What is Collaborative Divorce?
Most people who have gone through a divorce will tell you that the experience was emotionally wrenching, painful and expensive. They often believe that their divorce lawyers contributed to these problems by heightening conflict and escalating arguments over the placement of the children, payment of support and division of property.
Unfortunately, our adversarial legal process has the effect of intensifying the conflicts of families in crisis. Divorce lawyers perceive that winning for their client means gaining the most time with the children and the most money. That often results in contentious, last minute negotiations. When such negotiations fail, the parties may put their disputes before a judge — a stranger to themselves and their children — for decisions. Most experienced family lawyers and mental health professionals will tell you that trials in divorce cases solve little and often perpetuate problems.
What can be done to ease the burden of such a divorce?
A new process is available for divorcing couples in Wisconsin. It is called “collaborative divorce.” In a collaborative divorce, the couple agrees that they will work together to reach a settlement of the custody, placement and financial issues in their divorce in a way that meets the needs of all family members, including the children. The parties and the lawyers each agree, in writing, that they will not go to court to settle their issues.
In the event that parties do not succeed in settling their differences without going to court, the lawyers — by agreement– must both withdraw. This creates an incentive for everyone to reach agreements. The parties and the lawyers each commit to working together as a team to reach a fair settlement. The collaborative lawyers act as legal advisors and problem solvers rather than as adversarial gladiators. Experiences in many places where collaborative divorce has been used, such as Minnesota, California, Texas and Canada show that divorces resolved in this way are less financially and emotionally painful, and often prevent returns to court when new issues arise between the parties.
Generally, in collaborative divorce, the parties meet with their lawyers in a series of four-way settlement conferences. Each party has the advice of a divorce lawyer who is specially trained in the practice of collaborative law as well as experienced in the practice of family law. The collaborative team may also include a financial specialist and mental health professionals in the roles of child specialist and divorce coaches. Such professionals are jointly chosen to provide input rather than takes sides.
Wisconsin divorce professionals — including lawyers, mental health practitioners and financial advisors — have formed a statewide organization to advance the practice of collaborative family law. The group, the Collaborative Family Law Council of Wisconsin, Inc. (CFLCW) maintains a web site at www.collabdivorce.com, which provides general information to the public about the principles and concepts of collaborative law, as well as providing a searchable list of members. A more in-depth description of the roles of each collaborative team member is also provided. I highly recommend that you review the information provided on the CFLCW website.
I am a trained Collaborative Divorce practitioner and member of the CFLCW. About 50% of my divorce practice is collaborative cases.