Is a Collaborative Divorce Right for Your Situation?
Shareholder, Emily Warren, discuses the purpose and structure of collaborative divorce.
There’s a lot of information – some of it misleading – all over the internet about traditional divorce. But there’s not a lot of good information out there about collaborative divorce in Colorado. In fact, most family law attorneys don’t know much if anything about it, even though it is a growing, world-wide movement.
A collaborative divorce may be right for you if the following resonate with you:
- I want communication with my spouse to be respectful, both during the divorce process and afterward
- I want the needs of our children to take priority in the divorce
- I want to reach beyond the pain, frustration, and anger I am experiencing right now, and work to plan for the future
- I recognize that equal consideration should be given to my needs and those of my spouse
- I like the idea of resolving the issues in our case creatively and cooperatively
- I want to maintain control of my divorce, and not have the courts make decisions for me
If that all sounds like something you want, you may now be wondering – what exactly is the collaborative divorce process? Simply put, it is a voluntary alternative dispute resolution process where the parties make a commitment to settle their case outside the courtroom. This happens with the assistance of attorneys and other professionals.
In the big picture, a collaborative divorce involves the same issues as a conventional divorce – the marital estate is divided equitably, spousal maintenance is addressed, parenting time and decision making are allocated and child support is calculated. However, in a collaborative divorce, the focus is on meeting the unique needs and interests of the individuals who are affected. The collaborative divorce process recognizes that even after a marriage dissolves, family still remains. It focuses on the family as a whole and the fact that the entire family will be in transition after a divorce.
In a collaborative divorce, each party is represented by an attorney trained in the collaborative process. In addition, there are neutral professionals who are also part of the professional team.
A neutral collaborative divorce facilitator is involved to help keep the process on track and moving forward toward agreement. This is someone trained in the collaborative divorce process. They have education and experience in communication, mediation, child development, family dynamics, and mental health or counseling. Where children are involved, the CDF can work with the parties to explore what is truly in the best interest of their children. They develop a parenting plan that reflects those best interests. Parents who use the collaborative divorce process are generally very well equipped to work together as co-parents to their children after the divorce.
A neutral financial professional can also be engaged to assist the collaborative team. This is someone with an accounting background, who also has been trained in the collaborative divorce process. A collaborative divorce requires the same level of disclosure of financial information as a traditional divorce. Because of its nature, this often results in more open and complete sharing of financial information. Like the CDF, the financial neutral can also work with the parties without their attorneys to compile all financial information and documents that must be disclosed. The financial neutral will work with the parties to help them to identify their financial needs going forward and to understand any complex business and financial arrangements that may exist.
In addition to the “off-line” work done with the neutrals, reaching a collaborative divorce involves a series of approximately four to seven team meetings which are akin to mini-mediations. In those meetings, the parties, with the assistance and support of their attorneys, the CDF, and the financial neutral when appropriate, work together to explore various solutions and reach agreements. Additional experts, such as a real estate appraiser or a business valuator, may become involved if needed. These additional experts may attend a meeting to explain their work and discuss their conclusions in an open setting where both parties have a chance to ask questions and both receive the same information.
“Even after a marriage dissolves, family still remains.”
Because the agreements in a collaborative divorce are reached through a series of meetings, the process cannot work unless both parties are safe when in the same room with each other. There may be some dynamics in a marriage that make this an inappropriate process for that specific couple. So it’s important to discuss this fully with your attorney.
It’s important to recognize that “collaborative” and “easy” are not synonyms. Both parties must be genuinely interested in trying to understand issues from the other party’s perspective as well as his or her own, and must be willing to work to achieve that understanding. In a collaborative divorce there are still likely to be serious disagreements and difficult discussions to be had. But your collaborative team will be there to support, assist, and guide you, and your attorney will be there to advise you. The hard work that it may take to achieve an outcome that addresses both parties’ needs and interests is far outweighed by the rewards of reaching that outcome.
While only a small percentage of the family law attorneys in Colorado are trained to provide representation in collaborative divorces, a number of those attorneys can be found at Gutterman Griffiths. You should seriously consider meeting with one of these attorneys if the collaborative divorce process is something that you are interested in exploring, further.