You might not know about collaborative divorce – but you should if you want to gain more control over the divorce process and create a cooperative co-parenting relationship.
I recently attended a 3-day training on Collaborative Law hosted by the Massachusetts Collaborative Law Council. Collaborative law is a process that focuses on dispute resolution versus litigation. The collaborative law process can be used to resolve civil or business disputes, but it is more commonly used in Family Law to resolve divorce cases more amicably. While litigated or trial cases focus on the individual client, collaborative divorce is focused on creating win-win solutions that help reinvent the family structure in the best way possible.
Collaborative divorce involves a team approach to arrive at an agreement more efficiently – both in terms of time and money. The emphasis in this process is on empowering individuals to advocate and negotiate for themselves – to speak their truth. Individuals each have their own collaboratively-trained attorney whose role is to provide their clients with the legal options available to them. The attorneys provide clients with the knowledge and support they need to truly speak up for themselves and negotiate around what they want in their divorce through a series of meetings. A coach facilitator is also a part of this team. Their role is to identify each client’s goals, help clients with the emotional rollercoaster associated with divorce and keep this process on track. This role is also called a “coach neutral” since they are not aligned with any one individual in the case. There are no “sides” here. They work for the process and as such, help both individuals move forward towards resolution. In some cases, a financial specialist (also neutral) is called in to provide a financial analysis which will help each client make more informed financial decisions. If necessary, child specialist (also neutral) could also be a part of this team to safeguard the well-being of any children involved in the case.
The key to this team-based approach is that everyone involved, including the clients themselves, are committed to full transparency in the process. There are no secrets or hidden agendas. As a result, the role of the attorney has shifted within the collaborative divorce model. While the attorney is still an advocate for the client’s best interests, how that is interpreted has changed. Fierce advocacy, in this context, means helping clients better understand what their reasonable options are, in order to negotiate an agreement that serves their family the best. Reinventing the family structure after a divorce is the primary goal of this process and as such, full participation and commitment to transparency is crucial for creating the best, most workable solution.
While this seems like a large (and expensive) team to be involved in a divorce, every role is intended to provide the knowledge and support necessary to help clients make better and faster decisions. This process is highly-orchestrated and, as such, is incredibly efficient at getting to the heart of what really matters during and after a divorce in terms of individual and family needs. With this incredible support structure, clients are better prepared to speak for themselves and together, craft a solution that works for their family. This process puts the negotiation power back in the hands of the clients themselves, rather than their attorneys, since they are the only ones who can truly know and decide what will work for their family moving forward.
As you probably suspected, collaborative divorce is typically for divorcing couples who have children and know that they don’t want to mar their future relationship as co-parents with potentially acrimonious litigation. Divorce doesn’t have to be nasty or bad. This process acknowledges that individuals CAN advocate for themselves (with support) and empowers them to take what is broken and re-create it in a new form that works for everyone.
As a coach, the collaborative divorce process really resonates with me. Like coaching, this process assumes that every client is their own best advocate and can make positive change for themselves and their family. There is also a similar focus on the present and the future, rather than past, to move forward towards a common goal around the family and a healthier relationship. Additionally, this process, like coaching, creates a safe space to collectively explore options. There is no judgment, only respect, in this space. And unlike litigated divorce cases where the ideal outcome is a divorce, this process is focused on a divorce that supports the family structure far into the future. Who wouldn’t want that? And who wouldn’t want a whole support team behind them in this process? So, if you didn’t know about collaborative divorce before, know now that it is a viable option for you to consider when heading down this path.