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Is A Collaborative Divorce Right For You

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By Nancy Stingle Perkoski

Most people believe there is no escaping a costly contentious divorce. There is an alternative. A collaborative divorce is a method of obtaining a divorce that allows both parties to negotiate all of the terms of a financial settlement and a parenting settlement without the need for litigation in court system. One of the most enticing characteristics of a collaborative divorce is that at the onset, the parties along with their collaborative team will make a commitment to be civil and respectful at all times during the collaborative process. A commitment to respectfulness and civility are at the forefront of the entire process which makes it highly likely that it will continue through the finalization of the divorce. During the collaborative process, the parties will have a series of meetings with their respective attorneys, as well as other members of the collaborative team such as divorce coaches, and financial planners. These meetings will occur outside of court in a private setting. When the parties reach a final settlement on all issues, only then will a court case be opened for the sole purpose of finalizing the divorce with a judge.

The first step in the collaborative process is for the parties to decide whether to start the collaborative divorce instead of filing for a traditional divorce. Once this decision is made, the parties should select a qualified collaborative divorce attorney trained in collaborative law.  Through their respective attorneys, the parties will sign a collaborative divorce commitment agreement known as a Participation Agreement which is essentially your agreement to refrain from litigating the issues in court and to resolve all differences prior to filing the divorce action.

Once the parties have chosen their respective collaborative attorneys, and signed the Participation Agreement, the parties can take the next step of building their collaborative divorce team.  The parties may choose to include a financial neutral to assist them in navigating the complex financial issues in their case. For example, the financial neutral may be asked to give recommendations to the parties as to the best way to divided retirement accounts or stock options. The financial neutral can calculate child support or spousal support. The financial neutral can help navigate the terms for the sale of the marital residence. It one party has not been actively involved in the family’s finances, that individual may choose to have an individual financial specialist.

The parties may also want to hire a single divorce coach to work with both parties, or each may want to have an individual divorce coach to work with throughout the collaborative process. The role of a divorce coach is to assist the parties in navigating the emotional issues of the divorce by giving them information and emotional support to guide them in making the best decisions for their futures. If children are involved, a child specialist may also be added to the team. Children may suffer the most from a drawn-out contentious divorce process. One of the main goals of the collaborative divorce process is to ensure that the minor children are a main focus and protected to the highest extent possible.  A child specialist, a person trained to assist children, can help the parents and the team devise a parenting schedule and parenting routine that will work for the entire family.

After the collaborative divorce team is in place, the parties can then share information with the entire team so that settlement negotiations can commence. Financial documents will be openly shared with all team members. The information should flow freely from team member to team member – transparency is key in the collaborative divorce process. The parties and team must commit to full transparency and confidentiality. After all of the information is exchanged, the issues that have been identified during the team meetings will be addressed and a settlement proposal for all issues, including financial and parenting will be memorialized in writing. The settlement will encompass all issues including child support, spousal maintenance, life insurance, health insurance, parenting time, rules of conduct for parenting, choice of school, divisions of assets, allocation of debt, and attorney’s fees.

Only after an agreement is reached on all issues and the settlement documents have been signed by the parties and their respective attorneys, will one party file the necessary papers with the clerk of court so that a final date can be set to have it approved by a judge. Usually, the collaborative divorce process will be more expeditious and therefor cost effective than a traditional litigious divorce process.

The advantages of the collaborative divorce process over the traditional route is that the parties maintain control over the process and the outcome. In the traditional divorce proceeding, decisions will be made by a third party – the judge. Once the divorce begins in the court system, the parties lose control of the timing, the process, the decision making, the disclosure of information, and the costs. The collaborative divorce process keeps the issues away from the court system and avoids having a judge make your decisions for you and your family. Better decision result where yo are able to navigate the divorce process with vital information and expertise through the help of your collaborative team.

The end of a marriage or a relationship can be tragic and emotional. The collaborative divorce process is a reasonable alternative to the traditional court procedure that will allow full transparency, and confidentiality to finalize a divorce in a civil and respectful manner with minimal stress and cost to the parties.

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