Collaborative Practice 101

Collaborative family law started more than 25 years ago in Minnesota. Since that time, it has taken hold around the world and grown increasingly popular as professionals and couples learn of this advantageous approach.

Collaborative Practice recognizes that divorce isn’t just a legal process in a couple’s life; it’s an emotional, financial, relational, and, for some, a spiritual one as well.

Collaborative Practice offers couples a process to reach an out-of-court, mutually agreeable settlement with the support of a customized team of professionals who have the specific training and knowledge necessary to help couples navigate every aspect of their divorce in a cost-effective manner. An agreement signed by the clients and their attorneys at the beginning of the process states that if one person chooses to go to court, the attorneys cannot represent them in court, thereby creating an incentive for all participants to resolve everything out of court. This is where the magic of the process happens. By taking the court option off the table, we can create a safe container where we can push through the difficult issues and focus on joint problem solving, rather than fighting. Everyone is committed to reaching settlement out of court. Your team of professionals is created to meet your family's needs.

The financial neutral helps couples evaluate their complete financial picture. Together with the parties, the financial neutral looks at options for dividing assets and liabilities, taking into consideration the tax impact of various choices as well as helping the parties plan for the financial management of two households going forward.

The divorce coach helps the couple manage their emotions and communication during the divorce process so they can make good, long-term decisions rather than emotionally reactive ones. Couples have hot-button issues and dynamics that were at play during the marriage and will be during the divorce. The divorce coach helps keep you on track and have more effective communication during the process. Depending on the needs of the parties, they usually share a coach but, each party may have his or her own divorce coach, if that would be helpful.

The neutral child specialist gives the children a voice in the process. The child specialist helps the parents understand, from a developmental perspective, what the children's needs are and how best to address them when creating a parenting plan and help keep the children out of the middle.

Attorneys trained in the Collaborative process provide legal advocacy for their clients and help them determine what settlement options best meet their goals for the future and help create a settlement. The clients themselves decide how best to end the marriage, divide property, redefine the family, and begin new lives with the support and guidance of the professional team. Attorneys focus on joint problem solving.

Though it may seem counterintuitive, using a team of specialists can often keep costs lower than those accrued in a conventional court focused divorce. Although there are more professionals involved, costs are reduced because time in court is eliminated, and clients use professionals with skills sets tailored to the issues being addressed. Also, each professional works efficiently in the area with which he or she has expertise and information is shared, so each professional is ready to step in at any point they are needed. Professional services are structured to maximize efficiency.

For example, a neutral child specialist helps with creating a parenting plan that is responsive to the children’s needs while a financial neutral helps gather financial information, crunches numbers, and understands tax implications of various monetary decisions. Because specific professionals are brought in to address only specific needs, your costs are ultimately lower.

Also, Collaborative Practice is unlike any other divorce process because it strives to not only resolve existing conflicts but to position parties for success in their new lives beyond the divorce.

Coaches can help couples resolve old hurts or develop new skills to be able to better communicate with each other. They help couples create new boundaries and expectations for their life after divorce. Child specialists can help parents understand the concerns of their children and learn how to work with them. Collaborative attorneys understand what sort of issues can bring a couple to court after divorce settlement (post-decree), and are therefore able to weave options for addressing potential future issues into the decree so the couple can avoid going to court in the future.

People who resolve their divorce using the Collaborative process walk away in a better position emotionally, financially, and relationally than if they divorced using the more adversarial method. The Collaborative process pays attention to the family system and focuses on minimizing additional harm to the family.

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