The very word divorce often conjures up images of couples fighting. Fighting over ownership of property, payment of debts, child custody, support, visitation and any other issue associated with spouses who choose to no longer be married. But, there is a better way. In 2001, the Texas legislature put its seal of approval on using the process of collaborative law in family law disputes.
Choosing a collaborative divorce
Although difficult to believe, collaborative divorce actually trades acrimony for harmony. Although the process may not work for every divorcing couple, there are many benefits to the process, both emotional and financial.
Benefits of a collaborative divorce
A collaborative divorce puts the onus on the divorcing spouses to work together to make their own decisions as to how issues will be resolved. It may not be easy, but those who have either been through the process themselves, or have assisted others in their collaborative divorce, cite the major benefits as:
- The couple maintains control of the decision-making and ultimate outcome of their divorce instead of putting the control into the hands of a judge.
- The focus is on maintaining respect for each other without name-calling or belittling.
- Couples who use the collaborative divorce process are able to maintain a future amicable relationship, which is very important if they have children.
- Each party to the divorce maintains integrity and refrains from doing and saying things that may be harmful to the other party and the children.
- It is more economical for both parties.
- Research shows that after a collaborative divorce, ex-spouses are more likely to comply with the settlement terms since it is an agreement they worked out together.
How it works
Collaborative divorce begins with both spouses and their attorneys entering in to a written agreement that they will all put forth their best effort to resolve all issues relevant to the dissolution of the marriage without litigation or court intervention. The only court action will be at the end of the process when the court will review and sign the divorce decree created from the settlement agreement put together by the parties. The initial agreement will provide:
- The parties and their attorneys will work together to exchange all information so that informed decisions can be made by both sides.
- There will be no court action during the collaborative process.
- A series of conferences are held where the parties, their attorneys and any experts will meet to discuss the issues and come to mutually satisfying solutions.
- Experts will be consulted as necessary to help resolve issues. This may include financial experts, child psychologists, teachers, appraisers and family counselors as well as any other person with relevant information.
- Any other terms the parties agree upon.
- The process is confidential.
- If it is ultimately impossible for the parties to come to an agreement, the court will be notified and all attorneys who have been working with the parties to effectuate an agreement will withdraw from representation. The spouses will have to retain new counsel for divorce litigation.
It is thought that between 96 and 98 percent of couples who begin the collaborative divorce process complete it with a satisfactory agreement. According to Harris & Cook law partner David L. Cook, who is Board Certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in Family Law, "It is a divorce solution that leaves your financial assets, family ties, and dignity as intact as possible."