Divorce is a fact of life for about half of all marriages. Couples facing divorce are often very concerned about the prospect of going to court and about the impact the court system can have on their family. Fortunately, there is an alternative.
Collaborative Divorce Seminar
We created a short 10 minute online seminar to give you a brief overview of this unique option for settling family law disputes. Click on the image below to watch the video.
Today Show Segment on Collaborative Law
The Today Show recently did a segment on collaborative law. It was very interesting because they interviewed a couple and their attorneys that had handled their divorce collaboratively. It offers a unique glimpse inside this family’s experience. Click the video below to watch.
What is Collaborative Family Law?
Collaborative law is a structured process that provides an alternative to court. This process allows everyone involved to focus on what is important to you, your family and your future.
The very basic foundation of the collaborative process is the participation agreement. I believe that without a signed participation agreement, the collaborative process would be fundamentally flawed. During a collaborative divorce, all the parties involved (both spouses and both attorneys) sign an agreement that they will work together to reach an agreement that meets the legal, financial and emotional needs of everyone in your family. In this agreement, they also pledge not to go to court.
The Participation Agreement
As I mentioned, the parties sign a participation agreement at the beginning of the collaborative process. There are several components of the agreement that I think it’s important to point out.
- Full and complete financial information will be exchanged so that each spouse is able to make well-informed decisions.
- Absolute confidentiality must be maintained during the collaborative process. This allows each spouse to feel comfortable enough to express his or her concerns without worrying about someone else finding out about it.
- You and your spouse will not go to court and will reach a written agreement on all of the issues and concerns of both parties.
- You and your spouse authorize the attorneys to obtain a Final Decree of Divorce based on the written agreement reached during the process.
Most of the more experienced collaborative attorneys here in Austin use a team approach to the collaborative process. Instead of relying solely on the attorneys for everything, the divorcing couple has access to a team of experienced professionals that specialize in different areas that are critical to the divorce process.
For most collaborative cases, we use at least two neutral professionals:
- a licensed mental health professional who acts as a coach and facilitator, and
- a financial specialist (such as a certified divorce financial analyst or a CPA) who acts as an advisor to help you and your spouse understand the financial impact of your decisions.
In some, but not all cases where there are complicated issues involving children, we can bring in a child specialist to give the children a voice in the process. Each of the professionals we use has been specially trained to work with divorcing couples in the collaborative process.
After reading about the team approach, you may be concerned that it would be expensive to involve these other professionals. That isn’t necessarily the case. One of the reasons that so many of the experienced collaborative attorneys use the team approach is that we believe it’s designed to help contain the cost of the divorce by using limited family funds in the most effective way possible.
For example, in a traditional litigated divorce, both sides usually go out and hire their own experts or specialists. The collaborative team approach allows you both to use the neutral financial specialist to work on property division or budgeting issues. Or, you might use the neutral mental health professional or a child specialist to work on parenting issues. The attorneys don’t necessarily have to be involved in each and every issue. It’s more effective and efficient for you and your spouse to work with the appropriate specialist and involve the attorneys when they’re needed.
We’ve found that this team approach is uniquely successful because the involvement of the non-attorney specialists gives the couple important additional knowledge and support during their transition from a one household family to a two household family. It’s particularly helpful when there are children involved because you and your spouse will continue to be parents together even after you are divorced.
How the Collaborative Process Works
The collaborative process starts out with both parties hiring attorneys that have been trained in using the collaborative approach. Collaborative law is very different from traditional law and not all attorneys are cut out for it. You can increase your chances of a successful process by hiring attorneys that have completed several collaborative cases successfully.
The process itself consists of a series of joint meetings (usually 2-4) that last about 2 hours each. During the first of these joint meetings, all of the parties will sign a participation agreement if you and your spouse decide to proceed using the collaborative approach. In these joint meetings, each and every issue (including property division, custody, support and more) gets “put on the table.”
Throughout the process, you and your spouse have the benefit of the skills, advice and support of the team while striving to work things out in a positive manner with an eye towards the future.
Once a settlement has been reached, the attorneys draft and file the appropriate paperwork with the court. Most of the time, no court appearances are required with the exception of a simple 10-15 minute prove up.
Advantages of a Collaborative Divorce
- You can focus on settlement. The participation agreement removes the threat of “going to court.” This reduces your fear and anxiety, which helps you focus on finding positive solutions.
- You have support. During the process, you and your spouse are working together to craft a settlement while benefiting from the advocacy, problem-solving and negotiation skills of your own lawyer.
- You maintain control. Even though you both have lawyers, you and your spouse each take responsibility for developing and shaping the settlement.
- You use your money more effectively. A collaborative divorce is usually much less costly than a traditional litigated divorce. In a traditional divorce, each side often hires their own experts and specialists. This can be much more expensive than the team approach.
- You use your time more effectively. A collaborative divorce can often be completed in much less time than a litigated divorce. The court system is notoriously slow and the collaborative process avoids unnecessary delays waiting on a court date.
- You negotiate a better settlement. Every family is different. The cookie cutter divorces imposed by the court system rarely fit everyone. The collaborative process allows you to customize your agreement to meet the needs of your family in a way that is frequently more complete than one imposed by a Judge.
- You lay the groundwork for a better future. Every divorce is painful. But by reducing stress, working cooperatively and treating each other with respect, you and your spouse can create an environment that can help you and your children thrive.
Is Collaborative Right for You?
More and more couples in Austin are deciding to dissolve their marriage with dignity. If you agree with the statements in the following list, then you may want to speak to an attorney to find out how the collaborative approach might work in your situation.
If you can answer “Yes” to any of the following questions, then collaborative divorce may be right for you:
- Are you more interested in moving on with your life than battling it out in court?
- Do you believe that it’s important to protect your children from the damage that painful litigation can inflict?
- Do you want to keep the details of your divorce from being aired in public?
- Do you want to be in control of your family’s destiny instead of relying on a court’s decision?
- Do you want to maintain a respectful working relationship with your spouse after the divorce is over?
- Do you want to be treated with respect and dignity during your divorce?
- If you haven’t done so already, watch the short video clip from the Today show at the top of this page. It shows an interview with a couple and both of their attorneys that divorced using the collaborative process.
- If you’d like to speak to an attorney about whether or not collaborative might be right for your situation, call us at 512-481-0330 or use the online form to request an initial consultation with one of our attorneys.