How Does Collaborative Divorce Work? Staff Profile Picture
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Getting a divorce is notoriously challenging and often shown as a contentious and devastating process. However, a Collaborative Divorce seeks to reshape the narrative around separating where both parties aim to separate as peacefully as possible. Simply, Collaborative Divorce is a non-adversarial alternative to the traditional litigation approach. Collaborative Divorce is a voluntary process that binds both partners together, serving as a roadmap where the couple has the power to resolve their issues through a series of negotiations. Collaborative Divorce removes the threat of litigation and allows parents the opportunity to work together privately to formulate an ongoing, mutually-beneficial agreement. 

What is Collaborative Divorce?

Although many folks haven't heard of it, Collaborative Divorce is the best way for families to navigate the divorce process in the least disruptive way possible. Collaborative Divorce is a method of conflict resolution for families and couples going through a separation or divorce. Collaborative Divorce is an alternative to traditional litigation and allows the divorcing couple to work together to negotiate a separation agreement. Each individual retains their own collaborative practice attorney, but unlike a litigated divorce, both parties agree to use the cooperative dispute resolution techniques. Collaborative Divorce puts the power in the couple’s hands to find an enduring resolution to their issues while minimizing conflict. Couples with kids find Collaborative Divorce a potential pathway to preserving and enabling an effective co-parenting relationship. 

How Much Does Collaborative Divorce Cost?

Collaborative Divorce is expensive, though the exact cost is variable and comes down to several factors. Because each party retains their own representation, couples are responsible for attorney’s fees alongside additional expenses like any joint external professionals that were brought into the process. Retaining a paralegal or associate versed in Collaborative Divorce versus a named partner significantly reduces the hourly fee and overall cost. Many attorneys also offer a flat-fee rate, so you’ll know what you’ll pay up front. 

On average, a Collaborative Divorce will cost $10K per couple, with the cost going up significantly depending on the case’s complexity and the level of cooperation between the couple. Some Collaborative Divorces can cost upwards of $50K if both parties struggle to reach a settlement or have a number of professionals engaged in the process. 

Who Pays for Collaborative Divorce?

Typically, each party is responsible for their costs in a Collaborative Divorce, including their individual attorney’s fees. However, if the cost of a divorce is a barrier to the separation, your attorney may file a request for the other party to pay the attorney fees at the conclusion of your case. 

How Long Does Collaborative Divorce Take?

The timeline for a Collaborative Divorce depends largely on where you live, the complexity of your divorce case, and the level of cooperation between parties. 

Since different states have various waiting periods and residency requirements, reviewing your state’s family laws is important to determine how soon a divorce can be finalized with the parties in agreement. For example, in Washington State, the earliest a divorce can conclude is 90 days after it’s signed by both parties and filed.

What To Expect During a Collaborative Divorce

The divorce process is unique to everyone, and there’s no one-size-fits-all philosophy to Collaborative Divorces. While there’s a general roadmap that must be completed before a divorce is finalized, much of what a couple can expect depends on the specifics of their case. Couples with children may have to complete court-ordered co-parenting classes, while others may not need to do any external training. While there’s no universal pathway to a Collaborative Divorce, what you can expect from this approach is a respectful exchange of information and working together with your ex to resolve any outstanding issues and amicably move forward. 

Retain Representation

The first step in a Collaborative Divorce is to retain an attorney who specializes in collaborative divorce. It’s important to make sure that your lawyer understands the Collaborative Divorce process before signing a contract. The attorneys will then discuss the case with one another and the possibility of settlement through collaboration. If the lawyers agree that the collaborative method is appropriate, the parties will move on to the next step. 

Sign Collaborative Divorce Agreement 

Once both parties’ attorneys agree to pursue the divorce collaboratively, a meeting with all the parties, also known as a “four-way” meeting, is set up. At this meeting, the parties will discuss the process and make sure everyone consents to a Collaborative Divorce. From there, the divorcing couple and their attorneys sign agreements to abide by the protocols and rules of the collaborative method. If children are involved in the case, then each person commits to a respectful process that prioritizes the needs of the children and minimizes contentious communication. 

The parties will continue to address issues in 4-way meetings where they’ll work together to resolve outstanding issues, like property division, child support, or alimony. At every stage, the resulting agreements that the parties reach over the course of the divorce are drafted up, signed, and set forth in proposed court orders. 

Disclose Financial Information

Similar to a traditionally litigated divorce, both parties exchange all relevant financial information, including income, debts, and assets. Both sides freely disclose current and pertinent financial information in an attempt to reach a fair settlement that benefits everyone. The parties will create a shared financial plan that considers both of your interests and needs. 

Retain Joint Professionals

If any external experts are required to successfully resolve the divorce, like a divorce coach or a child specialist, the couple retains them jointly. Likewise, both parties are responsible for experts’ fees at the conclusion of the case unless there’s a specific agreement otherwise or if one party requires a fee waiver. The cost of these professionals varies widely, and they should only be employed if absolutely necessary. 

Create a Parenting Plan

If you have children, both parties will work with their attorneys to formulate a parenting arrangement that considers the children’s individual and specific needs. 

