While divorce is rarely good, it is often necessary. It is, however, becoming unnecessary for the divorce process to be public. Collaborative Divorce is a better way to manage the emotional and financial costs of separating a couple, reorganizing family relationships and allocating assets and debts.
What is Collaborative Divorce? Collaborative Divorce is a multidisciplinary, formal, yet “out of court,” process to conduct the necessary investigation and negotiation leading to a comprehensive divorce agreement that is then embodied in a Judgment of Divorce that ends the marriage and makes the agreement fully enforceable. The divorcing parties work in a confidential and supportive environment with specially trained legal, financial and psychological professionals to exchange information and determine how to divide assets, share financial responsibility and structure parent-child relationships that are uniquely suited to the circumstances of your family.
What are the benefits of Collaborative Divorce? Collaborative Divorce has at least five major advantages over a traditional litigated divorce:
- Collaborative Divorce is confidential. In a typical litigated divorce, there are enumerable opportunities for each party’s private information to become part of the public record – as motions are filed and hearings are held the judge needs to know what each side believes the truth to be and the judge can only learn information that then becomes part of the public record. Whether it is confidential financial business information such as income statements or customer lists, or confidential personal information such as a parent or child’s mental health records, virtually everything the judge learns becomes public. As the courts transition to electronic filing (and scan the documents previously filed so they can get rid of their paper files) public access to the private information of litigants is getting easier and easier. Collaborative Divorce means that there is virtually nothing added to the public record about your assets, debts, personal challenges or the reasons for your divorce.
Collaborative Divorce is personalized. If a judge has authority to decide the issues in your divorce case, the result is going to depend on his or her sense of what is typically done, what is typically fair, what is typically best for a child of your child’s age. The judge will do its best to listen to the facts and make a good decision, but cannot possibly know a fraction of what you and your spouse know about your financial situation, your business challenges, or your children. The judge has to rely on general rules or you will have to invest tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to secure and present expert testimony about the unique facts in your case to enable the judge to render a decision tailored to your family. In a Collaborative Divorce, you, your spouse and your Collaborative team have chosen this alternative process specifically because you do not want the court to impose its decision on you. You are educated and empowered to reach agreements and compromises that are uniquely tailored to your family’s situation and that take into account the strengths and weaknesses of each person, to maximize value and minimize the risk of adverse outcomes.
- Collaborative Divorce recognizes that divorce is social, emotional and financial. Divorce can be frightening on many levels. The uncertainty of the future and how one’s life will evolve is stressful and difficult. The courthouse is a terrifying place for most people, whose best side is not revealed under public cross examination about their personal choices. Parenting decisions are not easy and there are often no right or wrong answers, even to the questions of how to help your children deal with the stress of a divorce. Financial decisions, particularly valuation issues and cash flow challenges, are especially difficult to make when the relevant numbers are uncertain or disputed. In a Collaborative Divorce, the team consists not only of lawyers, but also of financial specialists and mental health professionals (one or more child specialists and/or divorce coaches) who work with a divorcing couple within their areas of expertise. This multidisciplinary approach has the professional with the right experience and expertise helping at the right time, saving time and money, reducing stress and resulting in well informed decisions and better agreements.
- Collaborative Divorce preserves relationships. In families with children, it is clear that you and your spouse will continue to have contact after the divorce. Even adult children want to have their parents both present at holidays, college graduations, weddings, the birth of grandchildren and other celebrations. It is also important that people who were invested in long term marriages without children be able to be civil to each other and continue relationships without asking friends, business colleagues and extended family to choose sides or ostracize the other. In a litigated divorce, it is too frequently necessary to disclose negative information about a spouse in order to ensure that the judge rules fairly. Anger, hurt and the desire for revenge are amplified in court and the ability to move past the hurt of the end of a marriage can be destroyed. The Collaborative Divorce process makes it much more likely that both parties will leave the divorce process with the ability to deal with the other in a productive and respectful manner in the future.
- Collaborative Divorce can be less costly than a contested divorce. In a Collaborative Divorce the right professionals deal with each issue. Lawyers focus on the legal issues, leaving the financial and psychological professionals to help your family in their areas of expertise. A neutral financial specialist explains the options for various financial decisions, and can present an analysis of the future effect of the various options on each spouse and on the children, if any. Divorce coaches and a child specialist take the place of dueling experts and mud-slinging “he said/she said” disputes, resulting in more creative and family focused solutions. Joint meetings cost significantly less than depositions, document production and preparing for and conducting drawn out evidentiary hearings or trials on property valuations, financial need, custody and parenting time. Of course, in a successful Collaborative Divorce there is no need for the time and expense of an appeal and there are fewer post-judgment disputes causing a return to court for enforcement or modification as their circumstances change.
When is a Collaborative Divorce not appropriate? A minimum level of trust and respect must exist between the spouses for the collaborative divorce process to work, so that each is willing to rely on the other’s promise to provide information and negotiate in good faith. If there has been domestic violence in the marriage, collaborative divorce may not be the appropriate option, especially if the parties disagree about their history in this regard. In cases where the mental health of one or both spouses is fragile, Collaborative Divorce may not be a good option. Also, in cases where the spouses have been separated for some time, division of rights and responsibilities for the children are working well and the assets and debts are already divided, then Collaborative Divorce, which is less expensive than traditional divorce procedures in contested cases, may be a more expensive and formal process than is needed.
What is the first step? The first step to exploring or choosing a Collaborative Divorce is to meet with a collaboratively trained professional, usually a lawyer but maybe a divorce coach, to learn more. Liz Bransdorfer, a member of the firm, has received training and has handled several collaborative divorces successfully. She is a member of Collaborative Divorce Professionals of West Michigan. This local group of professionals maintains a website at www.gentlerdivorce.com that provides links to the state and international collaborative organizations and articles explaining more about the Collaborative Divorce process. If you are interested in pursuing dissolution of your marriage working with a trained Collaborative Divorce Lawyer and a committed professional team, where an agreed resolution is reached outside of the court process, please contact Liz Bransdorfer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 616-632-8000.