When you are looking up “Divorce” on the internet, there are many terms, approaches, and facts flying at you. “Collaborative,” sounds good. “Cooperative” sounds good, too! You want low stress. You do not want to fight with your soon to be ex-spouse any more than you already have been. Ending a legal marriage is sure to have lasting impact on you, both financially and emotionally. Divorce is stressful. There are financial matters to resolve and potentially parenting and/or support issues as well. Each situation is different and there is certainly a wide range in terms of complexity and level of conflict when it comes to divorce.
The terms “collaborative divorce” and “cooperative divorce” sound similar. You may be wondering if one of these options could work for you in order to dissolve your marriage in a lower-conflict, potentially cost-effective way.
It is important to understand what each of these options entails as you determine the best way to proceed. Please work closely with a skillful family law attorney to learn more about your options, taking into account the unique variables of your case, and to guide you through to reach the best possible outcome.
What is Collaborative Divorce?
In a Collaborative Divorce, divorcing spouses and their attorneys sign a Participation Agreement to negotiate the entire process without filing any motions with the court and without threatening to do so. They agree to mediate and negotiate everything in “good faith”, with full disclosure, honest collaboration, and without litigation. Generally, in a Collaborative Divorce agreement, attorneys sign and commit that they will withdraw and not participate in litigation if a settlement is not able to be reached and the case does go to court.
The intention with Collaborative Divorce is to minimize stress. The thought is that litigation and court proceedings would add undue stress to the already emotionally and financially challenging process of divorce. Proponents of Collaborative Divorce emphasize that avoiding court altogether will keep stress and costs at a minimum. While this is ideal in theory, it is often not realistic in practice for everyone.
Each spouse works with a separate attorney to guide them through the process and assist them in negotiating an acceptable settlement agreement. Meetings are held regularly to discuss settlement with the other spouse and their attorney. Other professionals may be a part of these meetings, as appropriate, such as mental health providers, financial advisors, or child custody specialists. If you are able to come to a mutual agreement, family court judge will have brief involvement in order to sign the agreement and that will be the extent of court involvement.
If you are not able to come to a mutual agreement and if you determine you would like to proceed with litigation afterall, you will need to start divorce proceedings over with new counsel. Your attorney has signed agreement to withdraw from the case should this happen, and you will need to find a new family law attorney to represent you.
What is Cooperative Divorce?
In a Cooperative Divorce the goals are similar, but there are some key differences that distinguish the two. In a Cooperative Divorce, parties do commit to working together in a reasonable way to negotiate and reach a mutual agreement. Alongside their attorneys, divorcing spouses seek to work in a way that minimizes conflict, toward a settlement that will be acceptable to both parties.
The primary difference is that in Cooperative Divorce, the door is left open that they may proceed to litigation if it becomes necessary. Neither party is prevented from filing for litigation to resolve challenges that may arise. Proponents of Cooperative Divorce suggest that you are best suited to leave this option available to you. The goal will still be to avoid litigation and resolve your case through peaceful negotiation and mediation, but if things don’t go quite as you had hoped, your attorney can continue represent you through the next stages of the process. There is no telling how dynamics may shift, despite best intentions, and you may require the assistance of the court process in order to protect yourself and your best interests. You also may not want to participate in meetings with your spouse, which makes cooperative divorce a healthy option for giving space during this process while not necessarily fighting.
It is a common misconception that when attorneys are involved, everything escalates and becomes more contentious and argumentative than it needs to be. It is important to understand that it is the desire of all good family law attorneys to resolve your divorce case in a way that minimizes stress and conflict as much as possible.
We are here to assist you in sorting through the unique aspects of your case and in weighing the pros and cons of all options, and we will support your chosen path forward. Our firm works to minimize conflict and protect our clients’ best interests in each and every case. If you are contemplating divorce and have questions about the available options for moving forward, please give us a call today. We are here to help.