The first post of “Getting Unmarried,” I talk about making the decision to get divorced. The first installment of “How to get divorced” focused on my thought process considering traditional litigation, mediation and briefly mentioning the do-it-yourself process.  In this post, I share with you what I learned about collaborative divorce, a term I had never heard of before. One day I received a letter from a family law attorney who was a member of the local chamber of commerce, where I also was a member.  She was marketing her services as a family law attorney and happened to be in the same area of the Minneapolis and St. Paul metro area.  I looked at her website where I first heard of the term collaborative divorce.  I was intrigued. This attorney, along with a life coach, was offering free workshops on divorce.  I signed up to attend the next available workshop.  In the meantime, I wanted to learn as much as I could about this new term (new to me), collaborative divorce. Collaborative divorce, I learned, was—in its most simple definition—divorce without court.  As I continued to learn more about collaborative divorce, it was a great deal more than just divorce without court. Each spouse has their own attorney. Other professionals, such as a financial specialist and a child specialist, act as neutrals and are employed as needed to assist the couple in reaching agreements about finances and co-parenting their children. Coaching services are available as needed to help the couple with communication challenges during the process, in order to promote better decision making. A coach also helps with developing a relationship plan the couple uses both during the process and post-divorce. What I really liked about collaborative divorce was the concept of both spouses and each of their attorneys signing what is called a Participation Agreement, committing that court or the threat of court is not an option to be considered in a collaborative divorce.  While everyone has the right to court processes even when we would sign an agreement stating otherwise, it was to be understood that if the spouses later elected to discontinue the collaborative divorce and go to court, the two attorneys would have to discontinue representing them, requiring both spouses to find new attorneys to represent them in court.  The attorneys who represented the spouses in the collaborative process would attempt to utilize the most economical and orderly means available to transfer each spouse’s information to the new attorneys. I learned the basic tenants of a collaborative divorce beyond the pledge not to go to court include:
  • Both spouses and attorneys would participate in good faith to reach agreements that considered the interests, concerns and needs of both spouses and their children, if any.
  • Each spouse would be required to fully disclose to each other all information that would be relevant to their circumstances.  This would include all financial information being disclosed to a financial neutral.
  • Everyone in a collaborative divorce is to mutually respect each other and communicate in a manner that conveys respect.  Communicating with respect greatly assists in the effort to reach agreements everyone can live with.
  • Emphasizes the needs of children.  This is critical, in my opinion, for divorcing couples with children.
  • The couple would retain control over the outcomes decided versus having someone else, knowing little about the family, making decisions for them.
Collaborative divorce sounded like exactly what I was looking for.  It most closely matched the goals I had set out to accomplish. For anyone who wants to learn more about collaborative divorce, I invite you to visit www.isfngroup.com and on the right menu bar select Collaborative Divorce Knowledge Kit.  This document provides more information about collaborative divorce, including a side-by-side comparison of a collaborative divorce and the more traditional court process.  Additional resources under about us on the right menu bar include a 20 minute video of real clients describing their experience with collaborative divorce and a link to Little Children Big Challenges-Divorce (help from Sesame Street for parents with children). In the next post of Getting Unmarried, I talk about discussing what I had learned with my spouse and choosing an attorney (my step three).

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