By nature, divorce can be, at best, a difficult and expensive process. From the inherent emotionality of child custody and relocation, to the complexities associated with the distribution of assets and spousal support, the legal costs of dissolving the marriage can leave each party with a fraction of the marital estate they created. Litigation costs for divorce can spiral and balloon, leaving parents no choice but to tap into the college funds intended for their children’s education, unexpectedly burdening children. Factor in time delays and the bureaucracy of the court system itself, the prospect can rapidly escalate from intimidating to outright daunting. Fortunately, less intimidating, less expensive, and less time-consuming dispute resolution options are rapidly integrating into the mainstay of family law. Alternatives for “going to court” exist. Utilizing them can reduce costs, time, and family friction and preserve the marital estate for the post-divorce phase of life. This blog post will focus on Collaborative Divorce as an alternative to court.
Collaborative family law involves a cross-disciplinary team approach to settling cases and can be used to resolve all domestic relations issues, including asset/debt divisions, support, and custody. The process enables a separated or divorcing couple to work with their respective collaboratively trained lawyers, coaches, financial professionals, and/or psychological experts to achieve a settlement best matching their family’s needs without the underlying threat of litigation.
Crucial to collaboration is the requirement that the players sign a “participation” agreement in which they pledge to remain out of court. Their respective lawyers become disqualified from any and all future litigation, thereby eliminating “going to court” as a threat in the negotiation process. If the case does not settle, the parties will be required to start over with new lawyers.
The commitment to an amicable resolution is the hallmark of the collaborative divorce. The parties commit to full voluntary and early disclosure of all financial information, including assets, liabilities, and income. In addition to each party’s lawyers, the team of professionals may include a therapist coach for each party, neutral financial advisor or accountant, neutral estate planner, neutral mental health professional or child specialist, and neutral real estate or business appraiser.
Negotiations are conducted through a series of “four-way” meetings with the parties and their lawyers. While the process is adversarial, each party has the benefit of legal counsel throughout, and all are focused on solving the problem at hand to arrive at a resolution that works for the parties and their family. There is no neutral decision-maker or facilitator. Therefore, in the event of an impasse, the parties will be required to find new lawyers and another approach to resolution.
Each party will have their own lawyer actively engaged throughout the process and meetings. In addition, the parties will incur the costs for the team of financial and/or psychological collaborators. Meetings are scheduled at a time and place convenient for the parties. Because meetings are scheduled at a time and place convenient for the parties, money will not be wasted for the idle time waiting for the court’s attention. Collaborative divorce is more costly than mediation but less costly than litigation. It is a worthwhile alternative for matters requiring the input of experts and assistance of counsel to ensure the parties are on equal footing.
Disputes among separating or divorcing couples are inevitable. However, relying upon the court system for resolution of these disputes brings with it other problems; namely, excessive costs due to the inherent inefficiencies of court processes. Clearly, as conflict increases, so does cost; but the family law landscape provides options to manage both. Parties can avail themselves of alternatives to “going to court,” as discussed previously, so long as spouses and their respective lawyers keep an open mind to creative solutions. Choosing an attorney who will embrace and encourage these alternatives can be as important as selecting the most appropriate process for the couple’s dynamic and finances. Divorce should not dissipate the marital estate. Fortunately, time- and cost-reducing options are available that can preserve the assets accumulated during the marriage and upon which the parties will need to rely after divorce.
This post is part of the blog series “Choosing Your Approach to Resolution”.
To explore the other topics in this series, follow these links:
Mediation – Giving Peace a Chance
Arbitration – Select Your Judge for Final Resolution
Early Neutral Evaluation – Testing the Waters
Cooperative Divorce – Keep Options Open
If you would like to explore your alternative resolution options, you should speak with an experienced West Chester attorney. At Potts, Shoemaker, and Grossman, LLC, our attorneys are prepared to assist you in finding the appropriate resolution approach for your individual situation. To schedule a confidential consultation, contact us at (610) 840-2626.
*This article is an excerpt from the article “Choosing Your Approach to Resolution” as published in Family Advocate, Volume 43, Number 1, Summer 2020 as written by Rochelle “Shelly” Grossman, Esquire.