Collaborative Law, Collaborative Practice, Collaborative Process, and Collaborative Divorce are terms often used interchangeably. “Collaborative Divorce” refers to resolution of specific family law disputes, such as divorce and domestic partnerships. While the other terms can also apply to disputes involving many other areas of the law, by far the most common application of the Collaborative Process is in family law, and specifically to divorce or dissolution of a marriage.
Learn more about Collaborative Practice in family law matters and how it can help you successfully resolve your legal conflicts while maintaining family relationships and protecting the things most important to you in the process.
What are Collaborative Law, Collaborative Practice, the Collaborative Process, and Collaborative Divorce?
Collaborative Law, Collaborative Process, and Collaborative Divorce are terms often used interchangeably. However, they are all components of Collaborative Divorce, which has key principles in common:
• The voluntary and open exchange of information
• The pledge not to allow decisions to be made by a judge or arbitrator
• The commitment to resolutions that respect your shared goals
Collaborative Law describes the legal component of Collaborative Practice made up of both parties and their lawyers. Collaborative Process means the key elements of the process itself.
While “Collaborative Divorce” refers to resolution of particular types of disputes (divorce and domestic partnerships), the other terms can also apply to disputes involving employment law, probate law, construction law, real property law, and other civil law areas where the parties are likely to have continuing relationships after the current conflict has been resolved.
What is the difference between Collaborative Divorce and Mediation?
In mediation, an impartial third party (the mediator) facilitates your negotiations with the other disputing party and tries to help you settle your case. However, the mediator cannot give either of you legal advice, and cannot be an advocate for either side. If you or the other party involved has your own lawyer, they may or may not be present at your mediation sessions. If they are not present, you can consult with your lawyer between mediation sessions. Once an agreement is reached, a draft of the settlement terms is usually prepared by the mediator for review and can be reviewed and edited by you and the other party along with your lawyers.
Collaborative Divorce is designed to allow you to have your own lawyer with you during the negotiation process, while maintaining the same commitment to settlement as the sole agenda. It is the job of your lawyers, who are specially trained in interest-based negotiation, to work with their own clients and one another to assure the process stays balanced, positive and productive. Once an agreement is reached, it is drafted by both lawyers, and reviewed and edited by you and the other party along with your lawyers, until everyone is satisfied with the final document.
Both Collaborative Divorce and mediation rely on the voluntary and free exchange of information and a commitment to resolutions that respect the parties’ shared goals. This doesn’t mean you and the other party have to be in agreement on the issues, only in agreement on your intention to participate in the process in good faith.
If mediation does not result in a settlement, you and your lawyer have the option to move forward together with litigation in court. In Collaborative Practice, the lawyers and parties sign an agreement with the sole focus of negotiations leading to a successful out of court resolution of all questions. It specifically states that your Collaborative lawyer and any other professional team members will be disqualified from participating in litigation with you if the Collaborative Process is terminated. When, in the Collaborative Process, agreements are reached on some issues, but one or two are not resolved, you may write down and retain the agreements that have been sucessfully reached and limit your litigation to the one or two unresolved matters.
It is wise for you to seek professional advice to help you decide whether you should pursue mediation or Collaborative Divorce in your individual case.
What is a “Collaborative Team”?
The Collaborative Team is made up of you and your chosen professionals who will work together on your behalf, your spouses’ behalf, and on behalf of the family’s best interests as a problem-solving team rather than as adversaries to facilitate an out-of-court divorce. A Collaborative Team can be any combination of professionals you choose to work with to resolve your dispute. It can be just you, your spouse, and your Collaborative lawyers which comprise the Collaborative Law component of Collaborative Practice. It can be you, your spouse, your Collaborative lawyers and a single financial professional often referred to as a “financial specialist.” It can also include divorce coaches, licensed mental health professionals working as a team either before or after the Collaborative lawyers are chosen and the legal process begins. Finally, a mental health professional with special expertise working with children may be a “voice” for your children and their interests as the Child Specialist member of your Collaborative Team.
The model is flexible so it can address your specific concerns and provide whatever support and advice is needed.
How can Collaborative Divorce help avoid the emotional hostility and trauma so often part of the divorce process?
Collaborative Divorce is guided by a critically important principle: respect. By setting a respectful tone, Collaborative Divorce encourages you and your divorcing spouse to demonstrate compassion, understanding and cooperation. Collaborative professionals are trained in non-adversarial negotiation techniques to help you and your spouse keep discussions productive and avoid personal attacks. The goal of Collaborative Divorce is to build a settlement on areas of agreement, not to perpetuate disagreement.
How does Collaborative Divorce actually work?
When a couple decides to pursue a Collaborative Divorce, they each hire Collaborative Divorce lawyers. All of the parties agree in writing not to go to court. Then, you and your spouse meet both privately with your individual lawyers and in face-to-face discussions. Additional experts such as divorce coaches and child and financial specialists typically are part of the process. Sometimes these professionals are the first person you discuss your divorce with and they help you assemble the rest of your Collaborative Divorce team. These meetings with both spouses and their professional Collaborative Team members work toward an honest exchange of information and expression of needs and expectations. The well-being of any children receives priority attention. Children may have their voices heard by way of a “child specialist,” a trained mental health professional who discusses the children’s interests. Mutual problem-solving by all the parties leads to the final divorce agreement. A similar process can get excellent results in other types of civil disputes other than family law matters.
