For many couples, the difficult decision to divorce doesn’t result in anger or dislike, but it is a mutual determination that no longer being married is best for both parties. Yet, even for couples that split amicably, going through the dissolution of marriage process can be riddled with conflict, complications, and inefficiencies. This led many lawyers and spouses to look for other options. In the States of Oregon and Washington, the collaborative divorce process is an alternative process to the traditional dissolution of marriage.
How can spouses know if collaborative divorce is an appropriate path for them? Understanding the key differences between collaborative divorce and the traditional dissolution of marriage process is the best place to start evaluating this option for divorce.
Collaborative Divorce Is Only Allowed for Uncontested Divorces
Collaborative divorce is a unique and separate conflict resolution process that allows spouses to arrive at a divorce settlement without undergoing the traditional divorce process. The couple is invited to cooperate and compromise on all facets of the divorce, including division of assets and co-parenting. The entire collaborative divorce process takes place outside courtrooms or other formal settings. This allows for greater flexibility in the final agreement, and often, results in a faster divorce settlement.
If a party contests any aspect of the divorce, then the spouses must proceed through the appropriate court procedures in their state. It is still possible that the divorce ends amicably through alternative channels, but the spouses have less control and direct input into the equitable, court determination.
Collaborative Participation Agreements Sets the Ground Rules
Before the specifics of a divorce are discussed in the collaborative divorce process, the parties draft and sign a collaborative participation agreement. Without the oversight of a court, this agreement provides the ground rules of the divorce. The collaborative participation agreement states the mutual goals of the parties and includes a commitment to being truthful and forthright.
The development and execution of this agreement is specific and unique to the collaborative divorce process, and the parties’ legal representatives develop the written document. However, the couple dictates what’s included in a collaborative participation agreement. What the parties decide is important for this initial agreement says a great deal about their willingness to participate in this alternative conflict resolution procedure.
Engaging a Specific Attorney for Collaborative Divorce
Throughout the process of collaborative divorce, attorneys represent the spouses. As the legal representatives in this conflict resolution process, collaborative divorce attorneys are responsible for drafting the collaborative participation agreement, facilitating negotiations and conversations between the spouses, and eventually, preparing a mutually agreeable settlement, which both parties sign. These lawyers are invested in a non-contentious resolution to the divorce and trained in negotiation styles that properly facilitate the process.
Collaborative divorce attorneys in Oregon and Washington have specialized training and experience to provide counsel in this dispute resolution process, but typically practice in several areas of family law. However, in both states a lawyer that agrees to represent a party in collaborative divorce must terminate the engagement if the divorce becomes contentious. This requirement is in place to protect the parties and the intent of collaborative divorce.
Consultation with Other Professionals
In collaborative divorce, family law attorneys aren’t the only professionals involved in the process. Many spouses choose to consult neutral experts in mental health, finances, or parenting. For example, the parties can ask an accountant to step in and discuss the various tax implications of their division of assets and how to minimize the consequences. Co-parenting and custody decisions are other areas where expert opinion and advice can be helpful.
Unlike the dissolution of marriage cases that are resolved in a courtroom, collaborative divorce is focused on the best outcome for both spouses. Therefore, the information and opinion of these neutral experts is shared openly with the intent to facilitate mutually agreeable decisions. These experts must also step aside if the divorce process becomes contentious.
Learn More About Collaborative Divorce
Collaborative divorce is also different from other conflict resolution processes in Oregon and Washington, such as mediation. Check the GRM Family Law Blog regularly to find out more about collaborative divorce and why parties might choose this resolution process instead of mediation. You can also find more information on collaborative divorce on the Gearing, Rackner & McGrath website.