Collaborative Divorce: A New Solution for Families

Many people face the end of a marriage with something close to despair. They don’t want to tear apart their family, but each person must safeguard their most precious assets: their children, home, investments, and everything they have worked for over the years.

Facing such high stakes, emotions tend to run high. This can lead to lengthy and costly litigation, involving tedious and expensive discovery and “mud-slinging” tactics in court. Families often find themselves airing their dirty laundry in open court, the end result of which leaves both parties feeling frustrated and defeated. Such a process can also damage parents’ relationships with their children and each other, making it very difficult to work together at parenting after the divorce is final.

Collaborative divorce is a new solution, allowing parties to resolve family disputes without involving the court system, except to ratify the final agreement of the parties. The process is governed by the Alabama Uniform Collaborative Law Act. In a divorce case, each party retains an attorney, then enter into a “four-way agreement” between the two parties and their attorneys. The agreement sets out rules by which the parties will seek to reach a settlement.

There are several unique factors that make the collaborative process so successful. First, the lawyers involved agree from the outset that if the process breaks down, they will not be involved in the resulting litigation. This means that the attorneys are incentivized to reach mutually agreeable solutions, as there is no financial benefit to the attorney if the case goes to trial. Likewise, the parties are encouraged to make good faith efforts to reach an agreement, as they have invested time and money in the negotiation process which will be lost if the case goes to trial.

Additionally, all parties agree at the beginning of the process to provide complete and voluntary discovery. This means that both parties have full and equal access to important information regarding family finances and other sensitive matters, without having to employ tedious discovery tactics. Parties are encouraged to be open and honest by the confidentiality clause which forbids any information disclosed in the collaborative process from being used in a later trial or court proceeding.

Benefits of Collaborative Divorce:

• Protects family privacy by resolving sensitive issues in a confidential setting

• Preserves relationships between parents and children and between adults who must co-parent

• Saves time and money by allowing parties to share experts, shortening discovery, and encouraging settlement

When is a Collaborative Divorce appropriate?

A collaborative divorce is a good idea when clients feel that they can make an effort to work towards a resolution and can trust one another to be truthful in negotiations. This does not mean that parties must come to the table agreeing on all issues or must have the same interests or goals for the process. Collaborative divorce can be particularly beneficial for families with children. The forum gives parents a unique opportunity to craft a custody and/or visitation arrangement that is specially designed to meet the needs of their family and to preserve the relationship between the children and each parent.

When is Collaborative Divorce not appropriate?

Collaborative divorce may not be a good solution in cases where there are issues of domestic violence, mental illness, or substance abuse. Likewise, if parties absolutely cannot trust one another to negotiate honestly, the process may not be appropriate.

Is Collaborative Law the same thing as Mediation?

In short, no. Collaborative practice has a number of similarities to mediation, such as working in a protected, private environment to resolve disputes. However, the key difference is that there is not necessarily a mediator involved during negotiations. The basic format of collaborative divorce is a series of round table discussions between two clients and their attorneys. Each attorney will advocate actively and vigorously for their client’s respective interests. All parties will have a mutual goal of reaching an acceptable solution to the issues at hand.

Collaborative Divorce in Alabama

To learn more about the Collaborative Divorce process and whether it might be right for your situation, find links below to the text of the Act, and select articles which provide further information.

Alabama Uniform Collaborative Law Act

Saying "No" to Court: An Introduction to the Collaborative-Law Process at pg. 434