But, What is Collaborative Divorce?

You have an image in your mind of what ‘divorce’ looks like.

 Lawyers. A courtroom. Yelling. Accusations. Anger. Fear. Recriminations and accusations.

 Now take that image and put it to the side.

 Because, as I’ve been saying in this series, there are other ways to get divorced.

 And one that I’ve had more experience with is this unusually powerful option called ‘collaborative divorce’

 What IS Collaborative Divorce?

At ground level, collaborative divorce is just another way of navigating the minefield of emotions, conflict, fear and doubt that springs into being at the end of a marriage.

 In the simplest way, collaborative divorce is a process in which both parties and their respective lawyers work together to come to an agreement on the terms of the divorce, without going to court.

 The gold standard of collaborative divorce goes a step further and brings in two other key experts to help you both come to a resolution:

 A Communications Expert

In my experience, this role is best served by having a trained and experienced psychologist in the chair.

 They are there to help round the edges of the emotional turmoil you’re both experiencing in this challenging time. They facilitate the discussion, keep things on track and also help the rest of the team see the full context of your unique circumstances.

 They check in with people during the challenging moments of the process and help you carve out the space in the discussions and meetings to feel more at ease with what’s going on

 At its core, the importance of this role stems from their superior ability to tackle the emotional reality of your divorce.

 And from the reality that divorce is, ultimately, an emotional undertaking with legal and financial consequences – not the other way around.

 A Financial Neutral

You and your ex have probably accumulated a range of different financial assets, liabilities, income and expenses over the course of your relationship.

 This frequently becomes a tangled web of complexity.

 Mix this tangled web with the emotional luggage that accompanies any discussion about money, and you have a recipe for a cloudy soup of misunderstandings, worries and conflict.

 If this soup isn’t properly…seasoned, it very quickly sets, fixing you both in your positions.

 One of which can be best described as:

“They’ve always managed the money and now I don’t know anything about our finances and I don’t think I can trust what they say therefore I’m not going to trust anything they says or does through this whole process.” 

 The financial neutral is there to dilute these concerns, to take the air out of the angry balloon.

 We do this by:

  • Helping collect the nitty gritty information you and the team will need.

  • Ensuring you both have an equally useful understanding of the marital finances.

  • Helping you articulate your individual goals from the settlement.

  • Assisting the team ‘model out’ the different options and scenarios generated in the negotiation.

 While we don’t provide financial advice, simply working through these four steps for people can take the heat out of the ‘money thing’. And avoiding escalation in that area makes it easier to avoid escalating conflict in the other areas too.

 Why Should I Consider A Collaborative Process?

This method of divorce is becoming increasingly popular in Australia, as it can offer a number of benefits over the traditional court process:

 Faster and less costly:

Traditionally, collaborative divorce typically takes less time and costs less money than traditional court-based divorce. This advantage isn’t as pronounced since the Family Court took steps to address the major backlog of cases.

But, because the process focuses on negotiation and compromise, rather than prolonged legal battles, it can provide a faster option for you and your family. And, generally, faster means less expensive too.

Another benefit here, though, is that you can exercise more control over just how long the process goes.

Things moving too quickly? You can ask for the team, and your ex, to slow it down a bit.

Dragging on a bit? You’re encouraged to speak with the team to see what can be done to move things along – or is it just a matter of making sure things are done diligently that’s slowing it down?

Less adversarial:

Collaborative divorce is designed to be less adversarial than traditional court-based divorce.

It’s there in the name – we’re all there to collaborate and find a solution that meets the needs of you, your ex and your family.

The process focuses on finding a mutually acceptable solution, rather than one party winning and the other losing. This can make the process less stressful for both parties.

This can be a difficult concept to accept – particularly when we carry that image of a ‘divorce’ in our minds.

Put another way – this process is about aligning the outcome with the ‘interests’ of both you and your ex, not maximising your ‘entitlements’.

“What we can do” instead of “what I am due“.

 Greater control:

Collaborative divorce allows both parties to have greater control over the outcome of the divorce.

 This can be particularly beneficial for those who have specific concerns or priorities that they want to address, such as the care of children or the division of assets.

 The most rewarding collaborations I’ve been a part of have embodied this idea. Where the couples actions have supported their declarations about prioritising the kids interests.

 “Just because we don’t love each other anymore doesn’t mean we stopped loving the kids”.

 This also translates into allowing for more creative solutions too.

 The traditional 4-step approach from the courts is, naturally, more rigid than a negotiated solution reached via a collaborative process. This flexibility can lead to some amazingly creative and beneficial outcomes.

 Greater privacy:

Collaborative divorce is typically a more private process than traditional court-based divorce.

This can be beneficial for those who want to keep the details of their divorce out of the public eye.

Sounds Like a Fairy Tale – What Are The Negatives?

It’s not all unicorns and rainbows, of course.

There are some other things you should know about before heading down this path:

The Process requires cooperation:

Collaborative divorce requires both parties to be willing to cooperate and compromise.

If one party is not willing to participate in the process, it will not work.

This is a deal-breaker. The process is built upon an attitude of cooperation and a focus on finding an acceptable – not ideal – resolution.

Limited legal representation:

Collaborative divorce is based on the idea that both parties will have their own lawyers working together.

However, the lawyers in this process work within some rules – for instance, they both agree that they cannot represent their clients in court. So if the process fail to reach an agreement, the parties would need to get new lawyers.

There is also a distinction you should speak with your lawyers about, around ‘advice’ and ‘information’.

We have something similar in financial advice, but our legal friends are best placed to discuss this with you.

Less costly doesn’t mean ‘cheap’:

Divorce is not a cheap process, and a collaborative divorce is not a way to pinch pennies.

By engaging a team of professionals to help you navigate this process, you will be paying what may feel like an uncomfortable level of fees.

But in return for that, you’re getting…a team of professionals there to help you navigate this process.

So while it’s not cheap, I believe the value you’re getting for your fees means that the experience should be more productive and less damaging.

Not suitable for all cases:

Collaborative divorce may not be suitable for all cases, especially those with a history of domestic violence or high-conflict situations.

 Which boils down to the requirement that both parties be willing to engage in the process, respectfully and productively.

 When the power dynamic within the relationship is damaging or toxic, this requirement simply can’t be met.

Now that we’ve talked about what a collaborative divorce is, my next post is going to unpack how it can work in practice and go into more detail around the roles played by the different members of your team.

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