Choosing to separate is a decision that few couples take lightly. After deciding to take this significant step, many people are confused, emotionally vulnerable, and generally unprepared to make another important decision. Nevertheless, an important choice looms on the horizon: Which process to legally divorce is best for you?
Traditional divorces are often contentious and difficult for both parties. In order to avoid this painful and typically expensive process, many couples decide to pursue divorce mediation, a cooperative and collaborative process that is overseen by a neutral mediator with no legal power to decide the case one way or the other.
Collaborative divorce is similar to mediation with one crucial difference. In collaborative divorce, each spouse retains their own attorney who has been trained in the field. Both sides work together to come to the best possible resolution—no judge decides your fate.
This means that, like individuals involved in mediation, each spouse must remain committed to cordial discussions and a mutually beneficial outcome. In fact, in a purely “collaborative divorce” both spouses sign an agreement committing not to pursue litigation. Some couples may choose a variation on this approach, however, depending upon their comfort level.
In any event, if collaborative divorce seems like a viable option for you, follow these 3 general steps to put the process into action:
- Educate Yourself
In order to ensure that collaborative divorce is right for you, you must first fully educate yourself on all its particulars. In addition to remaining dedicated to maintaining a sensible, productive, and respectful atmosphere, you should carefully consider the general polices and procedures that will govern the collaborate divorce process.
To serve the spirit of mutual respect and openness that collaborative divorce fosters, parties agree to fully disclose all relevant information about their income and assets. Absolutely no information is hidden so that both spouses can strive to achieve a fair agreement.
The process to achieve this fair agreement is conducted in a series of “four way” meetings between spouses and their respective attorneys, along with a divorce coach and perhaps additional agreed-upon professionals, such as a neutral financial professional or accountant.
- Discuss the Idea with Your Spouse
Individuals who are interested in pursuing a collaborative divorce should first talk to their spouse. In order for the collaborative process to work, both parties must be on-board, agreeing to treat one another with respect and to commit to finding win-win solutions that allow both parties to benefit. Open and respectful communication is a must, with a willingness to achieve a seemingly fair end result.
If you can both agree to treat each other respectfully and fairly throughout the divorce proceedings, collaborative divorce may be for you. After mutually agreeing to begin a collaborative divorce, many couples appreciate the flexible and informal nature of the process.
- Talk to a Qualified Collaborative Divorce Attorney
Depending on the individual circumstances surrounding your divorce, you may want to consult with an attorney before speaking with your spouse. While you may feel ready to start the divorce process, a consultation with a collaborative divorce attorney can walk you through the steps, both emotionally and financially, so that you know what to expect and are ready to broach the subject with your spouse. You’ll be advised of your rights and will feel better prepared to start down this path.
Find a qualified collaborative divorce attorney, and schedule an initial meeting to discus your short-term expectations and your long-term goals. Once you’re comfortable with the attorney and the attorney is assured your case would benefit from the collaborative process, the attorney will ask you to sign a retainer. Your spouse will then need to find his or her own collaborative representation, and the attorneys will then work together to facilitate a mutually agreeable settlement.