Collaborative divorce: The future of family law

By Dorothy Wolbert, Co-Chair, Burns White Family Law

Often when I meet with clients, they tell me about the horror stories of their sibling, neighbor, or friend’s divorces.  While they certainly vary, some of the common complaints involve extremely expensive divorces, spouses getting kicked out of their houses, lengthy custody battles with children testifying in court, protection from abuse actions and police involvement, and hurtful allegations between spouses. The most common of them all is that the divorces drag on for what seems like forever.  During these initial consultations, they express concerns about these situations happening in their own cases, and they seek my counsel to avoid them.

I recently attended and completed certification for the collaborative divorce process, and I believe this process is the future of family law cases.  The collaborative process can be used in ANY family law case, including divorce, custody, support and/or protection from abuse cases. It takes the control out of the court’s hands and puts it back into the hands of the individuals involved, enabling them to decide their own fate, not a third person.

The collaborative process is interest-based negotiation, which means the parties meet to recognize and discuss the particular issues at hand, and then work together to find a mutually acceptable solution. It involves a team approach consisting of each party’s collaboratively trained attorney, and potentially other neutral professionals such as a CPA, financial advisor, and/or a mental health professional.  This approach de-escalates conflict between the parties and improves communication.  The parties commit to settling their case outside of court, so neither party will have to attend court, endure cross examination, or involve their children in a very often ugly, public battle.  Any decisions made are a result of the parties working together to address their own concerns, rather than a judge, master, or hearing officer deciding who made the better argument.

The collaborative process builds skills and resources for life post-divorce.  It involves quicker resolutions.  The entire process can often be completed in less than six months, which provides a stark contrast to waiting the mandatory two years when the parties cannot agree on the settlement of the divorce action.  Additionally, the court’s busy calendar often results in court appearances being scheduled several months out.  Instead of having to wait several months in between court appearances to address their respective concerns, collaborative divorce allows the parties to start meeting right away to address time-sensitive issues, such as who will stay in the house, who will pay the bills, how will custody work, etc.  Meetings are typically two hours in length and scheduled two-three weeks apart to address the issues outlined in the initial consultation. As a result of these efficient and consistent meetings, the collaborative process is less expensive than litigation overall.  Most importantly, it creates options that satisfy both mutual and individual interests.

While couples may not have control over the demise of their relationship, the divorce strategy process you choose has a bearing on your family, this includes how public versus how private the separation is, which issues are addressed first, and resolutions based upon mutual interests, etc.  These important factors are what can be controlled by using the collaborative process.

The past is where the court controlled the future of your family; the past is where your case drags out for more than two years; the past is the waiting game in between court appearances and the lack of scheduling control; and the past is not communicating with your ex.  The present and the future are taking control of your lives, your destiny, and working toward a mutually beneficial settlement.  Don’t let the end of your marriage be the end of your family.  Call today to discuss your options under collaborative law.