For those of us who practice collaborative divorce, a description of its benefits can take pages and pages of text -- especially for those of us who have been representing clients in divorce litigation for many years. We have experienced first-hand the frustration, anger, hurt and disillusionment that often accompanies the traditional litigation process. Here is a summary of SOME of the benefits of the collaborative process:
Time . Couples who decide to divorce do not make the decision quickly. It has been a long-term process which has involved a lot of thought and discussion. Once the decision to divorce has finally been made, many clients are disappointed at the length of time it can take to resolve the dissolution action and finally be divorced. In litigation cases, the parties are subject to the court's calendar. Divorce cases are often set several months in advance, and then may be continued if set behind other civil cases and criminal jury cases. The delay in actually getting to court may have a negative financial and/or emotional impact on the parties.
In collaborative cases, the parties schedule their meetings at times that suit their schedules. They produce documents and records, and respond to inquiries informally during 4-way meetings (parties and counsel) with open dialogue. There are no time restraints, and the parties are free to work through the dissolution or post-dissolution issues on their timetable.
A view of the whole picture . In a litigation-track divorce, parties work independently of one another, and his/her case is developed from information that he/she knows or has specifically requested from the other party. In such cases, parties do not always see the broad picture until they are close to, or at, trial.
In collaborative cases, the parties meet in 4-way meetings, and open dialogue is encouraged so that parties and counsel understand all of the issues. This open dialogue saves time in that cases are developed with all pertinent facts known. It also saves attorney fees in that formal discovery requests (Interrogatories and Request for Production of Documents) are not necessary. Parties who know the whole picture are able to carefully consider the information and make informed decisions about their future.
Command your own destiny . It is true that a party may "command his own destiny" in litigation track cases through settlement negotiation and alternative dispute resolution (ADR), i.e. mediation. However, in litigation track, such negotiations and ADR occurs toward the final stages of the case, and often just before the trial setting. And if a case is not settled prior to trial, it is subjected to the Court for complete decision making. When a case is tried, the parties have no control over the court's decisions, as those decisions are at the discretion of the court. In collaborative cases, parties begin 4-way meetings right away and decisions can be made during the process after presentation and collaboration of the facts and issues. The collaborative process allows the parties to have a say in their future and the future of their children from the very beginning.
Maintain respect and civility . Parents who are divorced are forever linked to the ex-spouse. They will see each other at times such as sporting events, graduations, weddings and grandchildren's birthday parties. Parents who are respectful and civil are often welcomed by the children at these events, while parents who are bitter and angry are not.
Collaborative practice allows the parties to divorce in such a way that respect and civility is maintained. The parties jointly make decisions about custody, parenting time and division of debts and assets, but they also discuss communication techniques and "rules of the game," such as when significant others will be introduced to the children, same/similar parenting rules, punishment guidelines and commitments to avoid negative statements about the other in the presence of the children.
Save money . Last, but certainly not least, is the savings of attorney fees and litigation costs. Collaborative practice does require legal services such as conferences with clients, attendance at 4-way meetings, review of financial documentation and information, preparation of summaries and proposals, and preparation of final Agreements and Decrees. However, there are many costs that are not incurred, such as deposition fees, exhibit preparation (only for the hearing to be continued and exhibits redone at a later date), custody evaluations, discovery requests, and expert witness fees.
If "experts" are needed, collaboratively trained professionals (i.e. child and financial specialists) are engaged as neutrals to work with the parties to resolve issues. The costs related to these specialists are, more often than not, less expensive than hiring an expert witness such as a custody evaluator or a forensic accountant.
The time effectiveness of collaborative practice results in financial savings to the parties because marital bills and expenses are addressed early in the process. Parties often save money to service credit card debt and marital residence expenses during the divorce process because collaborative cases can be finalized sooner than the matter can be tried and resolved by judicial decree.
If you are interested in knowing more about the collaborative process, contact any member of our collaborative practice team. We would be glad to answer any questions you may have!