Have you heard of Collaborative Divorce? We sure hope so. As the leading Collaborative Divorce organization, the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals seeks to educate the public and family law professionals about this unique process. And yet, we know we have a long way to go to compete with the traditional court-based divorce that has been made famous in movies like War of the Roses and Kramer versus Kramer.
So, what is Collaborative Divorce? We’re glad you asked! Collaborative Divorce is a simple idea that starts with this basic concept: families don’t belong in court.
Maybe alleged criminals belong in court to suss out the truth. Or perhaps large insurance companies or multinational corporations belong in court when there are claims of wrongdoing. But families? Not so much.
You see, court is an adversarial setting. It pits party versus party, husband versus wife, mother versus father. Though many jurisdictions now have the concept of “no fault divorce,” the very setting of the courtroom invites spouses to find fault in the other spouse. Your best shot at making yourself look good is oftentimes to make your spouse look bad.
Who would want to go through that?
Keeping Families Out of Court
Fortunately, Collaborative Divorce keeps families out of court. Each spouse has their own separate attorney, and the two attorneys are there solely for the purpose of reaching an out-of-court agreement. This means that no time, no energy, and no money go towards preparing for court battles. The attorneys just want to help families move on with their lives as painlessly as possible. Plain and simple.
The spouses are bound by a contract, known as a Participation Agreement, that prohibits their Collaborative attorneys from being used in court. On the off chance that spouses are unable to reach an agreement and must proceed to court, their Collaborative attorneys withdraw and the spouses are free to hire trial counsel.
Incidentally, you can feel confident that the vast majority of spouses going through Collaborative Divorces reach a full agreement. In fact, a study by the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals showed that 86% of Collaborative Divorces are successfully completed without a court battle, while an additional 2% end in reconciliation between the spouses (see a summary of the study at the following link: https://www.collaborativepractice.com/sites/default/files/FAQ_IACPProfessionalPracticeSurveythrough7_6_10_0.pdf). Most of us who routinely provide Collaborative services have found similar, if not better, results for our clients.
The Emotional Side of Divorce
Part of the success we have had in Collaborative Divorce is based on a simple explanation: divorce is not merely a legal process. If anything, it is mostly an emotional process.
Think about it. When most people are first getting married, neither spouse can do any wrong. Each gives the other the benefit of the doubt. You are madly in love and the positives completely outweigh any negatives. So why bother?
But when you are headed towards divorce, it is often a different story. Anger and mistrust have built up, and the benefit of the doubt is gone. In fact, many spouses begin interpreting any action by the other spouse as an intentional slight against them. Oftentimes, this reaction is based out of fear. Fear of the future. Fear of the unknown. And fear of being taken advantage of.
Collaborative Divorce has an answer to this. We believe that there are professionals who are much better equipped than attorneys at dealing with this side of human psychology. These professionals have a specialty in family dynamics, interpersonal communication, and/or childhood development. Where there are children involved, they will also help you develop a parenting plan that is developmentally tailored to meet your children’s needs.
These professionals are brought into the Collaborative Divorce process to cut through the emotional baggage and help spouses reach an agreement. To help you see past the arguments of the past so you can get to your better future. To help you move on. To help you move forward. It is as simple as that.
As much as many of us believe that Collaborative Divorce is a better process for most families, it is not easy. Divorce is not easy. There are going to be painful discussions.
Not surprisingly, many of those difficult discussions will revolve around money. Disputes about money, after all, are one of the leading causes of divorce.
Fortunately, Collaborative Divorce has a clear and sensible solution: bring in an expert. Financial professionals are routinely retained to help ensure that both spouses have an understanding of their finances.
A common fear of divorcing spouses is that they don’t know the full extent of the family’s assets, or they may even suspect the other spouse is hiding funds. A financial professional can reassure both spouses or, if they see a discrepancy, point out the documents or information needed to ensure full transparency.
Retaining a Collaborative financial professional can also end up saving spouses money in their divorce. In many jurisdictions, spouses are required to exchange mandatory financial information and documents. In traditional court-based divorce, spouses do this through their attorneys, who work only with one spouse and so have incomplete information.
In Collaborative Divorce, both spouses can work with one neutral financial professional. Oftentimes, the financial professional will work at a lower rate at collecting and analyzing the financial disclosure, and they will do so faster than attorneys (as they deal in financial documents day in and day out). And, because they are working with both spouses, they will not need to request duplicate information for each spouse.
Yes, the financial professional will take the lead in the financial components of a Collaborative Divorce. Because it just makes sense.
So, there you have it. Collaborative Divorce is a simple idea based on the concept that families don’t belong in court. Emotions are not ignored, but rather they are incorporated into the process so that spouses can move forward in their lives. And families can benefit by a better understanding of their finances so that they can make smarter financial decisions more efficiently.
You may wonder where to begin. Well, if you are considering divorce, the first place to start is by contacting a Collaborative professional. You can find a directory of Collaborative professionals around the world at the following link: https://www.collaborativepractice.com/members.
And if you are a lawyer, mental health professional, financial professional, or mediator looking to get involved, the first step is to get trained. You can find a list of Introductory (sometimes called Basic) trainings and other trainings at the following link: https://www.collaborativepractice.com/community-event-calendar.
Either way, we hope that you will explore this simple and sensible process of Collaborative Divorce.
Adam B. Cordover is a member of the Board of Directors of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals. He is chair of the IACP Standards & Ethics Committee and Website Content Committee and former chair of the Research Committee. Adam is a co-editor and co-author of Building A Successful Collaborative Family Law Practice (ABA 2018, with Forrest S. Mosten) and a founding member of the Tampa Bay Collaborative Trainers. He is also on the Board of Directors of the Florida Academy of Collaborative Professionals and a co-chair and instructor for the inaugural Leadership Institute. Moreover, Adam is a former president of Next Generation Divorce, having grown it to become the largest Collaborative Practice group in North America. Adam practices exclusively in out-of-court dispute resolution and is the managing attorney of Family Diplomacy: A Collaborative Law Firm. http://FamilyDiplomacy.com