When couples opt to work with collaborative lawyers, their disputes are minimal and their ability to communicate and agree on conditions situates them closer to being able to finalize terms of divorce. A common reason to work with a collaborative attorney is to save thousands of dollars in litigation costs. Where there are disputes, emotions run high and the legal fees tend to follow. The emotional cost of litigation is likewise hefty and can lengthen the duration of the process. Each party will work with his or her own collaborative lawyer throughout the procedure.
The Collaboration Process
A collaborative lawyer plays a different role than a litigating attorney. In cases where the couple can agree to division of property and terms of custody, their legal needs are limited to the proper filing of paperwork. Often, they will work with a mediator who provides counseling sessions to facilitate discussion, tame emotions and offer solutions. Together, a group of professionals consisting of lawyers, an accountant, mediator, etc. all can play a role in the divorce process, just as the term “collaboration” suggests. No coach is litigating for one spouse or the other.
There are times when other parties in the collaborative group are introduced to sort out various parts of the negotiations. If there are still some issues to work through, a mediator may be brought in to counsel the couple. The goal of the mediator is to ease negotiations and move the couple closer to an agreement. That mediator serves as a neutral party, not a representative of either spouse.
An accountant may be involved to assist in determining the division of assets and child support payments when applicable. At times, determining total assets is simpler, i.e. the couple do not own a home or have savings accounts. Most couples do have some debt which may include credit card bills, car payments, etc. Home ownership, investments and business ownership may require appraisals to determine the division of property. What people think their homes and/or valuables are worth can often differ from actuality and having appraisals to validate market value is essential in the negotiation process.
Is Collaboration Always an Option?
There are times when the couple cannot come to terms. If one person is unwilling to concede on any terms or if there is hostility involved, each party will need to seek alternative counsel. A collaborative attorney can only help the couple make progress in negotiations if they are willing to work together. In the event the situation becomes overheated, they may be informed that the collaborative process is not the right path for them and the collaborative attorney will withdraw from the case.
The collaborative lawyer’s goals are to negotiate peaceably through mediation to arrive at negotiations without resorting to litigation. When initially hiring your attorney, you should make clear your goals and where you are willing to negotiate. Often, this means having some flexibility in child support terms based on minimum requirement to survive versus the figure you prefer. When both you and your attorney are on the same page, you can approach the negotiations more effectively. This will usually be a four-way meeting with both spouses and attorneys in attendance.
If your goal is to reduce stress, maintain better relations for your sanity and the sake of your children, and save money on the costs of divorce, the collaborative divorce approach may be right for you.