The mechanics of collaborative divorce

Many people in the San Francisco area who are contemplating a divorce are often held back by their fear of the anger, stress and recrimination that accompany many divorces. Mediated divorce settlements were devised to help couples agree on many, if not all, of the issues that required resolution in a divorce. But mediation does not work for everyone, and a new technique has arisen: collaborative divorce.

In a collaborative divorce, the divorcing couple uses a team of professionals to analyze issues such as property division, child support, spousal support and child custody and to draft a written agreement that sets out the solutions to the couple’s disagreements in these areas. Collaborative divorce and mediation are similar, but the significant differences are found in the procedures that occur before the couple and their team of collaborators begins to negotiate.

The couple must first agree that their principal goal is the settlement of all issues in the divorce without resort to mediation, third-party decision makers or, most importantly commencing litigation. The lawyers and other professionals must agree beforehand that they will withdraw if the couple cannot reach a satisfactory agreement. The couple must also agree that all communications are confidential and that none will be offered in evidence if the case leaves the collaborative process and winds up in court. A collaborative team will be chosen once the preliminary matters have been settled.

The divorcing spouses, their attorneys, and any other specialists then meet to plan for information gathering, making interim arrangements and discussing concerns. Each team is designed to serve the individual needs of the couple and their family. Once the preliminary matters are out of the way, the team begins the work of finding solutions that benefit both parties. The teams will meet as often as necessary, but meetings rarely include only “one side” in the case. In the rare event that the collaborative process does not produce an agreement, the couple is referred to the judicial system and perhaps to mediation.

Anyone who is interested in collaborative divorce may wish to consult an experienced divorce attorney for an appraisal of the technique and whether it will succeed in the current case.