What Is Collaborative Divorce?
Updated December 3, 2023
If you are considering ending your marriage, you may have heard of the collaborative process. But what is a collaborative divorce?
Please read on to learn what you need to know.
Collaborative Divorce Definition
Collaborative divorce is a form of alternative dispute resolution, or “ADR.” Connecticut’s default approach to divorce is a litigated divorce — we also call it a “traditional divorce.” In other words, collaborative is an alternative approach to divorce litigation where both spouses commit to resolving their differences outside of court with the collaborative process.
Read: ADR & Divorce
Understanding Collaborative Divorce
Collaborative divorce is based on the belief that the parties involved are the best equipped to make decisions about their own lives. It recognizes that divorce is not just a legal process but also an emotional and financial one. By addressing these aspects holistically, collaborative divorce aims to create a more comprehensive and satisfactory outcome for all parties.
In a collaborative divorce, each spouse hires their own collaboratively trained attorney to guide them through the process. Additionally, other professionals such as financial experts, child specialists, and therapists may be brought in to provide support and guidance. This multidisciplinary approach acknowledges all aspects of the divorce, intending to result in better, more informed decisions.
The Collaborative Process
The collaborative divorce process typically begins with each spouse hiring a collaboratively trained attorney. These attorneys are specifically trained in negotiation and conflict resolution techniques conducive to reaching mutually beneficial agreements. The attorneys guide and advocate their clients, helping them navigate the process and understand their options. Their attorneys cannot threaten litigation.
Once the attorneys are in place, the spouses and their attorneys will participate in a series of meetings to discuss the issues at hand. These meetings are structured to encourage open dialogue and problem-solving rather than adversarial confrontation. Through these discussions, the spouses will work towards reaching agreements on various aspects of their divorce, such as property division, child custody, and support. Often, other collaborative professionals attend.
In a collaborative divorce, the spouses and their collaborative team enter into a participation agreement that, among other things, contains a “no court pledge.” In other words, the parties commit not to turn to the court — and not even to threaten to turn to the court — to resolve the issues in the divorce. Moreover, to give this contract “teeth,” both collaborative attorneys commit that neither will represent either spouse in litigation should the collaborative process break down.
Read: Settlement & Divorce
Collaborative Divorce in CT
Connecticut’s most common collaborative team members are each spouse’s collaborative divorce attorney, a collaborative coach/parenting specialist, and a financial neutral.
Collaborative Attorneys Connecticut
In Connecticut collaborative divorces, each spouse has their own attorney. Collaborative divorce attorneys are trained in the collaborative process. They give their clients legal advice and commit to supporting the collaborative process.
Collaborative Coach/Parenting Specialist
In some states, it’s common to have two separate professionals function as the collaborative coach and parenting specialist. In Connecticut, we generally have one person serve in both roles. Unlike the collaborative attorneys, who each represent a spouse, the collaborative coach/parenting specialist is neutral. Generally speaking, collaborative coaches and parenting specialists are mental health professionals such as licensed psychologists, marriage and family therapists (LMFT), or social workers (LCSW).
The coach helps keep conversations constructive and focused on the spouses’ interests. Just because a divorce is collaborative doesn’t mean there aren’t disagreements and high emotions. The coach is there to help navigate that, which helps set up the spouses with communication tools that will serve them well into the future, including co-parenting their children. Sometimes, coaches meet with the whole team and the spouses together. Sometimes, they meet with just the parties together or even one-on-one. The collaborative model is flexible, and the team adapts it to each family.
When there are children, the parenting specialist’s role focuses on them. The parenting specialist might help the parties resolve issues related to parenting, including developing a parenting plan specifically designed for the needs of their family.
Like collaborative coaches and parenting specialists, the financial neutrals don’t work for either spouse. Instead, they are neutrals who work for both spouses. They are typically CPAs or financial planners and, like all professionals in the collaborative team, have completed special collaborative training. They focus on helping both spouses understand and make decisions about the financial aspects of their divorce, such as property division, alimony, and child support when there are kids. The financial neutral may meet with the spouses individually or together and may also participate in full team meetings with everyone present.
Collaborative Divorce vs. Traditional Divorce
You can resolve all the issues in a divorce in a collaborative process. Those include:
Post judgment issues and legal separation can also be handled collaboratively. In addition, the spouses can address any problems that arise during a divorce — for example, living arrangements — through the collaborative process.
The significant difference between a collaborative divorce and a litigated divorce is that a collaborative divorce is resolved outside of court. Both spouses have to agree to enter into an ADR process like collaborative divorce or mediation. If they disagree, traditional divorce litigation is the default.
