Skip to content

Divorce | Family

What Is a Collaborative Divorce?

8 min read
Philip Ahn, Attorney

by Philip Ahn, Attorney

A collaborative divorce is a process in which spouses voluntarily agree to use a team of professionals to agree on the terms of their divorce. 

The team typically includes specially-trained lawyers, financial professionals, mental health experts, divorce coaches, and custody specialists if applicable. Professionals with conflict resolution training and communication skills facilitate the entire process. 

During collaborative divorce, spouses avoid the court system and focus on fostering a cooperative environment. The divorcing parties attend face-to-face meetings where each side works together to resolve issues such as alimony and child custody in an informal, private, and non-adversarial environment. Each party in the proceedings has an equal voice, and the process is voluntary.

Collaborative divorce aims to reach a fair and reasonable agreement and handle post-settlement disputes, such as child support, in the best interest of all parties in question through respectful communication, problem-solving, and negotiation by all parties.

During a collaborative law process, each spouse can access professional advice from their attorney (having one collaborative lawyer represent both sides could create a conflict of interest). At the same time, the lawyers guide their clients to solutions that satisfy everyone’s needs. Collaborative divorce is designed to at least potentially preserve relationships after resolving disputes. It can also be a cost-effective way to resolve issues, as it avoids lengthy legal battles.

How Collaborative Divorce Compares to Other Divorce Types

The collaborative process is just one of several alternative dispute resolution options available to those considering a divorce.

Collaborative Divorce vs. Mediation

Divorce mediation shares similarities with collaborative divorce. In mediation, a neutral third-party mediator helps you and your spouse negotiate the terms of your divorce. The mediator does not represent either party and does not make decisions for you. Mediation can be less adversarial than traditional litigation and more cost-effective.

However, unlike collaborative divorce, mediation may not involve a team of professionals providing support and guidance throughout the process. Collaborative divorce implies a more comprehensive approach, with each party represented by an attorney and additional specialists addressing emotional, financial, and child-related issues.

Collaborative Divorce vs. DIY Divorce

A do-it-yourself divorce is an option for couples who feel confident in navigating the legal process without professional assistance. This approach can be cost-effective, particularly for couples with simple financial situations and no disputes over child custody or support.

However, DIY divorce can be risky for those unfamiliar with the legal system or with complex financial or custody issues. In contrast, collaborative divorce provides a supportive team of professionals to guide you through the process, ensuring that all aspects of your divorce are addressed, and that each side feels heard.

Collaborative Divorce vs. Traditional Litigation

Traditional divorce filings frequently devolve into a more adversarial approach. Each spouse will be represented separately, usually by competing attorneys. These divorces can be contested or uncontested, but the incentives to disagree remain. The focus in litigation is often on winning and protecting individual interests rather than finding mutually beneficial solutions. This can result in a contentious and lengthy process that can be emotionally and financially draining.

How the Collaborative Divorce Process Works

The success of collaborative divorce lies in its ability to bring parties together to work towards a mutually beneficial resolution rather than pitting them against each other in a winner-takes-all battle. All negotiations are meant to occur in good faith, and to give each spouse a voice. 

1. Participation Agreement

The foundation of any collaborative law process is a Participation Agreement. This document is signed by both you and your spouse, and your respective attorneys. It outlines the rules and expectations that all parties agree to follow during the collaborative process. 

Key aspects of a participation agreement include a commitment to open and honest communication and full disclosure of relevant information. It may include a provision that if the process fails, both attorneys must withdraw from the case, and new representation must be sought for traditional divorce litigation.

2. Assembling a Collaborative Divorce Team

A successful collaborative divorce requires the involvement of a diverse group of experts. In addition to each spouse’s attorney, the collaborative team may include divorce coaches, financial specialists, other collaborative professionals like child specialists as needed.

These experts work together to address your family’s unique concerns during the divorce process. Divorce coaches are mental health professionals who help you and your spouse manage emotions, communicate effectively, and stay focused on your goals. A financial specialist assists in identifying and addressing financial concerns, while a child specialist helps address your children’s emotional and developmental needs.

3. Initial Meetings and Goal-Setting

Initial meetings usually involve you, your spouse, and your respective attorneys. These meetings aim to establish your desired outcomes. Setting clear goals from the outset ensures that the final agreement will reflect your family’s best interests.

