What is Collaborative Divorce?
Some couples go to court to get the Judge decide their post-divorce lives. It feels right for them to have the Judge decide.
Other couples rather fancy that they know their business better than any Judge. That’s when collaborative law can come into play. (There’s also mediation or just plain settling.) These self-reliant couples figure they can decide better than any Judge and settle their differences by agreement. Alimony? By agreement. Kids’ schedules with mom & dad? By agreement. Dividing the house, the business and those pesky wedding registry gifts? Also by agreement.
Suppose you are one of those self-reliant couples, and would rather agree on everything and leave the divorce court out of it? Great! Try collaborative divorce: the two of you get together, come up with children’s schedules, alimony amount, child support number, and property division. Then you put it all in writing, sign, notarize . . . and you are done! (Or try mediation, or just plain settling. All these mechanisms are the same at the core, which is hammering out the decision between husband and wife instead of accepting whatever the Judge hands down.)
You might ask: but how do you know if you get a fair agreement—fair for you, that is? What if you are settling for too little or too much? The answer, of course, is that you don’t know. But your collaborative lawyer mostly knows—and can advise you whether the deal you are about to strike is good, bad or in between.
Why Collaborative Divorce?
Time and Timing
You set your own the time. With courtroom litigation, the Judge is in charge of the timing, and by Murphy’s law, the timing of the court hearing will always fall on the day for which you planned a vacation, or when your best witness is out of the country, or the day when you catch the worst cold, or your boss is expecting you to finish that big project. Courtroom litigation is disruptive. With Collaborative Law, however, you set up your own time for a meeting. And you can change it in a pinch. Also, going the courtroom way often takes literally years. Collaborative agreement can be forged in a matter of a few months. Weeks if you are really motivated. This also holds true if you mediate the case.
Cost is fairly predictable with collaborative divorce. You count on paying lawyers for a few days to help you hammer out the deal. In courtroom litigation, however, there are motions and discovery and appearances and re-scheduling and interlocutory appeals and final appeals . . . not even the most experienced divorce lawyer can predict with any accuracy how much it all will cost. But all divorce lawyers agree: it is cheaper to settle the collaborative way. This also holds true if you mediate the case.
Your Relationship With Your Spouse
It is better to get along after all is said and done. Especially if you have children. Settling your disagreements in a relatively calm, collaborative setting is always a better bet than the courtroom adversarial process.
Aren’t there disadvantages?
Yes. If you cannot settle collaboratively, that leaves you starting over in court. But that’s just another reason to be sensible and settle.
My friends settled everything in mediation. Is mediation better than collaborative divorce? What’s the difference?
Mediation and collaborative divorce share the same basic concept. Collaborative divorce offers a few additional interesting twists, though. Most notably, both spouses sign an agreement not to start litigating while they are collaborating. What that means to you is that you are not running the risk of getting dragged into court right in the middle of mediation, or having to prepare both to mediate and go to court at the same time. More importantly, the lawyers that represent you in collaborative divorce are prohibited from representing you in court. If your stubborn spouse cannot agree to all terms, (s)he will have to look for another lawyer to litigate in court. Inconvenient? Very much so. Additional expense if collaborative divorce fails? Yes. But also a good way to tie yourself to the mast and resolve all your differences without court. And isn’t that the goal in the first place?