Collaborative Divorce Might Be a Bad Idea If You…

As you may be able to tell from this series of posts, I’m a big believer in the power of an interdisciplinary collaborative divorce to provide people with a positive path through their divorce.

The team-based approach – incorporating lawyers, psychologists and financial neutrals – helps alleviate the stresses that lead to conflict, mitigate misunderstandings and help keep you and your ex on track to an agreement that is in both of your interests.

However – it’s certainly not for everyone.

Not For Everyone

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, there are four main paths you can choose to follow through your divorce.

And choosing which path to take is a big, important decision that will be made early on in the process. I say ‘will be made’, because unfortunately it’s not always a shared decision.

In some cases, one party will decide to initiate the separation and will have already headed so far down one path (normally litigation) that the other party is left with little choice about what to do.

Or the decision to end the relationship may have come about due to severe and dangerous events – think of every single person having to flee the family home for their own safety (and that of their children).

It’s completely understandable that the last thought on your mind as you seek safe harbour is which bureaucratic method you’re going to take to formalise your escape.

So, I believe that where it is a good option, collaborative divorce is often a really good option.

But often it’s not an option at all – let alone a good one.

There MUST Be Respect For It To Work

An interdisciplinary collaborative divorce (ICD to save me some typing) involves a fundamental level of respect and commitment to cooperation from all parties. The goal is to help the divorcing couple navigate their way to an agreement that best serves their individual and family interests.

The negotiation, then, is the pursuit of a mutually beneficial outcome.

To achieve that, each member of the couple needs to feel safe to:

  • Express their concerns, worries and fears without judgement or attack

  • Explore their thoughts and goals out loud, without prejudicing their position

  • Identify and articulate their own goals, interests and priorities without being attacked or dismissed

  • Consider different alternatives that could provide for creative solutions

These discussions, around a boardroom table, can be difficult, contentious and emotional.

Which makes it absolutely, utterly, completely vital that everyone involved can summon enough respect for the ‘other side’ to commit to the discussion.

It’s akin to tandem tightrope walking – unless you’re both on board with the journey, you’re going to slip and fall.

Nobody wins then.

Conflict – It’s Natural (Until It’s Not)

The importance of respect in the process becomes especially apparent in its absence.

Lower level disrespect, even tendency towards conflict, can be well managed by the psychological professional in the team. Some level of conflict is to be expected – your marriage likely isn’t ending because of a shortage of conflict.

Many couples begin the process with exhausted patience and mounting frustration – disagreements, disrespect and anger are not rare.

So your psychologist, or communications coach, will help you both unpack what triggers your conflicts. They’ll help you identify moments of rising tension, and help you with strategies to defuse the anger when it comes.

Again, this is a natural part of any divorce – but imagine how it plays out in those divorces that don’t have the support of a neutral professional.

Toxic Conflict

However, it becomes a serious issue – even a disqualifying issue – when the conflict:

Is toxically imbalanced.

  • If there’s one party constantly leaping into conflict mode, with a closed mind and fueled by anger, while the other party shuts down, then the process cannot work.

  • If the angry party refuses to do the work to avoid their tendencies white anting the entire process, then there’s no point proceeding.

Persists despite the best efforts of the entire team. 

  • Your team is committed to helping you both reach the resolution that best serves your family.

  • They will bend over backwards to help you get there – they will protect you, advocate for you, respect you and help you through the entire journey.

  • But if, despite all that, the undercurrent of anger, conflict and disrespect continues, then it becomes very difficult to help you both get where you need to go.

  • In other words – if the work of the team is not being reciprocated by both members of the couple, then why bother with the process?

Continues to fuel disrespect for everything – their ex, the process, the team.

  • If, after the best efforts of your psychological neutral, one – or both – parties continue to disrespect each other, the process and the team – then they’re probably not a good fit for collaborative divorce.

  • If one, or both, of you is going to keep sitting in the meetings, rolling their eyes and huffing every time somebody speaks, or refuses to communicate or allow other voices to be heard, then I would question if you’re committed to reaching a resolution.

  • In fact, is it about reaching a solution – or simply extending the fight?

Leaves anybody feeling unsafe.

  • This is the big one, the absolutely firm, double-thick red line. If at any time, anybody feels unsafe because of the words, actions or intent of another person, the process stops.

  • If this is something that’s happening before you decide to separate, then collaborative divorce is most likely not a good option for you.

  • The toxicity, danger and damage of any form of abuse inserts a brick wall into the process. And even with the best intentions and commitments, that brick wall cannot be dismantled by a process built upon equality and respect.

And collaboration cannot exist with that brick wall in the middle of the room.


Another group of people for whom collaboration wouldn’t be suitable are those incapable of understanding the proceedings.

It might be because of addiction, or their personal faculties, learning challenges, illiteracy or injury – no matter the reason, if a person cannot contribute to the process in their own interests, it’s questionable if a collaboration is the best option for them.

Because that incapacity puts them at an immediate disadvantage to the other party; a disadvantage heightened by the dynamic in the negotiation.

In that situation, they may decide to short-circuit the process by simply agreeing to everything, just to make the difficulty they’re experiencing go away – which will not lead to an acceptable outcome.

Choosing Your Own Path

While I wholeheartedly endorse the collaborative pathway for those people it’s suitable for, the simple reality is that, for some people, it’s a terrible option.

The very things that make collaboration such a good option for some – the focus on respect, the safety of the process, the united pursuit of an outcome for you and your family, the team approach – also make it dreadful for others.

Which complicates your decision around which path to take for your own divorce. So when trying to work out the best way to go, ask yourself:

  • Is there enough respect left for us to be able to sit around a table and communicate openly?

  • Do I feel safe now – and do I believe I will in the future?

  • What level of support will I, or my ex, need through this process?

Then, after some reflection, seek out a lawyer or divorce professional who can offer you a warts-and-all opinion of all four pathways. Be honest with them, be open about what you’re looking for (and please don’t go in already thinking about percentages and entitlements!).

It’s an important decision, so seek the advice you need to feel comfortable about your choice.

Because, while it might feel foreign for you now, the choice is yours.

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