In making the decision to get divorced, we've all probably spent some time in dread of the impending process. However, imagine you and your ex-spouse walking away from the finalized proceedings saying "We both liked both lawyers. As a group, we had some laughs together, and that made it nicer."
Such are the potential results of collaborative divorce — a step between mediation and the adversarial "fight tooth and nail" style divorce, which seems to be working.
The idea behind collaborative divorce is that each party and their lawyer agree to work out what is best for all involved instead of each party trying to get everything they can out of the other party. Says Talia Katz, executive director of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, "Most of us had that moment where we realize the adversarial process is so damaging for our clients — and there's a recognition that we can do better."
The collaborative process is a family law process enabling couples who have decided to separate or end their marriage to work with their lawyers and, on occasion, other family professionals in order to avoid the uncertain outcome of Court and to achieve a settlement that best meets the specific needs of both parties and their children without the underlying threat of contested litigation. The Collaborative process can be used to facilitate a broad range of other family issues, including disputes between parents and the drawing up of pre and post-marital contracts.
There are some drawbacks to the process. The Colorado Bar Association argued that the process was unethical as it meant each lawyer would have divided loyalties rather than acting only in the best interest of their client. The American Bar Association's Ethics Committee ruled that the process was not unethical as long as each party was informed about the provisions of the process and understood their lawyer was not just acting in their own interests.
The second drawback is that the collaborative process is generally more expensive than straight out mediation. According to the Boston Law Collaborative, the median cost for mediation is $6,600, where as for a collaborative divorce it's $19,723. Settlements negotiated by rival lawyers came in $26,830 whereas full-scale litigation had a cost of $77,746.
While it may seem that mediation is the way to go, it is not necessarily the best option. Rita Pollack is a practicing lawyer in Boston, and she points out "At mediation, each partner has to come to the table and speak for himself or herself at a really emotional time, and sometimes there's an imbalance in knowledge or power. If you don't have your attorney at the table to protect you, the mediation can be pretty tricky." If you've never been through the divorce process before, it can be very daunting to attempt it without a lawyer to guide you.
While collaborative divorce may not be for everyone, it seems to be a very reasonable option, especially for those couples who aren't especially angry but just want to close one chapter of their lives and move on to the next. Perhaps the best thing about it is it puts the onus back on what is fair and fosters a true spirit of cooperation, rather than people fighting for everything they can get away with.
Click the following for a more thorough overview of collaborative divorce.