One of the biggest financial burdens of divorce is litigation. However, how do you avoid litigation, but still protect yourself? One relatively new option is called “COLLABORATIVE DIVORCE.” The collaborative divorce model requires the parties to make a commitment not to litigate. Each party is represented by an attorney, who is their advocate throughout the process. The parties may also hire neutral financial advisors and therapists, to deal with matters such as income available for support, tax issues and custody of minor children. However, all the professionals must commit to disqualify themselves if a client reneges on collaborative divorce. Collaborative divorce won’t guarantee you’ll stay out of court, but it may allow you to resolve important parts of your case, such as property division and custody of your children without litigation. Be advised: Not all family law attorneys have been trained in the collaborative divorce model. Attorneys who are unable to transition from a litigation stance and personality are ill suited for collaborative divorce.
Before starting collaborative divorce, ask your attorney if they have obtained formal continuing legal education in the collaborative model and insist that your spouse’s attorney has done so as well. Because collaborative divorce involves both parties having their own legal representation, this model differs from MEDIATION, which involves a neutral third-party to help spouses reach an agreement. I often tell my mediation clients that the role of the mediator is to help the parties find the road to an agreement, or if the parties are stuck, then the role of the mediator is to build the road to an agreement. However, the mediator only has the power to empower the parties. The mediator has no power to force an agreement. Mediation is typically the least expensive method of dissolving a marriage. It may cost only a few thousand dollars.
Before considering mediation, spouses need to ask themselves how much their time is worth and whether they are willing to work together in the mediation process. The parties may have attorneys assist them during the mediation process. I call this hiring an “attorney coach.” Even if you don’t hire an “attorney coach,” at the end of the mediation process you’ll still have the opportunity to have an independent attorney of your choice review all the paperwork before you sign your agreement. Either collaborative divorce or mediation can be a smart choice for couples who don’t want a significant portion of their hard earned money and/or savings being spent on litigation.