The Collaborative Law Process is a form of alternative dispute resolution that is a relatively new option for couples, who are divorcing in the State of Maryland. A Collaborative Divorce takes the family’s personal, emotional, and financial issues out of the hands of the judge and allows the divorcing spouses to have more control over the outcome.
The Collaborative Divorce is designed to be non-adversarial. It is suitable for divorcing couples who want to leave the marriage without leaving scorched earth. The Collaborative Process is particularly suitable for couples who will have a continuing relationship because of their children.
How Does the Collaborative Divorce Work?
The Collaborative Divorce involves a team of specially trained professionals, whose goal is to help the couple through the financial, emotional, and legal issues of the separation and divorce. The Collaborative team includes the divorcing parties and their attorneys. The team of professionals may include, as needed, a neutral mental health professional known as the divorce coach, a neutral financial adviser, and child custody specialist.
The divorce coach does not act as a therapist for either party. The purpose of the divorce coach is to facilitate a productive discussion between the parties and other members of the Collaborative team by helping the parties manage their emotions and communicating with each other in a more respectful and healthy manner.
The financial neutral is needed more often in divorces that are financially complex or involve high net-worth assets. The financial neutral helps the parties evaluate the best way to equitably distribute the parties’ marital assets and debts. This neutral financial professional can also assist the parties in minimizing the tax consequences arising from the divorce.
All members of the Collaborative Divorce team signs a contract known as the “participation agreement” that sets forth the terms of the Collaborative Process. Under the terms of the participation agreement, the parties and their attorneys agree that they will use their best efforts to keep the divorce case out of court. They also agree that if the Collaborative Process is unsuccessful, their attorneys will withdraw from the case and will not be permitted to represent them in court. This provision in the participation agreement, which is the hallmark of the Collaborative Process, allows the attorneys to focus their efforts on resolving the dispute rather than strategizing for potential litigation. It also is an incentive for the parties to reach a resolution to avoid the cost of having to pay for new attorneys to get up to speed if the Collaborative Divorce is unsuccessful.
Other requirements of the Collaborative Divorce include the parties’ agreement to voluntarily disclose all needed information for the resolution of issues, such as a full disclosure of all marital assets, debts, and income. The parties also must commit to resolve the issues in a manner that considers the needs of both parties and their children.
Once a participation agreement is signed, the attorneys and parties engage in a series of four-way meetings, with the other professionals as needed, to develop goals and options for resolving disputed issues in a systematic manner. The parties take an active role in resolving the issues and therefore have much more control of the process than the litigation alternative.
What Are the Benefits of a Collaborative Divorce?
The Collaborative Divorce is much less adversarial than mediation or litigation. It is not based on a “win” or “lose” model of resolution, but rather a “win-win” model. The goal is for each of the parties to end their divorce satisfied with the result and able to maintain a cordial relationship with each other, which is important for those couples with children, who will have to interact with each other for many years to come.
Another benefit of the Collaborative Divorce is that during the Collaborative Process, the parties learn how to communicate more effectively with one another. As a result, the parties are better able to communicate with each other long after the divorce.
Is the Collaborative Divorce Process Expensive?
When it comes to costs, each divorce case is different. We recognize, however, that an uncontested case is generally less expensive than a contested case that is litigated from start to finish.
In the long run, a successful Collaborative Divorce will be less expensive if the same case had followed the more traditional litigation route. The reason for this is that with a Collaborative Divorce, the parties and their attorneys operate as a team with the common goal of reaching a satisfying resolution as peacefully and quickly as possible. Financial information is readily shared between the parties. They also share experts, such as the financial neutral.
In contrast, in a litigated divorce, financial information is disclosed through the cumbersome and expensive process known as discovery, where each party has to ferret out the information from the other. Each party has his or her own experts thereby increasing the expense. And, the court, not the parties, control the timing for how quickly their case proceeds. The longer the case takes, the more costly it becomes.
If your divorce matter involves complex financial or custody issues that can benefit from a team approach, the Collaborative Divorce will provide a less stressful and expensive alternative to litigation.