Couples have many different ways to pursue a divorce, and the relationship and conflicts between them may determine the best path for them. For some couples, collaborative divorce, in which both parties and their divorce attorneys work together to achieve a mutually beneficial settlement, is an excellent option to protect their otherwise friendly relationship while resolving major divorce legal issues. While collaborative divorce may only be an option for some couples, it can help people to resolve their differences and separate amicably.
To the court, a collaborative divorce looks very much like a simple, uncontested divorce in which the parties have agreed among themselves about how to divide their property and resolve other matters. While this ideal may be possible for some couples, it becomes more difficult for spouses to do on their own once they develop significant marital financial assets or have children and need to handle custody and support. A collaborative divorce allows each of the parties to work with their own New Jersey family law attorney to represent their interests as they negotiate their marital settlement agreement.
Many divorces reach a negotiated outcome, even if they start in court. However, unlike settlement conferences ordered by the family court judge, collaborative divorces begin from a non-adversarial perspective. The framework of a collaborative divorce begins with the understanding that the two parties are not necessarily adversaries or on mutually exclusive sides. This is one reason why divorcing couples who plan to continue to co-parent or even to work as business partners may opt to choose a collaborative divorce, because the process likely will not cause any existing animosities to linger, as could be the case if the divorce went through a lengthy court proceeding.
Most couples pursuing a collaborative divorce sign an agreement, along with their divorce attorneys, that no one will threaten to make use of or actually resort to an adversarial court process so long as the collaborative process is taking place. Neither of the two family lawyers can participate in other litigation against each other during the collaboration.
If, in the end, the parties decide that they cannot settle their divorce collaboratively, they dismiss their lawyers and begin the court process anew. Lawyers in a collaborative divorce may not represent their clients in future litigation. This aims to keep the focus on the collaboration rather than potential future litigation strategies.
Experts brought in during a collaborative divorce project — for example, child psychologists assessing the impact of the divorce on the children, or accountants addressing the couple’s financial situation — also agree that they will not participate in any future litigation between the two parties. A collaborative divorce is similar to mediation or other forms of negotiations, but it also has some important differences.
In mediation, the two parties work with a neutral third party who helps them to resolve their own differences. While both spouses may hire family law attorneys, they serve as consultants rather than representatives, and the lawyers may continue to represent their clients if the case proceeds to litigation.
On the other hand, the divorce lawyers actively represent their client’s interest throughout a collaboration process. They advocate constructively yet consistently for the needs and interests of the spouse they represent. Because a collaboration agreement requires dismissing the lawyers involved if the process fails to reach a result, both the family law attorneys and their clients have a strong incentive to reach a positive solution.
There are several reasons why divorcing couples might choose a collaborative divorce process. If the two parties do not have a significant amount of anger and conflict between one another, they may prefer to work out their differences collaboratively rather than going through a high-conflict divorce.
Many couples choose to work with their family law attorneys in a collaborative process because they will continue to share important tasks after the divorce is finalized. Of course, the most common and important among these is co-parenting. Divorcing spouses will need to continue to work together to parent their children, and they may want to protect the kids from feeling as if their parents are in an adversarial conflict while preparing for the many discussions and joint decisions to come. They may even engage experts or specialists to bring a child’s perspective to the collaboration sessions while keeping the kids themselves protected from the legal proceedings.
Collaborative divorce may provide greater confidentiality and privacy than a divorce conducted in a courtroom, and the spouses and their family lawyers can direct and control the process, rather than having it ordered by a judge. They may feel free to pursue creative settlement ideas, and divorce lawyers can provide both guidance and professional support during the process. Judges also tend to smile upon the collaborative process, as it helps to move the settlement process along and clear the docket of unnecessary cases in the family court system.
As an alternative dispute resolution process, collaborative divorce aims to resolve a conflict without declaring a winner and a loser. This can be especially important for divorcing couples who want to preserve a positive co-parenting relationship in the future. Other couples may share a business, a patent or another economic project, even if they do not have children. Their financial ventures may be damaged if the two parties become adversarial to one another throughout the course of the divorce.
Collaborative divorce is suitable to resolve all major divorce legal issues, including property division, alimony, parenting time, and calculation of child support. The collaborative process is designed to provide a confidential setting to increase trust and reduce stress, while the litigation process may exacerbate existing problems.
A collaborative process will generally save time over a litigated divorce, which can last for a long time, especially if the court system is backed up. The collaborative sessions can be set at the divorcing couple’s pace, and it generally takes less time to reach a settlement. It may also save money, because, while both parties retain attorneys, the number of hours involved in the process is often significantly reduced. In addition, experts are neutral parties, and the cost is shared between spouses, rather than each spouse needing to hire individual experts on their side.
Collaborative divorce is well-suited for couples with smaller cases or, on the other hand, with financially complex cases that require joint financial experts. It can also help couples that want to move towards a positive co-parenting future relationship.
However, collaborative divorce may not be the right choice for all estranged couples. This process is best suited to couples who are not extremely emotional about the divorce and who are relatively amicable, even if they do not already agree about everything.
Spouses who are angry at one another or very emotional when dealing with divorce matters may find the collaborative process challenging or unworkable. If one party wants to stop the divorce and save the marriage, they will generally not be motivated to work out a divorce settlement. High-conflict divorces are also not good candidates for a collaborative solution, because the parties are highly adversarial to one another. The intervention and structure of the court may be necessary to reach a decision and settle the divorce matters.
If you are considering a collaborative divorce to end your marriage, a family lawyer may provide guidance for you throughout the process. Contact the experienced New Jersey divorce attorneys at Lawrence Law by calling 908-645-1000 or using our online form for a consultation about collaborative law at our Watchung or Red Bank, New Jersey, office.
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