Divorce is never easy. It’s hard on divorcing spouses, it’s hard on children, and it’s even hard on divorce attorneys who care about their clients. In 1990, a Minnesota divorce attorney named Stu Webb was burned out from the hostility of divorce litigation and on the verge of quitting his practice. Instead, he came up with a different approach to divorce that is now practiced by tens of thousands of attorneys worldwide: Collaborative divorce.
To understand what Collaborative divorce is, it’s helpful to first understand what it’s not. In a traditional divorce, one spouse files a lawsuit against the other in court. The process sets the spouses up to be adversaries. Furthermore, the attorneys involved in the case bill more hours and make more money the longer the divorcing spouses fight.
Eventually, most cases do settle, but often not before conflict destroys any remaining goodwill between the spouses. If there are children in the family, the fighting is stressful for the kids, even when parents try to hide it. And if the divorce is one of the few that doesn’t settle, it ends in a costly and contentious trial.
Collaborative divorce supports the spouses and their attorneys in working together to unwind the marriage, rather than pitting them against each other. The clients and attorneys sign an agreement committing to work honestly and respectfully with each other, disclosing all information needed to settle the divorce. Should the Collaborative process break down, the spouses agree not to use that information against each other in a litigated divorce, and will not be represented in litigation by their Collaborative attorneys.
In a series of meetings, the spouses and their attorneys identify issues that need to be resolved and look for solutions that meet everyone’s needs, including the children. Because divorce is a financial and emotional event as well as a legal one, other professionals are involved as needed: a financial neutral to help the spouses understand their situation; divorce coaches to help the spouses identify and overcome emotional obstacles to divorce; and a child specialist to be the voice of the children in the process. All professionals, including the attorneys, have gone through special training in Collaborative practice.
Once the spouses reach agreement on all issues in the divorce, the attorneys draw the settlement up and open a court case so that a judge can finalize the divorce.
For couples who would prefer to divorce with dignity and respect, Collaborative practice offers a number of advantages:
In short, Collaborative divorce offers divorcing couples legal, financial, and personal benefits. At Southpark Family Law, we believe wholeheartedly in this process.
Despite its many benefits, Collaborative divorce is not right for everyone. In certain situations, the structure of a litigated divorce works better. For instance, if one spouse is not committed to dealing fairly and honestly, Collaborative divorce is probably not the best divorce option. Situations in which there is a significant power differential between spouses, such as where there is domestic violence, are not ideal for Collaborative divorce negotiations.
However, Collaborative divorce can be effective in most other situations, including where one spouse has had an affair or otherwise wronged the other spouse. The most important ingredient for a successful Collaborative divorce is two people who are committed to an honest, fair, and respectful process.
If you are interested in a divorce process that lets you focus on your future rather than getting stuck in the pain of the past, Collaborative divorce may be right for you. The attorneys of Southpark Family Law will listen to your needs, answer your questions, help you explore your options, and guide you toward a peaceful, dignified end to your marriage. If you would like to learn more about Collaborative divorce, we invite you to contact Southpark Family Law to schedule a consultation.