4. Information Gathering and Document Sharing

Transparency is a vital component of the collaborative divorce process. You and your spouse must be willing to share all relevant information, including financial documents, property records, and details about debts and assets. Both parties and their attorneys work together to gather and share this information in a timely and organized manner. This open exchange of information fosters trust and facilitates more productive negotiations.

The information gathered during this process stage provides the basis for the collaborative agreement. By clearly understanding your family’s financial situation and other pertinent details, you and your spouse can work together to develop a fair and equitable agreement that addresses the needs of everyone involved.

5. Collaborative Negotiation Sessions

During these sessions, all parties work together to address the various issues that need to be resolved in the divorce, such as property division, child custody, and spousal support.

6. Finalizing the Agreement

Once you and your spouse have reached an understanding on all relevant issues, your attorneys will put it in writing. This collaborative agreement outlines the terms of the divorce.

Both you and your spouse will review the document to ensure that it accurately reflects the decisions made during the negotiation process. Any necessary revisions will be made, and once both parties are satisfied with the agreement, it will be signed by all involved.

7. Court Approval and Entry of Judgment

Once you finish your collaborative agreement, your attorneys will submit it to the court for approval. Although the collaborative divorce process minimizes court involvement, a judge must still review and approve the final agreement. In most cases, the judge will approve the agreement as long as it is deemed fair, equitable, and in the best interests of any children involved.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Collaborative Divorce

The collaborative divorce process offers many benefits over traditional litigation. It provides couples with an alternative way to dissolve their marriage. Several of its key advantages include:

  • Preserving privacy
  • Fostering cooperation
    • The collaborative process encourages an atmosphere of mutual respect, open communication, and compromise.
  • Minimizing conflict
    • The focus is on finding solutions that meet your family’s needs rather than assigning blame or fighting over who wins and who loses.
  • Providing flexibility
    • You and your spouse have the freedom to craft an agreement that works for you rather than being restricted by legal precedents.
  • Reducing stress
    • The collaborative process helps eliminate much of the emotional turmoil associated with divorce.
  • Saving money
    • Since much of the work is done outside of court, collaborative divorce often takes less time and effort than a contested divorce.
  • Ensuring a smoother transition
    • The process helps minimize potential disputes in the future.

Challenges of the Collaborative Divorce Process

While collaborative divorces may look easy on paper, they can be challenging to implement and agree on in practice. Common issues include:

  • Reliance on full disclosure and cooperation
    • Collaborative divorce requires a high level of honesty and transparency. If one spouse withholds information or is uncooperative, the collaborative process may not be effective.
  • Risks of failure
    • If the process fails to result in a settlement, you and your spouse must hire new attorneys to represent you in court. This is due to the participation agreement stipulating that collaborative attorneys cannot represent their clients in litigation if the collaborative process is unsuccessful. As a result, if the collaborative process fails, you may face additional legal fees and delays as you start over with new representation.
  • Potential power imbalances
    • If one spouse has more financial resources or a greater understanding of the family’s finances, they may have an advantage in negotiations. The collaborative team can help address these imbalances by providing support and ensuring that both parties have access to the necessary information and resources. However, if power imbalances are too significant, there may be better options than the collaborative process.
  • Lack of suitability for certain situations
    • The collaborative process may not be safe or effective in cases involving high levels of conflict, domestic violence, or mental health issues. In these situations, traditional divorce litigation or a mediator may be the better option. Additionally, if one spouse is not willing to cooperate or refuses to participate in the process, then it is unlikely that a collaborative divorce will be successful.

Find Collaborative Divorce Attorneys

Collaborative divorce can offer a more amicable and cost-effective alternative to traditional divorce litigation. Unbundled Legal Help’s network of independent divorce attorneys can guide you through the process and provide representation to fit your specific needs.

Even if the other spouse is not interested in a collaborative divorce, a family law attorney can provide legal advice. Attorneys in the Unbundled Legal Help network offer affordable full representation, flexible limited scope representation, and free consultations.

Contact a divorce lawyer button

Related Blog Posts

Ready to Talk to a Lawyer?

Receive a free consultation with a more affordable lawyer in your local area