The Collaborative Divorce: A Different Way To Divorce

September 13, 2010

A few weeks ago I watched a program on ABC Primetime called "Divorce Without Separation", about an Arizona couple who chose to live together while they were divorcing. I know some couples choose to live together while they work out the intricacies of their divorce but, in my experience, it is not common. Since I don’t often run into couples who choose to live together during a divorce, I found this show especially interesting to see how this particular couple worked through the divorce process under those circumstances.

The couple chose to use mediation to resolve equitable distribution, support, alimony and custody issues. It appeared that they each retained a lawyer to review the terms of their Postnuptial Agreement and the decisions about how to divide their assets were done with a skilled mediator whose office, interestingly, was situated inside a legal office.

In addition to finding the program fascinating because of the unique circumstances, I also found it interesting because the process the couple chose is similar to the Collaborative Process. Collaborative Law is the newest dispute resolution process which allows each party to retain legal counsel while allowing clients to make all the decisions. In this model, clients are able to resolve their issues related to divorce without going to court. Collaborative Law also allows couples to customize their divorce to their needs, instead of relying on the traditional principles of court to divide marital assets.

The principles of Collaborative Law are:

  • The parties and their attorneys commit to finding a goal-oriented, constructive solution that meets the needs of both parties.
  • The parties and their attorneys openly exchange all necessary financial information, including documents.
  • The parties and their attorneys meet in a series of four-way meetings to discuss issues and craft solutions.
  • The process is cooperative, constructive and respectful and emphasizes communication and teamwork between the parties and their lawyers.

This show provided viewers with a glimpse into how one family chose an alternative way to divorce. There is not a “one size fits all” approach to divorce. While some families might not be satisfied with pursuing their divorce through the traditional litigation model, it is also equally important to realize not all families are suited for mediation or the Collaborative Model.

If you are unsure if the Collaborative process is right for you, I would recommend reviewing the "Is a Collaborative Divorce Right For You" questionnaire available on the Collaborative Professionals of Central Pennsylvania website.

I was impressed that this family was willing to share their experience in such a public way. Divorce can be an extremely personal and emotional time for couples. The story also called attention to the emotional impact of a divorce on the entire family, not just the divorcing couple. It is important to take the time to consider all options and choose the process that will work best for you and your family.