Collaborative divorce is not just for the wealthy. The famous and the wealthy use it, it’s true, because they are clued in to the value offered by the collaborative process. That is to say, a collaborative divorce typically saves its participants money. Keep in mind that professional fees differ according to venue; a lawyer in New York City will cost you an arm and a leg compared to the same lawyer in Mound, Minnesota. But, with that in mind, it is safe to estimate that the average fees paid in CP cases for all professionals are $24,185 (and that’s for both parties – so that’s $12,092 per spouse).
Compare that to the average cost of divorce in a traditional courtroom setting. If it settles before trial, which most do, when one party or the other is tapped out, or worn out, then the couple will spend, on average, $10,000-50,000 each, or an average of $30,000 per spouse. If it goes to final evidentiary hearing, then each spouse is likely to spend $100,000 minimum (and that’s just for his or her lawyer, not for any experts they might call upon to testify).
But the wealthy aren’t the only ones clued in. According to a four-year study by the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, 87% of female participants and 47% of male participants in a collaborative divorce had annual incomes of less than $100,000. It is estimated that collaborative participants save from 40% to 65% in their divorces compared to what a couple might spend in a traditional courtroom divorce.
It is difficult to estimate how much any divorce will cost. That will depend on the number of issues involved and the willingness of the parties to be communicative and transparent and to work on identifying their interests, on problem solving, and on option generating. If there are no minor children and few assets, it may well be less expensive for parties to work out an agreement on their own at the kitchen table or with a single neutral mediator. These options, however, while resolving any legal and financial issues, will not address any emotional concerns implicated by the death of a marriage. And it may well be more constructive, especially if there are third parties, such as adult children, in-laws, and friends who will suffer the aftershocks of a divorce with unresolved issues, involved, to engage in the collaborative process in order to effectively disentangle or otherwise rewire the connections built up in a long-term relationship.
And, clearly, if a couple has minor children, a home, retirement accounts, debt, etc., a collaborative divorce will most likely be cheaper than a litigated divorce.
And let’s not forget the long-term costs. When a couple divorces without addressing the entirety of the emotional issues, then they are likely to return to court later to resolve the divorce aftershocks (usually unsuccessfully, I might add). More costs add up after the fact. Collaborative divorce addresses the issues so that post-divorce conflicts are far less likely.
Although each collaborative team meeting will be expensive, the participants are likely to resolve their divorce much more quickly than traditional litigants would do in the courtroom, thereby saving money. Collaborative divorces don’t depend on the court’s busy calendar and aren’t subject to the delays that can easily be caused by either party protracting the discovery process and/or engaging in expensive motions practice that benefits only the lawyers. In the collaborative process, the parties will not spend their money on expensive posturing between the attorneys, drafting of motions, preparation for and attendance at hearings and unnecessary depositions, and the discovery that is only necessary when parties are not transparent.
Keep in mind that the longer a divorce takes, no matter the forum, the more costly it will be.
Further, the mental health facilitator and financial professional generally bill at lower hourly rates than the attorneys. Rather than have an attorney prepare the parenting plan and discovery at a higher hourly rate, the neutral professionals will prepare those documents. And the neutral professionals are more skilled on those matters than the attorneys, so they will likely be more effective.
In litigation, the lawyer is present for all meetings with all experts, mediators, possible witnesses, etc.; he is constantly prepping for trial. In collaboration, the lawyer need not be present at the client’s meetings with the facilitator or the financial neutral, or with any other neutrals, for that matter.
It is easy to see why some lawyers might be opposed to the concept of collaborative practice.
Moreover, as alluded to previously, parties who reach collaborative agreements are usually much more satisfied with their agreements than parties who permit judges to make their decisions for them, or even parties who reach agreements through mediation. The collaborative team focuses on satisfying the parties’ real interests, not on negotiating artificial positions, so parties are generally more content with the results and better able to perform on their promises than they would be on a seemingly arbitrary court order.
“It’s easy to see why some lawyers might be opposed to the concept of collaborative practice.”
Further, collaborative professionals craft creative agreements based on the areas in which they excel. Facilitators or child specialists with expertise in the developmental stages of children prepare the parenting plan. Financial professionals prepare the equitable distribution, alimony, and child support schedules. Therefore, these agreements have a greater likelihood of being successful than when lawyers without the knowledge and experience of the neutrals prepare them. And when parties negotiate their own agreement, rather than allowing a judge to arbitrarily decide after seeing a brief snapshot of the parties’ lives, the parties are more likely to abide by it because they have more ownership. In sum, parties to collaborative agreements generally have much less expensive post-judgment issues. And if a change does need to be made to the agreement, the parties can reconvene the collaborative team to resolve that issue.
Ultimately, the bottom line is that the collaborative resolution of divorce issues is far more valuable than the traditional courtroom divorce process, but costs far less. That may be why the wealthy and the famous aren’t the only divorcing couples who are clued in; I have an inordinate percentage of lawyer clients (or their spouses) who seek me out because I am one of the few collaborative family lawyers in town. I believe in the win-win divorce approach. You should, too.
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About this week’s authors: Joryn Jenkins.
Joryn, attorney and Open Palm Founder, began her own firm here in Tampa after a 14-year career in law, 2 of which she served as professor in 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 to The American Inns of Court Movement. For more information on Joryn’s professional experience, take a look at her resume.