This is the second in a series of “How to Prepare for Divorce” tips that I will be publishing in the next week or two. Today’s tip involves a discussion of collaborative divorce, and whether you have considered choosing this route over the more traditional (and expensive) process of using the courts to resolve your divorce.
During the past several years, the collaborative divorce process has gained national attention as more efficient, collegial, and cost effective way to obtain a divorce. Unfortunately, as a divorce lawyer, my experience has been that people are still slow to embrace a process that is likely to predominate the family law arena in the very near future.
Why do I believe this? Here are five important reasons why I believe that more and more divorcing couples will begin to opt for a collaborative divorce as an alternative to traditional litigation – I why I would recommend that you consider it as an option.
1. Cost – A collaborative divorce is far less expensive than traditional litigation. In a typical divorce case, a lawyer will collect an initial retainer which will vary based on your geographic area and the experience of the attorney you are hiring. Most lawyers will at least attempt to settle your case without filing a lawsuit – with varying degrees of success (how long this takes depends on the lawyer, but most don’t wait very long before filing). If and when your case gets to court, the legal fees will skyrocket. It is not unheard of for legal fees in a divorce case with substantial assets and alimony at stake to reach $100,000 or more.
Alternatively, a collaborative case is much more collegial than traditional litigation, and therefore will cost less. You, your spouse, and your attorneys will take part in a series of four-way conferences. There is no formal discovery, as both parties agree to full disclosure at the outset of the case. There is no risk of a lawsuit being filed, as both parties and their attorneys agree, ahead of time, not to file a lawsuit.
By eliminating discovery and the risk of a lawsuit getting filed, all the parties involved can concentrate on the task at hand – which is to reach a settlement that is mutually beneficial to both spouses. As a result, the overall cost to reach a resolution is much less.
2. Time – Many legal battles can rage for several years, ultimately concluding in a trial where a judge makes decisions about your life and future. Needless to say, while taking a toll on your pocketbook, these cases can also take a severe toll on your quality of life. The years that these cases drag on are years that are lost to you and your family – especially if there are children involved.
A huge benefit to conducting a collaborative divorce is that they will normally conclude fairly quickly. Because everyone is disclosing all the relevant facts up front – and using the same experts to help with the settlement – people are able to resolve their cases quickly. A typical collaborative case will consist of 4 two hour meetings that take place within the scope of 2-4 months. Provided that everyone does their homework and comes to the meetings prepared, it is quite possible for the divorce to resolve within this time frame – much quicker than a traditional lawsuit.
3. Less Contentious – It goes without saying that because of the format of a collaborative divorce case, and by virtue of the fact that the parties are working together to reach a resolution that is in everyone’s best interest rather than holding key facts back and worrying about what the next legal filing will be, a collaborative case is much less contentious than a traditional divorce. People walk away from a collaborative matter feeling empowered, confident, and ready to move on with their lives. Alternatively, when a traditional divorce is over, clients typically feel defeated, like they didn’t get what they wanted, and skeptical about the legal system and its inherent flaws.
4. Control – Another one of the strong benefits to the collaborative divorce process is the fact that you and your spouse can control your settlement. If you don’t like the way it is going, you can always go back to court (although this rarely occurs). People generally like the idea that they can control their divorce settlement and have a say in the process. In a traditional divorce setting, especially those that reach a trial in court, the clients have virtually no say in the outcome as they have given that power to the court. I can tell you from experience that virtually everyone is upset at the judge’s decision when a divorce is completed in the courts.
5. Less Stress and Anxiety – By the very nature of the collaborative divorce process, you will be less stressed and anxious both during and after the case is resolved. You will like, rather than hate, your attorney and your spouse. You will not have spent half your life savings on legal fees. You can finish your divorce in a summer rather than during the 3 years your kids are in middle school. Most importantly, you have a say in the process. For all of these reasons, if you need to or are thinking about getting a divorce, I strongly encourage you to consider a collaborative divorce.