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Your Money: Collaborative Divorce

A Team Approach To Settle Disputes Not A Court Approach

Divorcing couples and their families’ buckle under the financial and emotional stress that a traditional divorce requires. The practice of Collaborative Divorce is gaining popularity as a viable and possibly a healing alternative to the traditional divorce. It has been around since the1990’s but has only recently gained popularity.

Collaborative Divorce is a process bringing together Family Lawyers, Mediators, Mental Health Professionals, Financial Advisors, and others trained to help couples reach divorce settlements without going to court.  It removes the “fight and win” element of many divorce proceedings, and replaces it with an approach that consists of mutual respect and team problem solving.

During the collaborative process, parties may utilize the services of collaborative attorneys, mental health professionals, financial experts, and others.  In the collaborative process, the goal is to avoid going court.  If that should occur, the collaborative law process terminates and any collaborative professionals who may have been involved in the case, are no longer involved. Christy L.O'Donnell, a partner in the Law offices of DONOROVICH~O'DONNELL in Santa Clarita states,  "The goal of divorce should always be the creation of two whole families from one, without depleting a couples financial resources."

There are many advantages to using the collaborative process. The process is usually less time consuming and more cost effective than going through the court adversarial method.

This approach is based on a team effort - where the divorcing couple, any lawyers who may be involved, and the divorce coaches (who are licensed mental health professionals) work together to resolve whatever is in dispute.  Disputes may relate to support, division of assets or parenting of the children. Specially trained collaborative lawyers, divorce coaches, child specialists, mediators, and financial advisors may work on the team, depending upon each unique situation. 

The team of professionals is assembled to help the parties understand and resolve their disputes in many different contexts.  The disputes may be legal disputes or emotional and include: mental health counselors/coaches for each party, a mediator, neutral financial advisor, accountant, parenting specialist, child specialist, vocational expert, and appraiser, if needed.  Mental health professionals are important in the process, and they can function as a divorce coach, communication coach, and/or case manager. 

Much of the adversarial quality of a litigious divorce is due to lack of communication or miscommunication.  Dr. Elena Michaels, a Collaborative Professional in Santa Clarita states, “Most often there were communication issues in the marriage.  During the restructuring of the relationship and as the marriage is terminated, the couple can actually learn to communicate more effectively.  The relationship may even evolve into a sort of friendship, which can be especially helpful if there are children involved.  Couples often become better parents as they move through the collaborative process and enhance their communication skills.  Their children benefit directly when couples choose the collaborative process.”

Dr. Michaels continues, “Not all cases required all of the collaborative professionals.  Some cases can be done using only a divorce/communication coach, with the filing being done by a legal document assistant (LDA).  Perhaps a mediator would be involved, or even a consulting attorney.  A consulting attorney is not retained by either the husband or the wife, but is brought into the case to clarify the law regarding certain issues, which are explained to both parties at the same time.”

The Collaborative Process uses informal discussions and conferences, which may be attended by spouses, any attorneys, a mediator, divorce coaches, or the case manager.  A case manager is a mental health professional who stays in contact with the couple and all professionals involved, moving the process along.  The case manager may also bring into the case, any collaborative professionals who might be needed.  Dr. Michaels states, “The goal is to settle all issues in a respectful manner, keeping in mind the interests of any children who may be involved.”  The Collaborative Process relies on an atmosphere of honesty, cooperation, integrity and professionalism. It requires that both spouses, with the assistance of the collaborative team, provide all pertinent documents and information relating to the issues to be settled. In the event that experts are necessary, it encourages the use of experts who work on behalf of both parties as the collaborative professionals work together toward a shared resolution.

It takes a strong commitment on both sides to be honest and open in exchanging information, but if the spouses can agree to use the collaborative process, it is a viable alternative to divorce litigation.  Dr. Michaels states, “This process is not for everyone.  It is only for intelligent people who want to do what is in the best interests of their children as well as themselves.  Adversarial divorce processes take their toll on everyone involved, with both parties and any children who may be involved, suffering the emotional consequences, which in some cases are very destructive.  If a couple is able to collaborate, doing so would hugely benefit them, and it is much more cost effective.”  Couples can turn their loss into gain. When a settlement is reached amicably, it feels much more like a 'win-win' situation.

Read more of Julie Sturgeon's articles by clicking here.