Collaborative divorce: Is it right for you?

In some situations, collaborative divorce can offer a less contentious, more amicable way to divorce that saves time and money.

When a divorce is imminent, couples are faced with many choices. One of the most impactful decisions is how to file for divorce. Many couples are not aware that they have an option to follow a traditional divorce model or follow a Collaborative Divorce model. Collaborative divorce has been in the media lately being touted as a way to shift from the traditional, litigious courtroom style of divorce. In fact, the process is becoming so popular that the Today Show recently reported on it, stating that the rewards of collaborative divorce "are huge."

While Collaborative is gaining in popularity, a couple must really understand the Collaborative Divorce process to determine whether it is right for you and your family.

Collaborative divorce in Wisconsin

The Wisconsin State Bar Association defines collaborative divorce as a process that can help avoid "the financial and emotional costs" connected to traditional litigation. The process is designed to result in a more amicable divorce. Collaborative divorce is generally done with a team of people. These people include legal representation for each spouse, a counselor or mental health coach and a financial professional.

Each attorney signs a contract stating that they will provide legal assistance throughout the process, but will be unable to represent either party if the process fails. This means new attorneys would be required if the process fails and the couple defaults to a traditional divorce. The overall goal of Collaborative Divorce is designed to encourage cooperation and settlement without litigation. While this sounds great, it is not right for every couple.

Benefits and risks of collaborative divorce

Collaborative divorce is not for everyone. It is wise to carefully consider the benefits and risks before making a decision. Some benefits include:

  • Cost. In some cases, a collaborative divorce can translate to significant cost savings. It certainly can avoid the traditional litigation costs in a divorce. Keep in mind, however, that if the process fails you must start over with a new lawyer which can significantly add to the cost of litigation.
  • Time. Collaborative divorces average four to six months, while a courtroom divorce can span up to two years depending on the court schedule and issues that arise during the case. Of course, this timeline may vary depending on the issues in each case. Again, if the process fails, you must begin again which can greatly add to the length of the divorce.
  • Flexibility and Control: The parties can seek creative solutions to their issues, often times reaching agreements that the court could not or would not normally allow. Also, the parties have a greater degree of control over the process, timing, procedure and outcomes than in a traditional divorce.

There are some downsides to the process. The process requires openness, including a willingness to openly share bank accounts and other financial information. Although a contract is signed stating that each party agrees to cooperate and disclose financial and other relevant information, there is no way to seek enforcement or compliance of this requirement in court as is the case in traditional divorce proceedings. As a result, collaborative divorce may not work for couples with power imbalances or in situations of abuse.

In addition, in some instances, a collaborative divorce can actually take more time and cost more money than a traditional divorce because there are more people involved, if a number of coaches and experts are utilized. It can be difficult to accommodate the schedules of all of these individuals and there are no deadlines to meet; therefore, it can take longer than a traditional divorce where there are court hearings to move the process along and deadlines set by the court. Further, all of these additional people involved must be paid.

Collaborative divorce can be useful in certain situations. In the wrong situation, however, it can be extremely costly and detrimental to the best interest of children. It is imperative that you discuss all aspects of your divorce with your lawyer before blindly following the trend of Collaborative Divorce.

Keywords: family law divorce collaborative divorce