You’ve heard of collaborative divorce. It sounds like it has significant benefits. But you’re not quite sure what “collaborative divorce” is. What makes it different from a “typical” divorce?

In simplest terms, a collaborative divorce means your attorneys, and any other professionals involved in the process, are going to collaborate to help you minimize the damage to your family as you and your spouse reach a legal settlement about how you will separate and divorce.

Attorneys who are collaborative?

When we think of attorneys, we tend to think of people who like to argue. This isn’t true. Most attorneys don’t like conflict any more than other people. But attorneys are trained to be adversarial because it’s the way jury trials work. Lawyers argue their cases to a jury, and the jury decides who wins. So lawyers argue. They’re trained to be adversarial.

When lawyers are adversarial in getting couples to reach a divorce settlement, well, it can tear even further the already frayed fabric of the family structures that need to survive the divorce. It can have a devastating impact on your own emotional health, your financial health, but most importantly, it can do substantial injury to the well-being of your children, no matter what their age. We know. We’ve seen it.

About twenty-five years ago, some forward-thinking attorneys realized it was a mistake for them to bring the adversarial process into divorce matters. They decided to be collaborative instead.

The commitment to be collaborative is confirmed in a Collaborative Participation Agreement. In this Agreement, both attorneys (the attorney representing the wife and the attorney representing the husband—or the attorneys representing each partner if a same-sex couple), pledge not to bring a lawsuit against the other spouse. Whew! You never wanted to go to court, now you don’t have to. But, if you get in the collaborative process and decide you do want to go through a court divorce, you can. It would just need to be with a different attorney.

So if no court, then what?

Once you and your spouse decide to use the collaborative process, the process itself is not complicated. You will be asked to gather all the financial, real estate, and other documents that the lawyers will need to help you figure out your financial plan going forward. You will decide whether you want to have a child specialist (who is a child psychologist) as part of the team to help you decide on your parenting plan going forward. You will consider whether there are any other professionals you want on the team (financial specialist, business valuator, CPA, appraiser). Then you and your spouse will meet with the two attorneys in a series of two-hour conferences. The conferences are typically spaced with one to three weeks in between. The attorneys guide you through the conversations you need to have to reach agreement on a marital settlement.

But will I be protected?

The beauty of the collaborative process is you get the benefit of reduced conflict, but at the same time the protection of an attorney making sure your interests are taken care of in any settlement. Attorneys who are experienced in and who have significant training in the collaborative process will expertly help you protect what really matters: your financial, your emotional, and your children’s well-being.