1. What are the benefits of collaborative divorce?
The benefits of collaborative divorce are many. First and foremost, you avoid going to court, which for many people is intimidating and even traumatic. With collaborative, you are in control of the outcome, as opposed to the traditional litigation process, where a stranger - a judge or a master - makes major decisions about your family for you. Another very important factor is that your children are kept out of court and out of the litigation process. Instead of submitting disputes over your children to a judge, they are handled where they more properly belong - by a child specialist working with you and your spouse to develop a co-parenting plan suitable for your family. The collaborative process fosters and encourages cooperation and communication, as opposed to traditional litigation, which very frequently leads to years of acrimony, anger and bitterness.
2. How does the process work?
You and your spouse hire your own collaborative lawyer and you each of you meet privately with your lawyer. Your attorneys will speak to each other and draft an agenda for your first four way collaborative meeting. At this first meeting you and your spouse and both attorneys agree not to go to court and other important issues are addressed. Additional experts, such as a therapist, child specialist and financial professional may join the process. Your individual family's needs and expectations are the focus of the team with the best interests of your children being paramount. Additional four way meetings are scheduled, documents are exchanged, and needed appraisals are agreed upon. We all work together to complete the process, culminating in a written agreement and a divorce decree.
3. Why would I want to choose collaborative for my divorce?
The better question is, why would you not choose collaborative for your divorce? Divorce is a painful and expensive process. The collaborative model aims to minimize the pain and the expense as much as possible. A collaborative divorce starts the parties off in their new lives without anger and hatred, and with a foundation for being able to communicate and work together in the future. This is especially important if you have young children, since you will continue to have contact with your spouse for many years to come as you work together to raise your children.
4. Is a collaborative divorce faster than a traditional divorce?
Normally, yes. Where there is a consensual, no-fault divorce, where the parties are actively working to reach an agreement, the process will be much shorter than when you're waiting for court dates, master's hearings, and the like. Again, in collaborative, you control the timing and the progress, as opposed to being controlled by a court schedule.
5. Is a collaborative divorce less costly than a traditional divorce?
I like to think of the cost of a divorce in terms of financial and emotional cost. Usually, a collaborative divorce will be less expensive financially because you are not paying an attorney for multiple court appearances. When there are multiple team members involved, the actual financial cost may not be substantially less. However, there is no question that in the collaborative process, the emotional cost - for both you, your spouse, and your family - is substantially less.
6. How long will the process take?
Each case is unique, and the length will depend on the complexity of the issues and the difficulty in resolving them. The more the parties work together, and cooperate in providing necessary documents, meeting with other professionals, etc., the faster the process will be. Normally, a collaborative case will take less than one year, which is still significantly shorter than the traditional litigation process.
7. What if my spouse doesn't cooperate and I want to go to court?
It is important to remember that in signing an agreement to engage in the collaborative process, you do not give up any rights, including the right to go to court. If it becomes apparent that your spouse is not cooperating with the process, and you need the security of court orders, you always have the option to withdraw from the process and engage in litigation - after having retained a new attorney.
8. Isn't this only for cases where everyone agrees?
Not at all. While collaborative is not recommended for cases where there is physical abuse or a high amount of conflict, it is common for people going through divorce to experience anger, hurt and frustration. In that situation, collaborative gives the attorneys options not otherwise available in traditional litigation. If a party's anger starts to overwhelm the work that needs to be done, the attorneys will recommend that one or both parties see a therapist to deal specifically with the anger, so that the process can continue.
9. How is the collaborative process different from mediation?
In mediation, the parties meet with a mediator, who is a neutral third party who helps to facilitate communication between the parties so that, hopefully, they will be able to reach agreement. Generally, attorneys do not accompany their clients to mediation sessions. A mediator does not make decisions for the parties; they reach their own decisions. A mediator is not permitted to give legal advice to the parties, nor is he/she able to tell the parties whether a proposed agreement is in their best interests. In collaborative, the sessions are conducted with the parties and their attorneys, who are able to advise their clients and advocate for them. Sometimes mediation can be included in the collaborative process, such as when the parties reach an impasse on a particular issue.
In traditional litigation, the parties and their counsel often meet for the first time on opposite sides of a table in a support or custody conference. Unfortunately, there is something about going to court that brings out people's anger. In collaborative, the orientation is completely different. For example, you are not fighting over your children; you are working with a child specialist to develop a co-parenting plan that will be best for them. Through engaging in the process, you are given a foundation of cooperation, so that you can continue cooperating and communicating in the future.
Bonnie Raynes, Esquire is a sole practitioner with offices in Langhorne and Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. She represents clients, mediates custody disputes and acts as collaborative counsel in family law matters including divorce, support, custody and equitable distribution in Montgomery, Bucks and Philadelphia counties. She may be reached at (215)830-1439 and email@example.com.
Joanne E. Kleiner, Esquire is a sole practitioner with offices in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. She has many years of experience as collaborative counsel, mediator, and litigator in all areas of family law, including divorce, custody, support and equitable distribution in Montgomery, Bucks and Philadelphia counties. She is a firm believer that family law issues should be resolved without the intervention of judges and courts. You may reach her at 215-886-1266, and firstname.lastname@example.org .