Understanding the Conflict Resolution Collaborative Law Divorce Process


This conflict resolution process was created in 1990 by a Minnesota divorce lawyer burned out on the traditional adjudicatory model. Frustrated at the toll traditional divorce took on both his clients and himself, he announced that he would no longer go to court and would only represent clients in a negotiation process aimed solely at creative settlements. If the process broke down he would refer his clients to litigation attorneys and withdraw. In his first two years he handled 99 cases. Only 4 did not reach a settlement.

He intuitively understood that divorce is not a legal issue with personal consequences, but a personal relationship issue with legal consequences. Other Minnesota divorce lawyers followed his lead developing the first Participation Agreement. Word spread and the practice was tried by lawyers in other cities and states and later to Canada and Australia. In Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada, family law litigation dropped by 85%.It turned out that eliminating the threat of litigation with its divisiveness and acrimony creates a significant change for everyone involved.

Cooperation, information sharing and creative problem solving replaced anger, fear and distrust.The use of jointly selected experts, rather than opposing ones, the elimination of filtering, obtaining all of the information at the same time but everyone and the use of differing professionals with specialized expertise, rather than one highly paid lawyer contributed to a reduction in legal fees.

Therapists and financial planners typically charge less on an hourly basis than lawyers and are more qualified to handle issues associated with their specialty.Costly court preparation and appearances, including time spent waiting for the case to be called, formal discovery and depositions are eliminated. (NOTE: lawyers typically charge at a higher rate for court appearances.) Full and accurate disclosure of all assets and liabilities replaced time consuming Motions to Compel and Motions for Sanctions.


The Collaborative Family Law Process

The first step is to discuss the idea with your spouse. Both of you must agree to participate. Next you each hire a collaborative divorce attorney. Each attorney will take initial information and determine that there are no barriers such as physical abuse, substance abuse, safety concerns or mental health issues. You sign the collaborative law divorce retainer agreement and receive a copy of a draft Participation Agreement. This is also the time to get your questions answered.

The typical process employs four stages and progresses through four way joint sessions. First, all the necessary information is gathered. Second, the information is analyzed, choices and options are generated and considered, and possible outcomes evaluated. The process requires a joint commitment to full disclosure. Anything you or your spouse want to see is made available. Stage three starts negotiation with the development of a settlement model. You and your attorneys work on developing comprehensive models for settlement encompassing yours and your spouse's goals, concerns, and interests. During stage four the settlement is negotiated. You have been thoroughly prepared and are aware of the range of possibilities.

Collaborative Law Divorce Requires

  • Full disclosure - everything is fully laid out no information is hidden.

  • Keeping the kids out of it while providing an advocate.

  • Mutually fair solutions - you both benefit and walk away with an agreement you consider fair.

  • Mutual respect - you both agree to act as mature adults.

  • No court.

  • Sharing of experts - hired jointly experts to help you consider and solve complicated issues. You split the cost of their fees.

Why Use Collaborative Law Divorce

Proponents argue that it is an effective way to enable you and your spouse to reach a fair solution and resolve differences. The collaborative approach requires you to treat the divorce as a sensible adult.Collaborative law looks at the grand scale and considers emotional as well as legal issues. It protects your kids from inconsiderate, unfair and hostile behavior, while providing an advocate for them.When to file the divorce, before or after, using the process is a decision on which you need legal advice because jurisdictions differ.

When Not to Use Collaborative Law Divorce

  • When you or are spouse cannot accept the separation and are not willing to move on.

  • When you or your spouse is not yet ready to take a longer view and focus on the future rather than rehashing the past.

  • When the relationship is not an important factor.

What You Can Expect From the Experts

  • Financial planners can create budgets, provide alternative spousal support options, and review property division alternatives taking into consideration assumed rates of return. They can provide long-term projections to allow you to examine the overall impact of these options.

  • Coaches, generally matched on gender lines, help you manage your anxiety and emotions so that you both can communicate effectively and work with each other during the joint sessions and in the future.

  • Child specialists or parenting coordinators meeting with your children as well as you and your spouse. They are able to provide you with information on common reactions kids have to divorce, discuss developmental issues, and raise practical considerations important in parenting arrangements. They can serve as a source of assistance in the future as your child's needs and circumstances change.

For more about divorcing collaboratively, click on one of the links below.

To learn more about other conflict resolution topics, click on any of the links below.


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