon the idea that the parties need not fight each other in court to reach a fair and agreeable settlement.
Instead, parties agree to attend meetings that include the parties themselves as well as their attorneys. Third-party experts may also attend if necessary, but must be accepted by both sides. The meetings are designed to facilitate a mutually-acceptable agreement and can address everything from custody issues to financial support of the lesser-earning spouse.
The key difference between a collaborative divorce and mediation is that in a collaborative divorce, the attorneys are not allowed to litigate the case if the parties cannot agree. In this instance, existing counsel would have to withdraw and both parties would have to secure new attorneys in order to go to court.
This removes the potential financial reward of a bigger settlement in court and encourages both parties (as well as their attorneys) to disclose everything and strive to reach an amicable settlement.
To participate in a collaborative divorce, both parties must sign an agreement that states they will disclose all pertinent information, all experts will be neutral to both sides and all the participants will act in good faith. The attorneys must also sign this document, agreeing that they will not litigate the case if an agreement cannot be reached. The content of the meetings is confidential and all parties are expected to be open, honest and forthcoming.
The results of collaborative divorce are positive, with approximately 95% of cases reaching a settlement outside of court. But the biggest advantage to collaborative divorce is that it appears to better support the family unit and put less strain on the children involved.
Of course, collaborative divorce has its drawbacks as well. Should the parties be unable to reach an agreement and decide to litigate, hiring new attorneys will ultimately delay the divorce process. In addition, the collaborative process isn’t cheap. While not typically as expensive as the cost of litigation, collaborative divorce can be a pricey option, especially in complex cases requiring extensive amounts of time and experts to address all the issues.