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FAQ

Got a question? Perhaps these frequently asked questions can help you.

Can we collaborate if we aren’t getting along?

Collaborative divorce allows families to resolve the difficult issues of divorce with dignity and respect. The most destructive component of divorce is conflict and this process assists divorcing couples in remaining focused on the best interest of the family and children. Most people find it difficult to “get along” when divorcing because there are so many strong emotions present. However, every member of a collaborative team shares the goals of this process and has been specially trained to assist the couple in reaching truly satisfying solutions for all members of the family rather than each attorney fighting for only member.

Divorce is an unfortunate experience of life but the “litigation” process can make it even more devastating. Collaborative process is not “therapy” yet it can be very therapeutic as it provides a safe, calm environment in which to deal with difficult issues. People rarely feel safe or calm in court.”Divorce coaches” support individuals in staying focused upon reaching resolutions rather than being distracted by anger and resentment. This helps families make decisions concerning their future rather than trying to rescue what is left after the battle.

What is collaborative law?

Collaborative law is an alternative to litigation (which typically places lawyers, plaintiffs, and defendants in adversarial postures). Although aggressive advocacy may be appropriate in some criminal or civil cases, it is not appropriate for families in transition. First, a collaborative contract is signed, requiring parties to resolve their differences without going to court. Then, a team of collaboratively-trained professionals partners with the clients, to develop an agreement that is psychologically reasonable and legally sound. When an agreement is reached, it is signed and taken to the court for final disposition. If any client decides to file a complaint with the court before the process is completed, the collaborative team will be dissolved.

Is the collaborative process right for me?

A better question might be “Is collaboration right for my family?” Even if your family is comprised of only you and your spouse, the collaborative process provides a more peaceful alternative to litigation. Unless you need to “win” the arguments about who to blame for the breakup; or unless you feel it’s important to make your spouse “pay” for how s/he has disappointed you, collaborative law allows you to go your separate ways and start over with dignity.

If your family includes children, choosing collaborative law is a “no brainer” because collaboration heals, while conflict destroys and divides. The emotional impact of divorce upon children is significantly reduced when parents cooperate instead of clash. Collaborative law offers couples the opportunity to reach agreement instead of engaging in battle.

Also, as one writer put it “What you resist, persists,” and adversarial litigation is frequently a drawn-out process that keeps wounds open and bleeding for long periods of time. So, if you’re genuinely ready to move on, your collaborative professionals will assist you in going forward efficiently and with respect. Since these professionals share your same goals-a fair and reasonable settlement-but are not suffering the emotional pain you are experiencing, they can help you become aware of the “blind spots” that plague families in the midst of divorce. This is especially important when children are present.

What is a collaborative team?

The collaborative team is comprised of professionals who are trained in conflict resolution and who are committed to reaching agreement with fairness and dignity. The collaborative contract brings clients, attorneys, mental health professionals, children’s specialists and financial experts together in the same room, at the same table, seeking to reach agreement.

It might be compared to the collaborative team of doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists, and others who work collaboratively in the operating room to “keep the patient alive.” The Hippocratic Oath admonishes physicians to “Do no harm,” and the collaborative team seeks to resolve conflicts in the same spirit.

How do I choose a collaborative professional?

You’ve come to the right place! GentlerDivorce.com can help you identify collaborative professional who share a commitment to achieve fair and effective resolution without litigation.

In the directories of professionals, you will find people committed to resolving issues in an atmosphere of honesty, cooperation, integrity, and professionalism. Each listed professional is a graduate of a collaborative law training program and is involved locally with the movement away from the courtroom and toward collaboration.

Can my therapist act as my coach, or can my child’s therapist act as the child specialist?

Although this might seem to be a good idea, it doesn’t work well. When a mental health professional establishes a relationship with a client, this relationship becomes aligned with the patient-as it ought to be. That relationship may have begun before or during the marriage that is now dissolving and may continue far beyond the date of divorce. And that’s good, that’s how therapy works.

However, during the divorce process, the collaboratively-trained divorce coach or child specialist fulfills a more neutral/non-aligned role: resolving conflict in a way that is least damaging to the participants. If a therapist tries to juggle multiple roles effectiveness is impaired-both for the therapist and for the collaborative team.

Will my children be involved in the process, and if so, to what extent?