The collaborative team supports the spouses in making their own decisions. In a traditional divorce, the court will resolve what the parties don’t agree on through negotiation. For example, a court hearing on “pendente lite” issues might arise while the divorce is pending to a full divorce trial.
Collaborative Divorce vs. Uncontested Divorce
In Connecticut, there’s no such thing as an “uncontested divorce.” In Connecticut, there is what’s called an uncontested final divorce hearing. That means the parties negotiated and reached a settlement agreement on all the issues that must be decided in their divorce. We often refer to this as low-conflict litigation. On the other hand, if you file a divorce and don’t reach settlement agreements on every issue, you will wind up going before a judge and litigating.
Collaborative Divorce vs. Mediation
Mediation is also a form of ADR. Some couples agree to opt out of traditional, litigated divorce to mediate their divorce. The mediator is often an experienced divorce attorney and a trained mediator. Although the mediator may be an attorney, a mediator does not represent either spouse. Accordingly, the mediator does not give either spouse legal advice — but can provide legal information. The mediator is a neutral who helps the parties reach agreements.
In a collaborative divorce, spouses have the benefit of their own attorneys. We encourage mediation participants to retain their own separate attorneys to serve as their mediation review counsel. However, the collaborative attorney takes a much more active role in the collaborative divorce process than the review counsel in mediation. If mediation breaks down, your review counsel can serve as your attorney in your divorce litigation. In a collaborative divorce, your attorney cannot represent you in court.
In addition, while it’s possible to involve a financial neutral and parenting specialist in a mediation, those roles are already “baked into” a collaborative divorce.
Benefits of Collaborative Divorce
As with all ADR, collaborative divorces offer increased control over outcomes and costs. The spouses get the advantage of a depth of specialized knowledge from the collaborative team members as they make decisions for themselves and their children. In addition, a collaborative divorce can set the tone for positive, constructive communication in the future. Finally, the fact that the spouses cannot keep their collaborative lawyers in subsequent divorce litigation tends to encourage them to stick with the process, stay at the table, and really try to overcome impasses.
Disadvantages of Collaborative Divorce
Collaborative divorces require quite a bit of calendar coordination, and scheduling meetings with multiple busy participants requires some effort. While one of the advantages of collaboratives is that the attorneys do not stay with the clients if the collaborative ends before a complete settlement agreement is reached, this can also be a disadvantage. Some people do not want to start over with a new lawyer.
Communication and Conflict Resolution
Effective communication is essential in collaborative divorce. Spouses must express their needs and concerns openly and honestly while also listening to the other party’s perspective. This can be challenging, especially when emotions are running high. However, effective communication and conflict resolution techniques can help them navigate difficult conversations and find common ground.
In collaborative divorce, the goal is not to “win” arguments but to find solutions that benefit both spouses. This requires a commitment to compromise and a willingness to let go of rigid positions. By focusing on the future and the best interests of everyone involved, couples can work through their differences and come to agreements that promote long-term stability and happiness.
Read: BATNA & Divorce
Is Collaborative Divorce a Good Idea
If both spouses are willing to consider collaborative divorce, that’s a good sign. An experienced lawyer who understands all the approaches to divorce in Connecticut can help you weigh the pros and cons of each approach, given the specifics of your situation and your goals for your life. For some people, collaborative divorce is the best approach. Other families’ situations might be better suited to mediation or even litigation.
How Much Does Collaborative Divorce Cost?
Collaborative divorces involve a lot of professionals. At first blush, this can seem more expensive than only hiring an attorney. It’s important to remember a couple of things, though. First, each team member is keyed into and experienced in their discipline — mental health, children, finances, and law — which can create efficiency. Not everyone has to be at every meeting. In addition, in traditional litigation, you might see two financial experts or two children’s experts — one for each spouse. All in all, that’s much more expensive than sharing an expert. Finally, remember that when agreements aren’t reached outside of court and litigation is high-conflict, it’s almost always the costliest approach.
How to Find the Right Collaborative Divorce Attorney
Choosing the right collaborative divorce attorney to support you in your collaborative divorce is crucial to the success of the process. Collaborative divorce requires a unique skill set that goes beyond traditional legal representation. It is important to find attorneys who are experienced in collaborative law and have a strong commitment to the principles of open communication and cooperation.
In addition to attorneys, other professionals may be involved in the collaborative divorce process. These professionals can provide valuable expertise in specific areas such as finance, child custody, and emotional well-being. When selecting these professionals, it is vital to consider their experience, credentials, and ability to work collaboratively with all parties involved.
For more information about Connecticut divorce and family law, check out our Divorce Information and Facts. If you have questions or want to learn more about how our team of divorce attorneys can help you, please contact us here.