Ask Yourself These Questions Before Choosing Collaboration For Your Divorce Process.
Divorce is stressful. Before you even begin your divorce, you must choose how you want to get divorced. Litigation, mediation, cooperation, collaboration . . . there are numerous options. So, is collaboration the right process for you? Answer the following questions to determine whether it is.
- Is it important to you and your spouse to maintain civility in your relationship during and after your divorce?
At a time when emotions are their peak, the hostile litigation process can destroy the already fragile relationship you have with your spouse. Litigators are trained to focus on the weaknesses of the opposing party. They may hire battling experts to argue why one of you is a good parent, and the other is unfit. They may engage in expensive discovery games, further destroying any trust that still remains between you.
In contrast, the collaborative team works together to solve the problem: your divorce. It therefore works with the couple to reach a fair resolution. There are no battling experts; rather a team of professionals guides the couple through the process. The mental health professional even teaches the couple communication and co-parenting skills so that the couple can maintain a working relationship into the future. For families with children, it is especially important to maintain a good relationship with your spouse post-divorce, as you will remain in each other’s lives until your children reach the age of majority, and in most instances, beyond.
- Would you like to control the speed of your process?
Most collaborative teams try to schedule two-hour full team meetings every couple of weeks to ensure that the process steadily moves forward and that the team can build on the momentum and progress that occurred at the preceding meeting.
By contrast, in litigation, the parties are subject to the court’s busy calendar, as well as those of the lawyers. The court may take a couple of months to hear even a simple preliminary issue.
- Do you appreciate the importance of having a team of professionals to guide you through the process?
Some folks may be intimidated by the thought of sitting in a room of highly educated professionals. But consider what each professional can contribute to your process.
The attorneys are there to counsel their clients about the legal issues, to ensure that their clients understand the information and the process, and to brainstorm settlement options, bringing their experience with many other divorces to the table. In addition, because the couple will enter into a binding, legal contract when they resolve their differences (the “marital settlement agreement”), it is important to have attorneys prepare the necessary paperwork so that nothing is overlooked.
The mental health professional guides the team, as well as teaches the couple communication and co-parenting skills. She is trained to recognize and defuse emotions that may derail the process. She also helps the couple to identify their interests, and she (and the rest of their team) reminds them of these throughout the process.
The financial professional helps the couple to gather and understand the financial information. He may prepare spreadsheets for support and distribution.
Thus, each professional is an invaluable component of the collaborative team.
- Would you like to reach an agreement that is tailored to the needs of your restructured family?
The collaborative process allows the divorcing couple to be creative regarding their settlement. Each team member helps the couple to brainstorm possible options. Having a group of professionals with different backgrounds helps the couple to come up with more creative options, and more options leads to a better final resolution.
In contrast, if the couple chooses to litigate, a judge will resolve their case for them. The judge only receives a quick glimpse of their lives and must make important decisions that will affect the couple forever. The judge can only do what the law provides, whereas the collaborative team can be more creative, doing what works best for your unique family.
- Do you have sufficient funds to pay your collaborative team?
Although collaboration is usually much less expensive than litigation, the couple is still paying for three to four professionals. If you don’t have minor children, and if you have few assets and liabilities, it may be more beneficial for you to choose a different process option so that you don’t spend the few assets you have on your divorce.
Is collaboration right for you and your family?
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About this week’s author Joryn Jenkins.
Joryn, attorney and Open Palm Founder, began her own firm here in Tampa after a 14-year career in law, two of which she served as a professor of law at Stetson University. She is a recipient of the prestigious A. Sherman Christensen Award, an honor bestowed upon those who have provided exceptional leadership in the American Inns of Court Movement. For more information on Joryn’s professional experience, take a look at her resume.