The Right Divorce Team Makes All the Difference
What Is Collaborative Divorce?
Collaborative divorce is a cooperative, interest-based approach to resolving family cases. You and your spouse are supported by a team of divorce professionals. The team typically includes a financial expert, a divorce coach, and attorneys. Information is exchanged and decisions are made in meetings you attend with members of the team.
The financial expert will help you gather, organize, and summarize relevant information related to your income, assets, and liabilities. He or she can help you develop monthly budgets for living in separate homes and sharing parenting expenses. He or she can assist with valuing retirement assets, such as 401(k) plans and pensions. The expert also can explain the tax consequences of the proposed division of assets and help you formulate proposals regarding spousal and child support.
The divorce coach’s role is to facilitate respectful communication between you and your spouse. Separation can be very stressful emotionally. Uncontrolled emotions and recriminations can be an impediment to a good settlement. The coach will make sure that each of you hears the other and that you move past hurt and blame.
Your collaborative attorneys will help you negotiate the legal aspects of a settlement. They may not represent you in a lawsuit involving support, custody, or the division of property.
Once agreements are reached, the attorneys work together in drafting a final, binding contract called a separation agreement and property settlement. The attorneys are also available to assist you in obtaining a judgment of absolute divorce — in most cases without having to go to court.
Key Features of the Collaborative Approach
Here are some of the features that make collaborative divorce unique:
- 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 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. The team works together to determine the documents and other information needed so that information is exchanged promptly and efficiently.
- Neutral Joint Experts
In addition to the team members, the parties may engage other neutral experts. For example, the parties may jointly hire a qualified appraiser to perform a business or pension valuation or to value real or personal property. A CPA can assist in analyzing the tax implications to each party of any potential settlement. In cases involving custody and visitation, a child psychologist can assist the parties in devising a realistic and practical parenting plan.
- Joint Settlement Conferences
Members of the collaborative team participate in joint settlement conferences. Joint conferences promote constructive communication. They are a time-efficient and cost-effective tool for moving the case toward settlement. Participants 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.
The collaborative process is private. So is the agreement reached between the parties.
The collaborative process is faster and, as a result, less expensive than litigation.
Choosing the Right Collaborative Attorney
Choosing a collaborative 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. He is a member of Triangle Collaborative Divorce Professionals, the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, and the North Carolina Bar Association’s Dispute Resolution Section Council. He limits his practice to helping spouses negotiate fair financial settlements and parenting plans that prioritize the needs of their children.