When it's time to divorce, spouses have important choices to make about how to proceed and what type of help they'll ask for from others -- including lawyers, mediators, and other professionals. Some people will go through a lengthy, high-conflict divorce with attorneys representing each side, trying to get everything they possibly can. Others will easily agree on how to divide their property and share custody of their children, and might only need help preparing the legal paperwork required to get divorced. But many people fall in the middle, and for those folks, mediation and collaborative divorce can be great options. (This article is about collaborative divorce. To learn about mediation, see Nolo's Divorce Mediation & Collaborative Divorce resource area.)
Divorcing spouses may have different points of view on issues like property division, custody, or support. But this doesn't mean that they have an actual dispute, which must be resolved by a third party. They may simply need help making the decisions together -- and perhaps advice about what's best for them.
Collaborative divorce (also called collaborative law, or collaborative practice) is a process in which you and your spouse negotiate an acceptable agreement with some professional help. You and your spouse each hire specially trained collaborative attorneys who advise and assist you in negotiating the settlement agreement. You meet separately with your own attorney and the four of you meet together on a regular basis, in "four-way" meetings. A collaborative divorce may also involve other professionals, such as child custody specialists or neutral accountants, who are committed to helping you settle your case without litigation.
Ordinarily, both spouses and their attorneys sign a "no court" agreement that requires the attorneys to withdraw from the case if a settlement is not reached and the case goes to court.
Eventually, you will have to have some contact with a domestic relations or family court to get legally divorced. Through collaboration, you can keep that contact brief and manageable. Once you reach agreement on all the issues, you'll make the legal part of the divorce a simple, uncontested procedure that doesn't require a trial or contentious hearings on points of evidence and pretrial maneuvers.
There are five ways that collaboration can cut down on the acrimony and expense of divorce, while giving you results that are at least as good as what you'd get in court. You and your spouse can:
Whether you and your spouse use collaboration from the very beginning of the divorce process or only for part of it, you will save time and money. Perhaps just as important, you will likely get through the divorce with your privacy and dignity reasonably intact.
For more information on collaborative divorce, and for help finding a collaborative lawyer in your area, see the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, at www.collaborativepractice.com.
For more information on negotiated divorce, using divorce mediation, and collaborative divorce, read Divorce Without Court: A Guide to Mediation & Collaborative Divorce, by Katherine Stoner (Nolo).