Yes and no:

Yes, we frequently use child specialists to help us understand the needs of children whose parents are divorcing. After meeting with the child(ren), the specialist offers the team a neutral perspective regarding what is in the child(ren)’s best interest. This frequently includes developing a parenting plan which addresses:

Allocating parenting responsibilities
Parenting time
Decision making
Communication
Support
Problem solving

The collaborative team makes every effort to reach amicable solutions that promote the best interests of the children.

No, children do not attend any of the collaborative sessions with the lawyers.

Will my collaborative lawyer fight for me?

Even with full and honest disclosure, the collaborative process involves dynamic, good faith negotiation. Simply put, we have different needs, and we will have some disagreements and struggles. In light of this reality, the collaborative process seeks:

Good-faith cooperation
Direct, efficient and timely discussions
Mutual agreement
Settlement outside of court

We use our best efforts to create options that meet each person’s fundamental needs. While some compromise may be necessary, the final agreement is designed to work for each parent and for each child. Yes, your collaborative lawyer will “fight” to reach agreement, will “strive” to do so with dignity and respect, and will make certain that the agreement you sign is consistent with the laws of your state.

What happens if a settlement cannot be reached?

It is unlikely that a settlement cannot be reached; because conflicts are addressed openly and each collaborative professional is committed to working for the benefit of the entire family and the whole process. Clients and team members are encouraged to work together in the spirit of cooperation rather than battling to “win.”

However, in the rare instance that a settlement cannot be reached, the collaborative team is disbanded and each party must retain a litigation attorney to prepare for trial so a judge can make the decision.

I want to use the collaborative process; how do I get my partner to agree?

Once you meet with a collaborative attorney, you will be provided with basic information about collaboration to share with your partner. You will also receive the names of additional collaborative attorneys, among whom your spouse may choose. Furthermore, your spouse may go to www.CollaborativePracticeMI.com to find additional collaborative attorneys.

Your spouse should also meet personally with a collaborative attorney to receive additional information about collaborative divorce and other options.

Is a collaborative divorce less expensive than litigated divorce?

Since multiple factors influence the cost of your divorce (e.g., attorney fees, court costs, filing fees and the cost of other helping professionals) it is difficult to compare divorces-the “apples vs. oranges” problem.

Nonetheless, a divorce in which spouses are cooperating (e.g., exchanging financial disclosure sheets, voluntarily sharing legal documents with the team, etc.) is likely to be more efficient and less expensive. However, this is not a certainty.

Yet, even if financial costs were comparable, the gentler, collaborative approach “pays” high emotional dividends to all family members.

How long does a collaborative divorce case take from beginning to end?

The length of the collaborative process varies from cases to case, as it is difficult to determine how many issues will need to be negotiated. However, collaborative divorce negotiation usually resolves conflicts more quickly than traditional litigation.

My spouse and I are planning to get a divorce without lawyers because we believe lawyers will turn it into a battle. Why would we want collaborative divorce?

Seeking to avoid costly court battles makes a lot of sense-in fact, that is the foundation for collaborative law, avoiding court. However, the most motivated couples can find themselves struggling-if not fighting-over issues involving children, allocation of income, and division of assets. Collaborative professionals are trained help to you resolve these divisive issues and reach agreements that are emotionally satisfying and legally sound. This reduces the likelihood that you will need to engage the court in the future, because your do-it-yourself agreement was incomplete.

My spouse already has filed papers with the court. Can we still choose collaborative family law?

Possibly. While attempting to collaborate when a legal case is pending is not ideal, there may be some limited circumstances in which it is possible. Typically, if a case has already been filed, it would be dismissed so that the collaborative process can proceed without court interruption. Contact a collaborative professional in order to learn more.

How does collaborative divorce differ from mediation?

There are several differences:

(1) A neutral mediator sits down with you and your partner and helps you reach solutions. However, there are only three of you. And a mediator cannot give legal advice. Most mediators are not trained in legal, financial, and psychological matters.

(2) In the collaborative process, each professional is committed to resolution, but is not required to be completely neutral-as is the mediator. You have your own lawyer who is dedicated to giving you sound legal advice while simultaneously seeking agreement.

(3) When necessary, you have available the services of mental health professionals who can coach you and your spouse in communication skills and anger management. Professionals can assist you in relating to your children during the crisis of divorce and in developing emotionally-healthy parenting plans.

(4) Your team also includes a financial professional who helps answer all financial questions.

The goal of collaborative law is not merely to dissolve your marriage in a legal way, but to provide you and your children with a better future, based on state-of-art skills and information regarding how to cope with this difficult transition in your life.