What Is Collaborative Divorce?
Collaborative divorce is a cooperative, interest-based approach to resolving family cases. Each spouse is represented by a specially-trained attorney for the purpose of negotiating a settlement, rather than going to court. The attorneys may not represent the parties in a lawsuit involving support, custody, or the division of property.
Information is exchanged and decisions are made in meetings that both spouses and their attorneys attend. Spouses may consult neutral experts, including financial professionals and child specialists, to help them understand their circumstances and to make choices between available options. Once agreements are reached, the parties and their attorneys work together in drafting a final, binding contract called a separation agreement and property settlement. The attorneys are also available to assist the parties in obtaining a judgment of absolute divorce.
Key Features of the Collaborative Approach
- Limited Scope Representation. Each participant in the collaborative process commits to resolving the issues through settlement negotiations only, without threatening or resorting to court action. The collaborative attorneys represent the clients for this limited purpose only. If the process breaks down, the collaborative attorneys are disqualified from further representation and will refer the clients to litigation counsel.
- Full, Honest, and Open Disclosure. The parties commit to full, honest, and open disclosure of all relevant facts and information. They and their attorneys work together to determine the documents and other information needed and voluntarily exchange that information promptly and efficiently.
- Neutral Joint Experts. The collaborative process encourages the use of neutral, jointly-retained experts. For example, the parties may jointly hire a qualified accountant to perform a business or pension valuation or an appraiser to value real property. Where there are difficult budgeting issues, the parties may engage a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst or other financial neutral to help both parties manage their expenses. A neutral CPA can assist in analyzing the tax implications to each party of any potential settlement. In cases involving custody and visitation, a neutral child psychologist can assist the parties in reaching a realistic and practical parenting plan.
- Joint Settlement Conferences. The parties and their attorneys participate in joint settlement conferences. Joint conferences promote constructive communication and are a time-efficient and cost-effective tool for moving the case toward settlement. The parties and attorneys commit to treating each other with respect, employing active listening skills, and constructing an agreement that adequately addresses each party's concerns.
- End Result is an Agreement. The attorneys draft a legally-binding separation agreement and property settlement based on agreements reached during the collaborative process.
- Privacy. The collaborative process is private, as is the agreement reached between the parties.
- Efficiency. The collaborative process is faster and, as a result, less expensive than litigation.
Choosing the Right Collaborative Attorney
The collaborative process will be guided by your attorney and your spouse's attorney. Choosing a lawyer you feel comfortable with is important. That person should possess a sound knowledge of North Carolina family law. He or she should also be an excellent listener and an effective communicator. In addition, he or she should be creative, because solutions are not limited to what a court might order.
Sean Vitrano has practiced collaborative family law since 2010. His practice is limited to helping spouses negotiate fair financial settlements and parenting plans that prioritize the needs of their children.