Reality Check: Collaborative Divorce is Still Divorce

I am a huge proponent of the Collaborative Divorce process.  It offers more privacy, more support, and less fighting than a traditional court-based divorce.  But I think there is a misperception of the process because it has the term “Collaborative” in it.  Collaborative does not mean easy.  It is still divorce, and divorce is tough.  This post explains Collaborative Divorce, provides a reality check on challenges, and also explains why everyone facing a family law issue should still look into it.

What is Collaborative Divorce?

Collaborative Divorce (also known as Collaborative Family Law, Collaborative Practice, and the Collaborative Process) starts with a simple premise:  your private family disputes should not be resolved in a public courthouse.  But, still, you and your spouse should have access to separate, independent legal advice to help you make decisions in one of the toughest moments of your life that will affect the rest of your life.

So both you and your spouse have separate lawyers in a Collaborative Process.  But unlike traditional attorneys, we Collaborative Lawyers focus solely on helping you reach an out-of-court agreement.  This means that no time, energy, or money will be focused on gearing up for a court battle.  The Collaborative Lawyers’ interests are aligned with your interests:  If we help you reach an agreement, we succeed; if the lawyers cause unnecessary fighting and you are unable to reach an agreement, we get fired (this is known as the “Disqualification Clause“).

Fortunately, the vast majority of Collaborative Divorce matters come to a full resolution.  In my experience, 90%+ of Collaborative matters have concluded with a full agreement in place.  So though we can never guarantee that you and your spouse will reach an agreement, chances are that you will.

I personally think there is such a high success rate because Collaborative Divorce tends to be a holistic process.  We oftentimes use a neutral Facilitator, who is a licensed mental health professional, to help navigate the inevitable emotional outbursts that come with going through divorce.  If you have children, the Facilitator will work with you and your spouse to develop a parenting plan that is tailored to your child’s developmental needs.

Additionally, there is typically a neutral Financial Professional.  The use of a Financial Professional can be critical as many divorces are the result of financial disputes and take so long because one spouse just does not understand the family finances.  The Financial Professional helps ensure transparency by gathering the financial information necessary for both you and your spouse to make informed decisions.  This professional also will take the time to help you or your spouse understand the family finances, empowering you to reach an agreement more quickly.

Collaborative Divorce is Not Easy

I truly believe that Collaborative Divorce is better for most families as compared to traditional divorce.  And yet, I must acknowledge that it is not easy.

The disputes that led to you and/or your spouse’s decision to divorce will not simply go away because you enter into a Collaborative Process.  If you have different views on money, or parenting, or other issues, those opinions will still be there.  But the way Collaborative Divorce helps resolve disputes can make a lifetime of difference.

In traditional divorce, you learn to resolve disputes by making arguments in front of a judge about why you are right and your spouse is wrong, and you leave it to a judge decide the outcome.  This is why, in traditional divorce, it is common for litigation to continue on many years after the divorce is finalized.  This becomes a pattern: get into a fight, make arguments, let a judge decide, be unhappy with the judge’s decision, get into a fight, make arguments, let a judge decide, etc.

On the other hand, in Collaborative Divorce, you learn to resolve disputes by sitting down with your spouse and working it out.  And you do have additional support if needed (for example, working with the Facilitator on future changes to a co-parenting plan).  Still, in my experience, the vast majority of families are able to resolve disputes on their own after divorce without the need for additional help.

I just want to be up front and acknowledge that Collaborative Divorce is not always a smooth process.  There are still emotions.  There are still disagreements.  There are still miscommunications.  There can even still be outbursts.  But because you and your spouse’s lawyers are working with the other professionals as a team, rather than as “opposing counsel,” these things likely will be worked out in a way that you can live with and live up to.

How Do I Learn More?

If you are considering divorce, your first step should be to speak with a Collaborative Professional.  Your family is worth it.

Adam B. Cordover is co-author of an American Bar Association book on Collaborative Family Law and a member of the Board of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals.  He is recipient of the Inaugural “Visionary Award” of the Florida Academy of Collaborative Professionals.  Adam represents clients throughout the State of Florida.