Should I use a collaborative process if I don't trust my spouse?

For most couples, trust is at an all-time low in the period preceding divorce. It may be helpful to evaluate whether your distrust is relationship-based or reflects a systemic problem with dishonesty and malevolent intentions in general. Let me explain.

If you counted on your spouse to support you through difficult times in your marriage and s/he failed to do so, your level of trust in the relationship is likely compromised. However, this same spouse may operate with integrity in business dealings and relationships in general. Therefore, the trust-based Collaborative Process may be appropriate for your divorce.

However, if your spouse behaved in a dishonorable way in a previous divorce, or if s/he has been deceitful with business partners, it may not be wise to rely on that spouse to participate in the Collaborative Process with integrity. If s/he has failed to report income to the IRS or pilfered items from an employer, these types of markers may indicate a systemic lack of honesty and honorable intentions that could carry over into how s/he approaches divorce negotiations.

So, give some thought to where your distrust originates.

In evaluating this question, it may also be helpful to seek the counsel of people who know and care about you both. Ask these, perhaps more objective observers, whether they believe your spouse would be fair and honorable in negotiating a divorce settlement. This may provide a more balanced perspective as you contemplate using a good-faith process that relies on trust and integrity.

Another approach might be to employ the “trust but verify” principle. If your spouse reports that there is $250,000 in a 401(k), be sure to verify that figure with a document demonstrating that value. This is simply employing due diligence and is routinely part of the Collaborative Process.

The truth is, unless you are going to employ a forensic accountant to comb through years of bank accounts and business records at great expense, an element of trust is required, regardless of whether you litigate or use the Collaborative Process. But here’s an important point to remember: because of its less threatening atmosphere, the Collaborative Process often results in a willingness to be forthcoming and honest during divorce negotiation.

Talk over your concerns with a Collaboratively-trained attorney, coach, or financial specialist. This professional can provide helpful guidance in evaluating the appropriateness of your case for Collaborative Process. You’ll find that no Collaborative professional wants you to use any process—Collaborative, Mediation or Litigation—that isn’t right for you and your family.



Deborah Bennet Berecz, J.D.
Deborah Bennet Berecz is one of
Michigan's most expereienced Collaborative
attorney's. She can be reached at
616.667.2217 and more information is
available at