Submit Agreement

Once both parties have reached an equitable and suitable agreement, your attorneys will submit the proposal to the court for approval. If signed by the judge, then your case is at its conclusion and both parties will now abide by the approved order. 

What if Our Collaborative Divorce Doesn’t Work?

If the collaborative process does not result in a settlement agreement, then the parties have the option to take the case to court. The Collaborative Divorce attorneys are hereafter disqualified from representing either party, and new representation must be retained. As you can imagine, failure to abide by the regulations of a Collaborative Divorce greatly increases the overall expense of a divorce. 

Are Collaborative Divorce Agreements Legally Binding?

Yes, Collaborative Divorce Agreements are just as legally binding as traditional divorce orders. 

Can a Collaborative Divorce Agreement Be Changed?

Once a divorce is finalized, it can be challenging to modify the approved agreement. However, if the circumstances in your life change and certain aspects of the original settlement are no longer applicable are reasonable, you can update the settlement to suit the current circumstances. When both parties are in agreement with the revisions, the court will likely grant the proposed changes to the agreement. 

If both parties are not amenable to changes, you’ll need to speak to an attorney about a more aggressive approach. 

How to Find a Divorce Lawyer

No matter the specifics of your case, you are entitled to effective representation. The first consideration when deciding on who to represent you in this collaborative style of divorce is that the attorney is specially trained in Collaborative Divorce. Experienced attorneys are well-versed in designing collaborative settlements that work for both parties. Although your attorney’s goal is to reach a settlement between parties, you should meet with your attorney privately to discuss your desired outcomes before meeting with the other spouse’s lawyer. To find a local lawyer, search for attorneys that specialize in the Collaborative process in your area and inquire about their rates. 

As mentioned, many attorneys have a flat-fee rate for certain types of divorces, so draft up a series of questions regarding cost and timeline to ask during your free consultation. Once you narrow down attorneys, consider their caseload. If they don’t respond within 24 hours, that’s a good indication your case might not be a priority, and you may want to consider someone who can devote more attention to it. A skilled attorney will understand the unique challenges of the collaborative process and guide you through what to expect. There are many online directories where you can search for representation in a specific area of law, so take advantage of the online resources and reach out to a few lawyers before you sign a contract. 

Resources for Folks Going Through a Collaborative Divorce

Depending on the circumstances of your separation, there’s a multitude of available resources to answer any questions you have, from co-parenting to translator services for the hearing impaired. Even though you’re working together with your former partner to reach a solution, divorce is a painful process. Couples with children should be prepared to do some additional training to reduce the potential of parental conflict and increase their family’s well-being. 

Co-Parenting Workshop

UpToParents is a free and award-winning service created to help families in crisis build a child-focused future. Parents can go online and complete a workshop that guides separating parents through the process of making Agreed Commitments and devising strategies to deal with conflict in a non-adversarial way. Parents’ information is kept entirely confidential, and there’s no time limit to completing the workshop. At the conclusion of the workshop, parents can print off a Certificate of Completion and even merge their chosen commitments with their co-parents. Parents can choose from live classes or complete a workshop on their own time. UpToParents has helped over 250K parents save money, make child-centered decisions, and create better futures for their children. 

Our Family Wizard

For divorcing couples with children, it can be challenging to transition to the new reality of co-parenting. Our Family Wizard (OFW), the #1 court-recommended app, takes the guesswork out of managing parenting schedules and shared expenses. OFW helps reduce conflict by empowering amicable communication with its controlled communication features that establish concise and structured conversations. 

Kids First Resources

For additional resources, including relevant literature and videos for divorcing parents, you can go here to Kids First. There’s an age-by-age guide for talking to kids about divorce, articles about conflict resolution and positive parenting, and access to free help for folks who may struggle with the cost of separation. 

National Association of the Deaf

For folks with a hearing impairment, the National Association of the Deaf has many resources available directly on their site. Folks can use their legal directory to find a lawyer familiar with the obligations of the NDA and who can effectively assist them. Because many private attorneys aren’t knowledgeable of the specific obligations under the American Disability Act, it can be a challenge for many deaf and hard-of-hearing people to retain private attorneys. If you find your lawyer is unable to communicate with you, needs information about the ADA, or any other issue, contact the NAD Law and Advocacy Center here. 

About the Author

Scott Levin is a family law attorney mediator in San Diego California known as the Chief PeaceKeeper™. As the leading divorce mediation lawyer in California, Scott leverages an eclectic background in law, business and finance to aid families through his expertise in family and divorce mediation. Passionate and dedicated to aiding clients resolve conflict outside of court, Scott Levin helps clients amicably divorce in California by working to bring about settlement terms, drafting the marital settlement agreements and filing the court forms. Scott also helps with post-judgment modifications as well as prenuptial and postnuptial marital agreements.

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Scott Levin is a family law attorney mediator in San Diego California known as the Chief PeaceKeeper™. As the leading divorce mediation lawyer in California, Scott leverages an eclectic background in law, business and finance to aid families through his expertise in family and divorce mediation. Passionate and dedicated to aiding clients resolve conflict outside of court, Scott Levin helps clients amicably divorce in California by working to bring about settlement terms, drafting the marital settlement agreements and filing the court forms. Scott also helps with post-judgment modifications as well as prenuptial and postnuptial marital agreements.