Is Collaborative Divorce different from hiring a lawyer to negotiate a settlement?
Yes. Collaborative Divorce has a specific structure and protocols to help you reach agreement. Negotiations are private with face-to-face discussions to help understanding, the information is exchanged to ensure everyone has the information needed to reach agreement, and all are held to a high standard of conduct and integrity. The only job of your Collaborative Divorce lawyer is to help you reach agreement. Because Collaborative lawyers cannot go to court on contested matters, everyone has a strong incentive to work towards agreements. Commonly, other trained professionals are integrated into the professional team, including a financial specialist, child specialist, and divorce coach. Washington law gives specific protections to participants in the Collaborative law process. All of this serves to enhance the likelihood of reaching agreement.
How does the Collaborative Divorce process actually work?
You and your spouse each hires a Collaborative lawyer, and all sign a Participation Agreement that sets important ground rules—including transparently providing information, committing to respectfully discuss concerns, and agreeing that no one will threaten to go to court. You meet privately with your own lawyer to prepare. The negotiation discussions occur with you and your lawyers present. A financial specialist and a divorce coach typically form an interdisciplinary team with the lawyers, and you and your spouse meet with those professionals. All work together to discuss options to address the priorities of each of you. After considering the advantages and disadvantages of the options, including long-term impacts, you and your spouse choose what is agreeable to both of you. The lawyers then prepare the paperwork to formalize you agreements.
How does the structure of a Collaborative Divorce differ from other negotiations?
Collaborative Law is structured to help you reach agreements. By contrast, most conventional lawyer-assisted negotiations are superimposed on the adversarial legal system. Here are some of the unique aspects of Collaborative Law:
- Collaborative Law has ground rules and legal requirements that are designed to ensure everyone has the information they need, and to help create a safe and unpressured environment to address concerns and explore settlement options.
- A basic premise in Collaborative Law is that clients are in the best position to make decisions about their futures, and can express their views, priorities, wishes and desires much more accurately than if filtered through lawyers.
- The measure of success in Collaborative Law is a durable agreement. Because emotions in a divorce often run deep, Collaborative Law attorneys encourage clients to take time with any tentative agreements before finalizing them, to help ensure that agreements are not clouded by normal short-term emotional flurries, but on core values and priorities.
- Experienced Collaborative Law attorneys can become settlement specialists, due to the considerable time and effort they may spend studying and working with human conflict. Lawyers who are qualified for Collaborative Divorce have specified training in dispute resolution.
Many of the differences are in the table HERE.
Is Collaborative Law mostly for couples who are in agreement and get along?
Not at all. Collaborative Law is designed to help people who have disagreements or different understandings, including significant disputes. What each client does need to agree to is using the Collaborative Divorce process.
What’s the difference between Collaborative Divorce and mediation? In mediation, a neutral mediator acts as the facilitator. A mediator cannot give legal advice. To maintain impartiality, a divorce mediator cannot provide too much individualized support to any one client. In Collaborative Divorce, each client has her or his own Collaborative lawyer, who can provide individualized support, and legal advice.
Is Collaborative Divorce legally recognized?
Yes. In Washington, it is one of the few dispute resolution processes that are specifically approved by the law, embodied in the Uniform Collaborative Law Act (UCLA). This also means that Collaborative Divorce has legal protections that are not available in any other divorce process.
Can my spouse and I do a Collaborative Divorce with only one lawyer?
Washington law on Collaborative Law requires each of you to have your own lawyer. Additionally, under legal ethics rules, in a divorce you are considered to have a conflict of interest. If you want to both work with a single professional, you may wish consider mediation.
Do Collaborative Law cases take long?
Most Collaborative Law cases settle in a fraction of the professional time consumed in conventional adversarial representation going to a settlement conference. In a Collaborative Law case, 100% of effort (from beginning to agreement) is spent on helping clients reach agreement, and no effort is wasted on preparing for court. In terms of calendar months, Collaborative Law cases may take less, the same, or more time; it all depends on how quickly you and your spouse are ready to settle.
If the Collaborative Law process isn’t working well for us, can we change to another process?
Of course. The Collaborative Divorce process remains voluntary at all times. In the unlikely event you find the process is not well-suited to you, the attorneys will assist you in transitioning to a different process. Either client may conclude the process at any time for any reason.
Is Collaborative Law new? Has it been proved to work?
Collaborative Law was developed in 1990, so it has a 27+ year history of success. Nationwide, over 30,000 attorneys have been trained in Collaborative Law. Internationally, thousands more have been trained. The Collaborative Law process has resolved many tens of thousands of cases. It is a process that is accepted by both the American Bar Association and the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. Collaborative Law has been the subject of many scholarly articles and studies, showing generally significantly greater satisfaction by clients than adversarial processes. Several law schools (including Harvard Law School) offer courses in Collaborative Law.