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For many types of cas­es in the Amer­i­can court sys­tem, the inher­ent­ly-con­test­ed nature of lit­i­ga­tion is a nat­u­ral fit – some­times, peo­ple sim­ply do have mutu­al­ly exclu­sive posi­tions, and need a clean­ly decid­ed win­ner. Some oth­er areas of law, how­ev­er, suf­fer for being forced into a com­pe­ti­tion.

Fam­i­ly law and divorce is an exam­ple. Even if you haven’t ever been involved in a divorce case before, you’re prob­a­bly heard the sto­ries: a rel­a­tive­ly uncon­test­ed divorce turned into a heat­ed bat­tle over what should have been a minor issue, and when every­thing was final­ly done, every­one hat­ed each oth­er, and no one had any mon­ey left. You aren’t the only per­son who’s heard that one before.

Lawyers are per­fect­ly aware of this prob­lem, too, and in recent years, sev­er­al alter­na­tives to con­test­ed divorce have been devel­oped. Medi­a­tion and doc­u­ment prepa­ra­tion ser­vices are com­mon nowa­days, and can help peo­ple with some of the more tech­ni­cal parts of a divorce with­out cost­ing a lot of mon­ey. Some­times, how­ev­er, cas­es are sim­ply too large or com­plex for any­thing less than the exper­tise of an attor­ney, even if clients do not wish to lit­i­gate a divorce. What then? One of the most recent approach­es is the col­lab­o­ra­tive divorce process.

Col­lab­o­ra­tive divorce is a rel­a­tive­ly new inno­va­tion in the fam­i­ly law field, com­bin­ing many of the respec­tive ben­e­fits of medi­a­tion and lit­i­ga­tion into a sin­gle, uni­fied process. Col­lab­o­ra­tive divorce is not a legal pro­ce­dure, so indi­vid­u­al groups offer­ing col­lab­o­ra­tive divorce ser­vices can vary wild­ly in their approach. In gen­er­al, though, there are some com­mon ele­ments that you should expect to see.

Over­all, the process can be con­sid­ered more akin to medi­a­tion than litigation—the point isn’t to “win,” it’s to deter­mine how best to divide a lim­it­ed set of resources in order to meet each spouse’s dif­fer­ent needs and desires. Par­ties who agree to a col­lab­o­ra­tive divorce can expect to speak with a vari­ety of spe­cial­ists and experts to resolve their speci­fic needs—so, a finan­cial plan­ner will work with the spous­es to divide assets fair­ly, a child psy­chol­o­gist or ther­a­pist will help devise a vis­i­ta­tion plan for any chil­dren, and so on. As in lit­i­ga­tion, spous­es will typ­i­cal­ly each be assist­ed by their own attor­ney, who is respon­si­ble for ensur­ing each spouse’s indi­vid­u­al best inter­ests are respect­ed and addressed in any final plan or agree­ment. They attor­neys also pre­pare the nec­es­sary legal paper­work to com­plete a divorce.

This may sound pret­ty incred­i­ble to you, and you might be won­der­ing how you can sign up for a col­lab­o­ra­tive divorce of your own, or why they aren’t used in every pos­si­ble divorce case. There are two rea­sons: price, and con­tentious par­ties.

Price is rel­a­tive­ly straightforward—a col­lab­o­ra­tive divorce requires a good amount of the time and effort of a num­ber of spe­cial­ists and experts. The spous­es are respon­si­ble for pay­ing the­se experts. It’s unlike­ly that a col­lab­o­ra­tive divorce will cost as much as a heav­i­ly con­test­ed and lit­i­gat­ed divorce, but pay­ing sev­er­al thou­sands of dol­lars on a col­lab­o­ra­tive divorce is not unheard of. For many peo­ple, this sim­ply isn’t an option. A medi­at­ed divorce can be com­plet­ed for much less, and, while it might not be the the­o­ret­i­cal­ly best pos­si­ble divorce, it will gen­er­al­ly serve its pur­pose at a much low­er cost. Why pay ten thou­sand dol­lars when you can pay much less and receive some­thing almost as good?

Sec­ond­ly, not every divorce case is actu­al­ly an appro­pri­ate fit for col­lab­o­ra­tive divorce. Many divorce cas­es are rel­a­tive­ly uncon­test­ed; the emo­tions and argu­ments in an uncon­test­ed divorce case come from a com­bi­na­tion of stress, sor­row, and regret. In the­se cas­es, no one in par­tic­u­lar is to blame, and the best solu­tion is to resolve every­thing as effi­cient­ly as pos­si­ble, so par­ties can move on with their lives and begin to heal. Some cas­es, how­ev­er, involve spous­es who are bit­ter­ly fight­ing over one or more issues. There isn’t much room to col­lab­o­rate if one spouse, say, stole half a mil­lion dol­lars from the oth­er, and then ran off to Tim­buk­tu to start a new life. Or, more gen­er­al­ly, if one spouse sim­ply isn’t inter­est­ed in a peace­ful res­o­lu­tion, and instead wants a pro­tract­ed, scorched earth bat­tle of a divorce, the col­lab­o­ra­tive process will not work.

It’s also impor­tant to note that col­lab­o­ra­tive divorces is rel­a­tive­ly new. It’s not dif­fi­cult for unscrupu­lous or unpre­pared attor­neys to claim to prac­tice col­lab­o­ra­tive divorce, trum­pet the suc­cess­es of the con­cept, but utter­ly fail to deliv­er the val­ue they’ve promised. As I’ve said, not every case is an appro­pri­ate case for a col­lab­o­ra­tive divorce.

But, if you’re inter­est­ed in a mod­ern, holis­tic res­o­lu­tion for your divorce, if you antic­i­pate lit­tle dis­agree­ment in the pro­ceed­ings, and espe­cial­ly if you have siz­able assets or a par­tic­u­lar­ly com­plex estate to divide, a col­lab­o­ra­tive divorce can be a per­fect­ly-tai­lored, effi­cient, and effec­tive method for secur­ing a divorce.