Collaborative divorce could be a better way

The term “collaborative divorce” at first seems like an oxymoron. How can people who are ending a relationship work together? How can the concept of collaboration, which typically involves creation, come into play when a marriage is breaking up?

At Morton & Gettys, we are excited about this concept. Family law attorney Michael Smith has been trained in this new practice area. He believes that when divorce is inevitable, collaborative divorce lets parties resolve their problems with wisdom, dignity and peace.

His paralegal Michele Allen also has spent time training in this innovative area, and   Morton & Gettys has hosted a seminar to ensure that the other professionals needed to create a collaborative law team have received the necessary training.

It is not a system that will work for everyone. In some situations, the divides and the differences simply are too deep. For others, though, collaborative divorce can be a way to save money, time and emotional stress.

A collaborative divorce involves a team of experts, working together to help guide parties to mutually agreeable decisions and a fair and effective settlement. Parties communicate directly, rather than through attorneys in the traditional litigation model, with the experts helping to facilitate. While it is sometimes tempting to turn to litigation in hopes of a “win,” in reality no one wins in litigation when emotional and financial costs are taken into account.

The team begins with attorneys trained in collaborative law. A therapist coach, a financial specialist and a child specialist also are crucial members of the team. The specialists are there to use their experience and training to assess and evaluate but not to mandate. The parties are expected to communicate respectfully and listen objectively on all issues. The setting is informal, a format that helps both parties feel more comfortable.

Oftentimes, a collaborative divorce is the best solution for many people. Here’s why:

Control: A collaborative divorce puts the parties in control of final decisions about important issues such as child custody, child support, alimony, division of marital assets and other financial matters. A traditional divorce puts the power in the hands of the court, which could possibly rule in a way that is unsatisfactory to both parties.

Collaborative divorce also puts parties in control of scheduling, letting them set up meetings when it works for them rather than being at the mercy of an often-inflexible court calendar.

Collaboration: Working together promotes respect. This point is crucial if children are involved and the parties will continue to co-parent following the divorce. Even absent children, collaboration allows parties to find mutually beneficial, sometimes creative, solutions to critical issues rather than having a solution mandated.

Communication: Collaborative divorce keeps the lines of communication open, with the parties talking face to face with the assistance of their teams. Rather than seeing a list of demands in legal documents, they learn about the concerns and goals that are triggering those demands. This often cultivates understanding that can lead to effective solutions.

Costs: If both parties are using the same neutral specialists, the expense is less than if each is paying separate experts. Parties in a traditional divorce often find that their costs climb quickly as the litigation drags on.

Privacy: Collaborative divorce leaves the details behind closed doors. If a case goes to court, there is every chance that private financial and personal information will be revealed in legal documents. All legal documents are public record, including those that contain unproven and outrageous allegations.

Perhaps the most-compelling reason to pursue collaborative divorce: It works. According to the South Carolina Academy of Collaborative Professionals, compliance with the final settlement is usually greater in cases of collaborative divorce, and that’s likely because the parties play such an active role in shaping the agreement.

In the end, collaborative divorce does indeed involve building something. It helps construct a better base for moving forward with less acrimony, something that is particularly crucial if children are involved.

Information or interaction on this page should not be construed as establishing a client-attorney relationship or as legal advice. For advice about your specific situation, please consult one of our attorneys.