What is Collaborative Divorce?

To many people, the term "collaborative divorce" might seem like an oxymoron. How can divorce be "collaborative" when you are in the middle of a highly emotional and possibly contentious situation? Divorce is also a legal process, and some people think that collaboration between parties in legal disputes must mean that somebody is getting fleeced. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Collaborative divorce starts with understanding that even though you and your spouse are getting divorced, you still have important goals in common. If you have children together, some of the common goals are obvious: to create a stable, nurturing environment for the children; and to ensure that the children are financially and emotionally provided for -- even if you cannot agree what that might look like. Even without children, you probably have certain goals in common. You probably both want to walk away from the marriage as financially secure as possible. Maybe less obvious is the shared goal of avoiding a drawn-out, contentious divorce that would take a huge emotional toll on not only you, but also your family and friends.

So, even though you are getting divorced, you still have some goals in common, and could benefit tremendously by collaborating to make sure those goals are met to the best of your abilities. This is where collaborative law, and specifically collaborative divorce, comes in.

Collaborative divorce is about teamwork.

Your stereotypical image of divorce might involve two spouses battling it out in court, taking positions against each other and asking a judge to decide who is "right." Collaborative divorce turns that stereotype on its head; it asks, "How can we work together to make it through this process with minimal disruption?" The spouses are the key drivers in this process, but they are far from being alone. Each of the spouses has their own lawyer, who offers independent legal advice and helps negotiate the tough issues. In addition, a coach facilitator oversees each meeting; his or her role is to help ensure that discussions stay on track and that emotions are managed appropriately. The spouses, the lawyers, and the coach facilitator together form a core team with the skills and resources to move the divorce toward resolution.

Collaborative divorce is flexible.

In addition to the core team (spouses, lawyers, and coach facilitator), collaborative divorce makes space for additional experts to join the team and provide input as needed. In complicated or uncertain financial situations, a neutral financial expert can help the spouses understand their finances and explore options. Child psychologists and other experts can also be brought in as needed, on a case-by-case basis, to help the spouses work through the tough issues in their divorce. All of these experts are neutrals — they are there to present unbiased information and provide both spouses the benefit of their professional expertise.  They do not take sides, and decisionmaking remains squarely in the spouses' hands.

Collaborative divorce is respectful.

It should be clear by now that collaborative divorce is very different from the adversarial, antagonistic divorces we have all heard of. That is not to say it is without conflict. You and your spouse might still have huge disagreements about key issues, but the collaborative process creates a safe, structured environment to work through those disagreements respectfully, at all times with the support and guidance of the core team. It is a respectful approach designed to encourage mutual problem-solving rather than adversarial bickering.