Should you collaborate rather than litigate in your Calif. divorce?

Divorce doesn't have to mean a knock-down fight in court. It also doesn't have to involve airing your dirty laundry and announcing the details of your financial matters publicly in court. Californians facing the end of marriage should consider a relatively new divorce process that turns many old concepts upside down: the collaborative divorce process.

More respect

Collaboration was invented by a creative Minnesota family attorney who yearned for a different way to dissolve marriages - one with more respect and less dissention. The collaborative process he conceived of has spread quickly through many U.S states and even other countries. California is one state where many divorce lawyers have embraced collaboration by becoming specially trained in the process.

The collaborative agreement

When a divorcing couple chooses the collaborative process, the spouses sign an agreement that they choose not to go to court to resolve their issues. Rather, they sit down with their attorneys in a series of four-way meetings to negotiate the terms of a divorce settlement that decides issues like child support and custody, property division, spousal support and more. Traditionally, a divorce attorney does not have direct contact with the other spouse, so having this conversation among the four is a dramatic departure.

Some of the main provisions of the collaborative agreement:

  • If the collaborative process breaks down, both spouses must get new legal representation; the collaborative attorneys are not allowed to continue.
  • The collaborative negotiations are to be confidential, respectful and open.
  • Financial and asset information must be freely and willingly shared.

Neutral professionals

Neutral professionals may be hired by the parties to join the collaborative meetings if necessary. Such professionals can include financial advisors, parenting or child experts, and mental health professionals called "divorce coaches" to help the parties through emotional roadblocks in negotiation, depending on the needs of the couple.

The potential for less stress

Collaborative divorce can be less stressful if the parties can cooperate and move forward. The settlement agreement can be creatively crafted to meet the needs of the parties. If it goes well, it can end up being less expensive than court proceedings. The couple sets its own calendar, rather than being subject to the court's schedule. Sometimes the communication techniques that the couple learns to use can pave the way for a better post-divorce relationship, especially when they must co-parent younger children.

Ask an attorney

Collaboration is not right for every couple, however. For example, open negotiation may not be a good idea if there is a history of abuse, intimidation or dishonesty. If you are a Californian considering divorce, ask an experienced family lawyer about whether collaboration might be a good approach in your particular situation.