You may have heard of collaborative divorce in Florida, a new relatively new process for divorcing that was born in the recent decades as a hoped-for antidote to the negative, adversarial nature of divorce in a big courtroom fight. While for some the process has been a good alternative, as time goes on, possible downsides to using the process are emerging.
For that reason, it is a good idea to talk to a divorce attorney with extensive experience in both processes (also potentially in mediation as another alternative) so that counsel can carefully analyze your situation to understand the pros and cons of each divorce method for a person in your shoes.
The choice of methods is extremely important because the final divorce decree that emerges will affect the rest of your life. In addition, your circumstances may directly impact the total cost of the process.
Family lawyers must receive special training to represent people in collaborative divorce.
To set the stage, normally a lawyer may not ethically talk directly to the party on the other side of the case. Rather, information for the other spouse would be communicated to that person’s counsel.
In collaboration, all four of these parties (two spouses and their two lawyers) sit down in a series of four-way negotiations to hammer out a comprehensive divorce settlement agreement, with all four talking freely amongst themselves.
These main rules apply:
- Everyone acts with dignity and respect.
- The parties pledge to stay out of court.
- If the collaborative process fails, they each must start over with new lawyers.
- Instead of formal discovery of information, the parties promise to fully disclose all relevant information and to be honest.
- The discussions are confidential.
In a contested trial, the parties may need to each hire their own consulting or testifying expert witnesses. In collaboration, however, if the parties need professional expertise to come to a fair settlement, the spouses jointly hire a neutral expert to provide information. Common neutrals used include financial planners, tax accountants, appraisers, mental health professionals, real estate brokers, parenting or child consultants or anyone else needed.
Sometimes the parties retain a neutral “divorce coach” to help the parties to get through communication impasses or emotional blocks.
One of the main benefits of collaboration is that negative interactions are minimal and the public courtroom drama never happens. This can be emotionally and socially good for the spouses and for any children involved. In addition, family matters are kept more private in collaboration.
Some people feel that the respectful interactions during collaboration set a good foundation for a better ex-spouse relationship after divorce, especially if the parties must co-parent minor children.
In addition, collaboration can be less costly than traditional divorce, especially a contested trial. That, however, is not always the case.
In Part 2 of this topic, we will talk more about the cost aspect of collaboration as well as about some other possible drawbacks of the process.