In a successful marriage, the partners work together. Believe it or not, that can also be true in a successful divorce. “Successful divorce” may sound like an oxymoron. But when you and your spouse have decided your marriage can no longer work, success means ending it in the least harmful way possible—for you, and especially for any children you may have. Collaborative divorce can help you bring closure to your marriage fairly, peacefully, and respectfully, so that you can move on with your life, and if necessary, effectively co-parent with your ex-spouse.
Collaborative divorce is a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR). It was devised by a family law attorney who felt that litigation pitted divorcing spouses against one another, increasing hostility and making it harder to parent together after divorce. He envisioned a model of divorce that encouraged honesty, respect, and communication. Rather than being a zero-sum game, in which one spouse had to lose for the other to win, he believed that divorce could be a win-win, in which both spouses got their needs met, and any children involved were put at the front of the process.
To achieve this, the Collaborative divorce process is set up differently from a traditional (litigated) divorce. Both spouses still have attorneys in a Collaborative divorce. But they and their attorneys (who have both been trained in the Collaborative process) sign a participation agreement setting the ground rules for the process, which typically include committing to:
In the event the Collaborative process breaks down, the Collaborative attorneys agree not to represent their clients in a litigated divorce, and the spouses agree not to use information learned in the Collaborative process against one another in litigation.
One of the core ways the Collaborative process relieves tension on the parties, and steers the process away from being confrontational, is the involvement of other professionals. If you were building a house, you wouldn’t have the general contractor do the plumbing and electrical work; you’d bring in a plumber and an electrician. Similarly, in a Collaborative divorce, your attorney coordinates the process, and a financial neutral (who acts like a financial discovery master) and mental health professionals are involved. Together they address the financial and emotional issues that can cause a traditional divorce to go off the rails (and become more contentious and expensive).
Having set the ground rules for the process with a participation agreement, the attorneys and spouses begin negotiating the terms of the divorce in a series of meetings, which will include the financial and mental health professionals. The parties will have as many meetings as necessary, scheduled at the spouses’ convenience, with the end goal of reaching a settlement agreement. When the agreement is written up and signed, one party will file for divorce in the court. Because the spouses have already reached agreement, they may have only one court appearance, at which their divorce can be finalized.
Collaborative divorce was designed to make the divorce process less stressful and to allow couples to craft customized solutions that work for their family, and it delivers on that promise. In Collaborative Divorce, couples have the freedom to agree on creative terms that a judge may not have ordered. It is well-established that when people have more input into the terms of their divorce, they are more likely to be satisfied with those terms and to abide by them. That means less fighting when the divorce is over, and not having to drag the ex-spouse back into court to enforce the terms of the divorce judgment.
Because Collaborative divorce promotes cordial communications between the divorcing spouses, there is less hostility between them—and less stress on their children. Children suffer when the parents they love are fighting, and they usually know it's happening, and can tell even when the parents try to hide it. An easier divorce for the parents means happier, better-adjusted children.
Perhaps surprisingly, Collaborative divorce often costs no more than a traditional litigated divorce, and can even cost less. While more professionals may be involved, they each have a specific role that they are experienced in, so they work more efficiently. But the real savings comes from the cooperation between spouses, which can save dozens of hours of time billed by their respective attorneys. Fighting is expensive, especially when it plays out in court.
Collaborative divorce can also be quicker than a litigated divorce—but it doesn’t have to be. The timetable for your Collaborative divorce is entirely up to you and your spouse. You may settle things in a couple of quick four-way meetings, or decide to pace things over months to give yourselves time to adjust.
Collaborative divorce isn’t just for divorcing couples who are on great terms with each other. Unlike litigation, which can escalate tensions even between an amicable couple, Collaborative divorce is designed to promote cordial, respectful interaction even between couples who have trouble getting along.
Of course, Collaborative divorce is not right for everyone; if a member of the couple has been controlling or abusive, or is not willing to deal honestly with the other, another divorce process may be a better option. But if you and your spouse are interested in divorcing with respect and dignity, you may want to consider learning more about Collaborative divorce.
Attorney Sean Blume is trained in Collaborative practice and is a member of both the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals and of the Collaborative Practice Institute of Michigan. Sean is committed to helping clients divorce in a way that reduces stress on the couples and their children, preserves couples’ resources, and helps them move forward. He represents Collaborative divorce clients in Macomb, Oakland, Wayne, and St. Clair counties. We invite you to contact Blume Law Group to schedule a free consultation. We look forward to working with you.