By Carolyn Daly, Esq. | Daly & Associates | AAML NJ 2022 - 2023 President
Learn More about this Alternative to Traditional Divorce
Legally dissolving a marriage can prove a trying and stressful time for all parties involved. Collaborative divorce is another way to help you get “divorced without the drama” as it is intended to be a non-adversarial experience. In a collaborative divorce, both parties work together to reach a settlement. Instead of trying to “win,” each party shares the goal of being transparent and flexible in negotiations to reach a resolution they are both satisfied with and that is best for them and their children. It is outcome-directed, solution-oriented, and focused on the client’s goals and family.
What does a Collaborative Divorce Attorney Do?
The collaborative divorce attorney will provide guidance, counsel, and representation to the client to ensure that any outstanding issues between the separating spouses are resolved. They must be specifically trained in collaborative divorce, settlement- minded and creative. In order to help the parties, they may bring in other professionals to help assist in the resolution. Some professionals include:
- Financial Planners: This will be one neutral professional working with both parties. The financial planner can help the parties determine how cash, stocks, deferred compensation, retirement accounts and other high-value assets, debts and obligations are divided. A financial planner can help with post-divorce budgets and show the parties how various settlement options will enable them both to reach their long term financial goals.
- Accountants: Similar to a financial planner but with a slightly different role, a neutral accountant can be brought in to work with both parties to determine their net income, taxes and the best way to file taxes to minimize overall tax burden.
- Child therapists or custody experts: No parent wants to lose custody of their children. And children generally need both parents involved in their lives. How that is accomplished is often stressful and can be the most adversarial part of a typical divorce. Having a child therapist or custody expert work with parents can help focus each parent on the needs and well-being of their children so that they reach a time-sharing schedule that works best for them and, most importantly, their children.
- Mental health professionals: Sometimes emotions get out of control and put the process at risk. Your lawyer can bring in a mental health professional as a coach that can work with either or both of the parties to help them manage their emotions during the process.
The Collaborative Divorce Process
You and your spouse should first discuss if Collaborative Divorce is right for you. If you decide that it is, then you each hire an attorney trained in Collaborative Divorce. The attorneys will speak to each other and prepare a collaborative divorce agreement, which is an agreement to remain out of court. They will then discuss the issues, information needed from the other party and set an initial meeting with an agenda. That meeting is a 4-way meeting where you and your spouse and each attorney meets to discuss the issues. If you have decided that you will need a coach, child therapist, or financial planner, that professional may also attend the initial meeting. More likely you will determine in that first meeting what other professionals you will need and select them. After that meeting, each party will have things they need to do or information they need to gather before there is another meeting. There will then be another, or many other 4-way meetings discussing resolutions, reviewing information from the other party or professionals until a settlement is reached. Once a settlement has reached an agreement is drafted and signed and then the parties can proceed with the process of getting legally divorced.
Are Court Dates Required?
Successful collaborative divorces can be made final in New Jersey through one court appearance or the filing of paperwork. As long as all terms and conditions are set forth in an agreement signed by both parties, there should not be any additional court appearances required.
What if We Can’t Agree?
While collaborative divorce is a good alternative to a litigated divorce, it does not always result in a settlement. Either party can cease collaborative proceedings at any time. If the negotiations end without a resolution, each client is encouraged to seek new representation to begin litigation. The lawyers who provided representation during the collaborative process cannot continue to offer their services in litigation.
The Benefits of Collaborative Divorce versus Typical Litigation
Out-of-court negotiations often result in fewer expenses for the client. They can avoid paying steep legal fees and often need to retain their attorneys for less time. If alimony or child support factors into the discussions, each party can agree to a fair amount independently of judicial decisions.
The non-adversarial nature of collaborative divorces creates a less stressful environment for each party. Instead of intense arguments and speaking through third parties, couples can communicate directly with their legal counsel present in a calmer setting. A divorce coach is also very helpful in managing stress and other emotions.
Greater Ability to Get What You Want
Divorcing parties can exercise more decision-making power over factors that are most important to them, such as child custody or retaining possession of specific assets. This places more power in the client’s hands and ensures that their true desires are more fulfilled.
In New Jersey, divorce litigation proceedings can now take well over two years to reach trial or resolution. In a collaborative environment, this time is usually one-third to one-half of that timeframe. This allows everyone to transition to their new lives more quickly.
Increased Professional Support
As standard practice for a collaborative divorce, your attorney will aid you in hiring a divorce coach. This mental health professional will help resolve any outstanding personal or emotional conflicts so that the proceedings can begin with each partner in a mentally healthier state.
Long Term Sustained Relationships
When two parties dissolve their marriage collaboratively, they are generally able to maintain a friendly or cooperative relationship following the divorce. This helps maintain the ability to co-parent children or to resolve any issue that might arise after the divorce is final.
Interested to learn more about collaborative divorce? Visit our Fellow Directory to find a qualified Matrimonial lawyer.