Can Collaborative Divorce help you reach a faster divorce settlement?
Your individual circumstances control the speed of any dispute resolution process as long as you do not engage in litigation controlled by the courts. Collaborative Divorce can be one way of achieving a more direct and efficient resolution. From the start, it focuses on problem solving, not blaming or endlessly airing grievances. Full disclosure and open communications help to assure all your issues are discussed in a timely manner. You are also freed from being beholden to the court calendar. Because your final settlement is reached out of court, you are not kept waiting for multiple court appearances or waiting to get on a crowded schedule which happens in conventional divorce litigation. You can work through your divorce at the pace that best suits your family’s needs.
How does Collaborative Divorce focus on you and your family’s future?
Divorce and termination of domestic partnerships are an ending and a beginning all wrapped up into one process. Collaborative Divorce helps you anticipate your family’s best interests in moving forward and includes your needs in the discussions. When you have children affected, Collaborative Divorce makes their future the number one priority. As a more respectful, dignified process, Collaborative Divorce helps you and your family make a smoother transition to the next stage of your lives, maintaining relationships and lessening trauma and stress. Individuals and their children often find they heal more quickly and with fewer adverse effects. The same benefits can also be achieved in employment, real estate, business, probate and other civil law disputes.
What is the “Interdisciplinary Team Model”?
The Interdisciplinary Collaborative Team Model is an interdisciplinary team approach to dispute resolution, which includes lawyers, mental health professionals, a financial specialist (financial neutral), and when there are minor children, a child specialist working interactively as equals. Team members share the same core values and philosophy, consistent with the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals ethical guidelines. The professional Collaborative team members pledge that they will not be involved in any process in which the parties with whom they are working turn over the decision making to a judge, arbitrator, or other third-party decision maker. All professional Collaborative Team members will withdraw from the case if the parties drop out and decide to pursue litigation.
You and your spouse choose all your Collaborative Divorce team members at the beginning of your case. The team is ideally made up of you, your spouse, and your two Collaborative lawyers (one for each of you,) two divorce coaches (one for each individual,) a child specialist who is the voice of the child(ren), and one neutral financial specialist.
A divorcing couple can enter into the Collaborative Process through first contacting any member of the team. It is most common to first contact a lawyer, but not required. For example, you and your spouse might first contact a licensed family therapist or seek advice from their licensed financial professional about their circumstances. Once you decide to divorce, a Collaborative Divorce lawyer or a Collaborative financial specialist can begin the process.
What is the role of the Divorce Coach?
You will work with your divorce coach on improving your communication skills as well as learn self-management and negotiation skills to help you during the divorce process. You and your divorce coach will develop the knowledge you need to participate in successful meetings, including:
- How to communicate your concerns effectively
- How to maintain respect and dignity for all those in the process
- How to discuss sharing parenting responsibilities
- How to develop a parenting plan and navigate your co-parenting partnership
What is the role of the Child Specialist?
During this process, the child specialist talks with you and meets with your child or children to understand their needs and concerns. The child specialist also assists you as parents to recognize and address your child’s needs and give your children a way to communicate their concerns and fears, allowing your child to have a voice in the divorce process. The child specialist is not a custody evaluator and makes no specific recommendations. Instead, he or she will work with your divorce coaches and with you to help you make informed, intelligent, and compassionate decisions in your children’s best interests. The information your child specialist shares with you is essential for your family’s emotional well-being and helps lay the foundation for a healthy future.
With the information received from the child specialist, you and your divorce coaches will create a parenting plan, which is then incorporated into your final divorce document. It can be as flexible and creative as you wish as long as everyone agrees to all provisions, unlike the type of parenting plans sometimes imposed by the courts.
What is the role of the Financial Specialist?
The neutral financial specialist is a credentialed professional (Certified Public Accountant, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, Certified Financial Planner, and the like), who meets with both you and your spouse, and helps you begin discussing your financial issues and concerns post-divorce. He or she will assist you in gathering all the necessary financial information including all important financial records. The financial specialist works closely with both spouses and their respective lawyers to understand your current financial situation and to help determine the potential financial consequences of various possible divorce settlement options. This information and your various options will typically be discussed in a meeting with you, your spouse, and your professional Collaborative Team members. You and your spouse will control the outcome and work with your Collaborative Team to create a financial settlement that meets your specific needs and circumstances.
Sometimes a case manager coordinates this process. This role is often assigned to the financial specialist or one of the divorce coaches, who keeps all Collaborative Team members informed and the process on track.
This integrated model provides you with the specific services and advice you need from the trained professional most qualified to address your specific divorce issues at the least cost, with attention on those issues of greatest concern and priority to you. Working together, Collaborative professionals help divorcing couples achieve an outcome that would not be possible without everyone working together, including you and your spouse.
This Collaborative team approach can work when negotiating civil disputes other than divorces and termination of domestic partnerships.
With thanks to Pauline Tesler and the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals for excerpts from her FAQs