Divorce is a legal, emotional, and financial process. In a collaborative divorce, the parties work with a team of professionals who support them, and help them reach agreement on all of the issues between them. The process starts when each party retains an attorney who is trained in the collaborative process. The parties and their attorneys sign an agreement that includes promises to be forthcoming with information and documents needed to help them resolve their issues, and to refrain from using the court system to resolve any disputes.
The parties reach agreement on the issues between them in a series of settlement conferences with the two of them and their collaborative counsel, often with the assistance of other collaborative team members. If one party decides to quit the collaborative process, and turn to the court system to resolve issues, then both collaborative counsel must withdraw. The parties then proceed without counsel or with new, litigation counsel. This requirement provides strong incentive for all involved to remain in the collaborative model until all of the couple’s issues are resolved.
Other potential team members include the following:
- A neutral mental health professional who may work with both parties, separately and together, to help them address the emotional and grieving issues raised by their divorce and separation, and to help them communicate with each other through the process. Some couples may work with two mental health professionals, as their coaches, through the process.
- If the parties have children, they may work with a neutral child specialist, who will help them understand their children’s needs and concerns, and work out their parenting agreement.
- A neutral financial professional who may help the parties pull together their financial information and documents, and address the issues of the division of their assets and debts and the division of their income going forward.
The advantages of the collaborative model include the following:
- Each party has an advocate counsel, who will provide legal advice and representation.
- Parties get help and support in dealing with the emotional, financial and parenting issues in their divorce or legal separation.
- In spite of the team, it can be a cost-effective process, especially compared to a traditional “litigation” model, because all team members are focused on helping the couple reach an agreement, and no fees are incurred for preparing for court proceedings.
- Parties retain control over the process.
- As with mediation, it is a confidential process, considered “settlement negotiations” by Wisconsin statutes, and neither party may testify to a court what offers were made by the other in the collaborative process.
I have had substantial training in the collaborative model, and I am deeply committed to helping my clients resolve their issues effectively, creatively, and in a mutually respectful manner. Therefore, I am very supportive of the collaborative model.