In a collaborative divorce, each party is represented by their own attorney who is specially trained in collaborative law. The parties and their attorneys sign a participation agreement, promising to work together respectfully, honestly, and in good faith to resolve issues and reach a settlement agreement beneficial to the parties and their children.
A collaborative divorce is a non-adversarial process and often quicker and less expensive than a litigated divorce because the parties commit to full disclosure of documents and information, thus eliminating the need for written discovery, depositions and contested discovery motions. The parties jointly retain a collaboratively-trained neutral financial advisor who reviews the financial information and proposes alternative options for division of assets based upon the goals of the parties. The parties add other collaborative law professionals to the team as needed to assist with communication, emotional and parenting issues.
The team works together in private meetings to discuss the issues and possible solutions that meet the needs of both parties and their children. Thus, a collaborative divorce protects the privacy of the parties because there is no public record of the meetings since the meetings occur outside of the courtroom and without a court reporter.
In a collaborative divorce, the focus is on the future, not arguing about the past. A collaborative divorce is especially beneficial to spouses who want to maintain civility and respect in order to minimize the stress on the children, meet their needs, and effectively co-parent after the divorce.
The key difference between a collaborative divorce and a traditional litigated divorce is that in a collaborative divorce, the parties and the collaborative team communicate directly with one another to problem-solve and help the parties negotiate fair solutions regarding custody (parental responsibility), parenting time and division of assets without court intervention. In a litigated divorce, the judge makes decisions regarding custody (parental responsibility), visitation (parenting time) and property division after the parties have endured a contested and costly trial.
Once a settlement agreement is reached, the parties’ attorneys draft legal documents which are signed by the parties and filed with the court. If an agreement cannot be reached, either party may end the collaborative process and proceed with litigation. However, the collaborative attorneys are disqualified from representing the parties in court so the parties must retain new attorneys.
Ms. Erlich is a fellow of the Illinois Collaborative Law Institute of Illinois and a member of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals.