You have made the life-changing decision to divorce your spouse. Your next decision may impact your life going forward almost as much: “How will I get divorced?”
You have three process choices: litigation, mediation and collaborative divorce. Here are my seven best reasons to choose a collaborative divorce.
1. Collaborative divorce keeps you out of court.
The distinctive of the collaborative process is a written agreement between you, your spouse, and your professional team in which you all agree to keep the case out of court. Of course, basic pleadings have to be filed with the court, but in most jurisdictions, you will never have to set foot in the courthouse. To give force to the agreement, the professional team agrees that they will withdraw if either you or your spouse asks the court to actively get involved. Because your collaborative case is not on a judge’s docket, you are neither forced to be ready for a hearing on the court’s timetable, nor do you have to wait until the court has time for you.
2. The process is non-adversarial.
Court processes are, by their nature, adversarial. The collaborative process is designed to be peaceful and cooperative, with each spouse, along with their team, working to achieve a result that is in “the best interest of the family.” That is a mind-altering, and potentially life-changing, dynamic. Because you do not have to persuade a judge that you are right and your ex-spouse is wrong, you do not have to go to war against him or her. You do not have to compile a list of your ex’s misdeeds to persuade a judge that you should get primary custody. If you need to “get things off your chest;” to figuratively “have your day in court,” that can be accommodated in a collaborative meeting with the help of a trained coach. Or you might find that the collaborative process you have chosen does not inflame you to the point where you need to unload.
3. You work with a trained professional team.
A divorce is a legal matter. It is also a psychological and financial matter. A collaborative divorce requires a lawyer for each spouse. Because we try to deal with not only the legal issues, but also the psychological and financial issues present in every divorce, our teams also consist of coaches (mental health professionals, usually one for each spouse) and financial professionals (CPA’s, Chartered Financial Consultants, Certified Divorce Financial Analysts, or Certified Financial Planners, usually one who is neutral between the spouses). We also highly recommend a child specialist in cases where there are children.
Each of these professionals is well trained in collaborative techniques and principles, mediation, and all are experienced professionals in their fields. As an example, my practice group, Collaborative Divorce Solutions of Orange County (“CDSOC”) requires each regular member to complete an initial 3-day collaborative training, and 18-hour mediation training, a further, advanced training after the completion of two cases, 12 hours annually of ongoing training, and to be a licensed or certified professional in their field for at least 5 years. While each team member maintains his or her professional responsibilities (e.g., lawyers must zealously represent their clients), the team works together to deliver what the spouses requested – a result in the best interests of the family.
4. The process is private.
A divorce case file is a public record. A hearing is a public event. However, with a collaborative divorce, because your case will not be in court, you can maintain your confidentiality to the maximum extent possible. You do not have to file declarations with the court; you do not have to testify in open court; and a judge will not make findings of fact on the record. You will file basic pleadings and a judgment, but skilled collaborative professionals can help you keep the public disclosures to a minimum.
5. The process is less expensive than litigation.
For many reasons, collaborative divorces tend to be less expensive than litigated divorces. There is no formal discovery, no depositions, no document demands, etc. By the Collaborative Agreement, the spouses agree to provide all documents on request. Any questions are answered quickly and informally. The neutral financial specialist is the repository for the financial documents and makes sure the documentation is provided timely. Because there are no court hearings, there are no “ramp-up” costs for the hearing. To the extent that expert advice is required, the spouses jointly retain the expert, and no expert testimony is required. Coaches keep the parties “on track” and encourage the spouses not to the let their emotions sidetrack or delay the proceedings. Court delays do not increase costs.
6. You control the outcome.
Because collaborative divorce is a client-driven process, you remain in control. No resolution can happen without your agreement. As you can imagine, you may have to compromise to get an agreement, but it cannot happen unless and until you agree. Your professional team will work with you to ascertain your true interests and attempt to ensure they are realized.
7. Life after the divorce is better for you and your children.
Imagine your life after your divorce is completed. Your son is graduating from high school, your daughter is getting married, your grandchild is having a birthday party. You want to be there. Your ex-spouse wants to be there. If you both go, will the tension, resentment and awkwardness from the divorce ruin the event for you, and for everyone else who is there? Assuming you want to be there, and don’t want the event ruined, ask yourself whether this is more likely after you have gone through a public, adversarial, litigated divorce, or after a private, peaceful, collaborative divorce. This is your life-changing choice.