Collaborative Law approach to divorce is summarized by the Collaborative Law Institute as: “… a settlement process that focuses on helping families find their way to respectful resolution. The Collaborative process focuses on creating a safe environment for the parties to express, negotiate and resolve conflict without going to court.” If you also research the definition of collaboration, you can picture, hopefully, what a collaborative divorce actually looks like – the divorcing couple and their professional team members work together to sort out the specifics of the divorce including financial settlements, spousal support, and child custody, to name a few areas.
The process can be as expensive and frustrating as any divorce. So, once you and your spouse have agreed to consider this method of finalizing your divorce, how can you make sure the process continues working for all parties, including you?
First, trust in your legal representative. Some divorcing clients end up questioning the decisions of their attorney as the emotional tension and stress of a divorce builds, essentially undermining their original decision to work with that attorney in the first place. I regularly remind my divorce financial planning clients that they have invested much time and effort in selecting an attorney – including a review of legal credentials and a personal interview to the experiences of close friends and referrals from other trusted professionals. They, my clients, need to remember these efforts and let their attorney be their attorney. We can assume the attorney has had much more experience with the divorce process than the client. If a good effort has been invested in the process for connecting with the best attorney for you, then try to let the legal professional lead you through the legal maze, not the other way around.
Second, communicate, communicate, communicate….and let the mental health professional help you improve your style if this is not your strength. If communication were an inherent strength, there might not be a need for divorce in the first place. So, take your cues from the mental health expert and know when to ask for more guidance on how best to make your needs, fears, or questions known. There is almost always a better or more productive way to ask or inform – and the better way is what the collaborative process is striving for.
Third, be an informed decision maker, especially when it comes to the financial issues of your divorce. Ask the financial professional for the information you need to make decisions. Be sure to request clarification on confusing concepts or assets and liabilities. Understand that the professionals are acting as neutrals but if you do not feel well informed on the implications of the decisions you are making, then you may not feel equally represented. The financial professionals cannot be sure the proper information has been illustrated or presented to you if you fail to inform them of your questions. Understanding that women and men learn and absorb information differently can also help; if one ‘list’ of numbers and accounts isn’t working for you, ask the financial professional to state the information in another way, i.e. what does the outcome of this option look like for me now or in five years? Women tend to relate to scenario explanations and men commonly gravitate toward bottom line figures; the collaborative process can support both.
Lastly, expect professional courtesy and respect from all the collaborative team members. There are formal guidelines for the expectations of all the professionals and respect for the divorcing parties and the process are a priority. Everyone makes mistakes but if you feel a neutral team member consistently crosses the line, make your attorney aware of the details and lack of professionalism you feel you are encountering. Your attorney can provide perspective for you on the incident(s) in question and can communicate to the team your concerns if appropriate.
Using the collaborative divorce process may be right for most cases and understanding how to make it work for you is a good key to success.