A collaborative divorce is a newer option in family law. It offers more legal protection than mediation, but is generally more affordable and less time-consuming than a court trial.
What is collaborative divorce?
Collaborative divorce recruits the help of lawyers specifically trained to manage conflict and negotiate a settlement. Instead of an adversarial environment where one spouse comes out the winner and the other the loser, collaborative lawyers try to reach “win-win” settlements.
If you and your spouse can’t agree on one or more issues, you can always take your case to court, but you’ll need to use a different lawyer and law firm. That way, it’s in your lawyer’s best interests to try to reach a peaceful settlement rather than dragging it out in the courtroom.
What is a participation agreement?
A participation agreement (PA) is a signed agreement where you and your spouse commit to settling the divorce outside of court. In other words, you agree to work in good faith to pursue a settlement that works best for everyone.
The agreement also usually states that both parties must agree on neutral experts, such as financial counselors or mental health professionals, if needed. And everyone agrees that if the collaborative divorce process breaks down, the divorcing couple must use new attorneys if the case is moved to family court.
How much does a collaborative divorce cost?
A collaborative divorce will likely run you over $10,000, according to a 2019 Martindale-Nolo Research survey. While it’s not as affordable as a DIY divorce, it’s still more affordable than litigation, which costs over $20,000, on average. But how much you pay comes down to your lawyer’s hourly fee, the number of third-party experts called and how many issues you need to resolve.
How does the collaborative divorce process work?
In a collaborative divorce, each spouse and their lawyer first meet privately to prepare. Then, all four parties meet and hash out the nitty-gritty details of each issue. Once you’ve reached an agreement, the lawyers will draft out the necessary legal forms.
Here’s an overview of what happens in a collaborative divorce:
- Agree to a collaborative divorce. You and your spouse agree to this divorce method.
- Hire attorneys. Each party hires an attorney that specializes in collaborative law.
- Sign the participation agreement. Both spouses read and sign the participation contract.
- Discuss goals with your attorney. Each spouse meets with their lawyer privately to prepare for negotiations.
- Negotiate. All four parties meet and hash out the nitty-gritty details of each issue in a series of meetings.
- Come to an agreement. Once you’ve discussed all the major divorce issues and come to an agreement, the lawyers draft out the necessary legal forms.
- Finalize and sign the settlement agreement. Review and sign off on the divorce settlement agreement.
How can I use an online divorce service to get a collaborative divorce?
Instead of in-person meetings, an online divorce service that specializes in collaborative divorce uses virtual meetings. If you need to speak to your attorney privately, you’ll separate into another video conference to confer.
Once you’ve reached an agreement, the lawyers will draft up the legal docs. Depending on where you live, you may be able to sign and notarize the legal forms online. And many online divorce services will then file the divorce papers on your behalf.
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5 advantages of collaborative divorce
Here are some benefits of opting for collaborative divorce:
- More affordable. Collaborative divorce is usually cheaper than a court trial.
- Faster. Since both parties are working together to come to an agreement, the process is usually faster than battling it out before a judge.
- More private. Unlike litigation that is usually open to the general public, collaborative divorce meetings are held privately between you and your spouse, along with your respective lawyers.
- Legal advocate. Unlike mediation and arbitration that don’t require lawyers, your collaborative divorce attorney is your advocate and serves to protect your interests.
- Less stressful. Collaborative divorces are designed to find an amicable solution for everyone — eliminating a stressful, mud-slinging environment.
What to watch out for
Beware of the following limitations of collaborative divorce:
- Attorney fees. You can’t get out of high lawyer costs. And if communication fails and you end up going to court, you’ll need to hire a new attorney and end up with an even larger legal bill.
- Operating on good faith. During negotiations, you must trust that your spouse will fully disclose all of their assets and debts.
- May not be a good fit in cases involving domestic violence. Some lawyers may not take your case if there’s a history or allegations of domestic abuse. Since collaborative divorce relies on open and honest communication, a power imbalance or undue influence can break down the process.
Is collaborative divorce right for me?
You and your spouse might want to consider collaborative divorce if you:
- Want legal representation
- Can communicate positively and respectfully with each other
- Are willing to negotiate a settlement that works for everyone
- Want to keep your divorce out of the courtroom
Collaborative divorce is an alternative to a court trial, but still allows you to consult an attorney to reach an amicable settlement. But if the process fails, you might end up going to trial after all.
Learn more about how to protect your finances when getting divorced with our step-by-step divorce guide.