Many perceptive attorneys who represent people in divorces long ago realized that the standard litigation process often provides an outcome that is not helpful for either party, irrespective of the result. Over the last 40 years, many lawyers and their clients have attempted to use mediation as a substitute for court trials. The presence of a neutral party helped the divorcing spouses to find solutions for their disputes and to end their marriage on a relatively hopeful note. Mediation, however, has limitations such as an unimaginative mediator or the too-frequent “accept this offer or I will see you in court.” In 2014, Michigan adopted the Uniform Collaborative Law Act in an effort to further improve the dispute resolution process.
What is collaborative practice in a divorce?
In a collaborative divorce, the parties sign an agreement in which they agree to share all pertinent information with each other. The lawyers and other advisers retained by one or both parties must also sign this agreement.
The collaborative process focuses on using a team approach to explore the issues raised by each party. Usually, the team includes each party’s attorney and any financial consultants and mental health consultants that may be retained. The parties agree to waive any legal privileges that might prevent a consultant from disclosing information that would ordinarily be confidential. Before beginning the collaborative process, the parties and their consultants agree that if no agreement is reached, the lawyers and the consultants will withdraw and will not disclose any information in their possession if the case ultimately winds up in the court room.
The consultants, including the lawyers, offer suggestions for methods of dividing the couple’s assets, drafting parenting plans and dealing with any uncommon situations. For example, a financial consultant will gather all relevant financial documents and will prepare a spread sheet setting forth possible post-divorce financial arrangements that will serve the interests of both parties and any minor children.
Anyone who senses that a divorce may lie ahead may wish to contact an experienced divorce attorney for advice on different options for dissolving the marriage. A capable attorney can explain the differences between a normal divorce, a mediated divorce and a collaborative divorce.