Collaborative Divorce has existed in the United States since the 1990s and has been practiced in New Jersey for over a decade.
A Collaborative Divorce is a non-adversarial process in which each party has their own attorney but agree not to file for divorce while they attempt to resolve their issues. The basic idea behind Collaborative Law is to offer you and your spouse the security of having your own lawyer, while eliminating the frustration and added cost that can be incurred in litigation.
The first step in the process is to meet with a trained collaborative law attorney. While some attorneys might say they are familiar with the process are willing to participate in a collaborative divorce, this is not the same as being trained in the process. Just like in the medical field, the legal field has specializations, Collaborative Law being one of them. Assuming both parties agree to pursue a collaborative divorce, the next step would be to schedule an initial conference to determine what issues need to be resolved, and if any additional team members or experts are needed.
Rather that both sides retreating to their respective “corners” and hiring individual experts, couples in a Collaborative Divorce hire only neutral, joint experts to assist them. By agreeing to hire a single, neutral expert, it saves both parties from having to spend potentially thousands of dollars and avoids the risk of ending up with competing recommendations that necessitate even more delay and cost . It also enables you to widen the parameters of what you get out of your expert beyond just issuing a final report. Experts can participate in settlement conferences to offer suggestions or assist in analyzing proposals in real time. Think of how much more productive it would be to have a custody expert at the meeting while you are trying to work out your parenting schedule, rather than waiting months to get a report in the mail with a suggested schedule that neither parent is really happy with.
After the initial meeting, additional sessions will be scheduled when the couple is ready to proceed. The benefit of this is that it is the couple that controls how quickly or slowly the process moves forward. If the couple is able to collect all their information quickly, and the team members are able to complete their work, they can schedule the follow up sessions as soon as everyone is available. They are not left to wait for a judge to find room on his or her calendar. The same is also true, if there are issues which require time to develop, the couple can postpone the meetings, unlike in a litigated divorce when you may be forced to appear before you are ready.
Ultimately, through these meetings, with the assistance of the collaborative law attorney and joint experts, a couple is able to work through their issues to reach an agreement that both of them can live with . If this happens, the couple will then be able to obtain a final divorce in a relatively short, painless proceeding.
So if it’s so great, why doesn’t everyone do it? There are several reasons why more couples are not participating in Collaborative Divorces, the most basic of which is that people are unaware of the option. There are still relatively few attorneys in New Jersey who have been trained in the process. As a result, when most individuals go to someone for a consultation, unless they are going to someone who is trained in the field, the attorney simply won’t bring it up. The other main reason is comfort. People just generally don’t like to try new things. They are comfortable doing things a certain way, even if it is not the most efficient or even the most satisfying way of doing it. Finally, there is a risk to pursuing a Collaborative Divorce, that being if the process fails, the attorney who represented you in the Collaborative Divorce cannot represent you in the contested litigation. However, statistically, many more couples who participate in a Collaborative Divorce are successful in resolving their issues than those who are not.
If you are interested in learning more about Collaborative Divorce, or in finding an attorney or expert trained in Collaborative Law, I suggest visiting www.newjerseycollaborativelawgroup.com.