Divorce is, often, an incredibly difficult process. It can be financially draining and emotionally destructive, especially when children are involved. Either side becomes prone to making decisions based on nothing than their own whims, incapable of seeing any outside perspectives. Even after it is done, it can serve as the basis for further adversarial behavior on the part of both parties, and leave permanent scars on the children caught in the middle of the process.
Collaborative Law is an emerging alternative that hopes to remedy this. In Collaborative Law, both parties sign an agreement to avoid court and litigation, with the intent of reaching a compromise that both can approve of. Much like mediation, collaborative law takes place outside of court, though there is a key difference: with mediation, there is a third party (the mediator) who attempts to remain unbiased and settle the issue. In Collaborative Law, however, both parties have a lawyer at their back to represent their interests and their perspective, so as to avoid either party feeling cheated.
While lawyers on both sides are obligated to represent their client’s interests, they do have a common goal: settlement and negotiation. Rather than attempting to beat the other party into the ground as they would in litigation, both lawyers try to maintain cooperation, so that the conflict may be resolved with as little difficulty as possible. To facilitate this, they may involve financial specialists, mental health professionals, childcare specialists and several other professionals.
With the help of these individuals, lawyers will try to undercut any and all hostility between the two parties, agreeing to share information freely and respect each other’s wishes. This commitment to non-hostility runs deep: generally speaking, most California lawyers will, as part of the signed collaborative law agreement, include a provision that states that if either party resorts to litigation, then they will have to find entirely new legal representation. While this is not required by California law, it is certainly the norm. It provides much in the way of incentive to avoid litigation as any time, money, and effort you spent on the collaborative law process will simply go to waste.
There are many benefits to choosing Collaborative Law over complicated litigation:
- The first is financial. Court costs and litigation are often much more expensive than the cost of cooperating and hiring the aforementioned specialists… and that’s to say nothing of what could happen if the financial provisions of the court’s final decision are not in your favor!
- The second is a matter of convenience. Taking the matter to court will be complicated and drawn out, meaning that it will drain a significant portion of both parties’ time.
- The third is that you have more control. In a normal divorce, the judge attempts to make a decision that he or she believes is best for all parties. With Collaborative Law, control is in the hands of the divorcing couple; they do not need to sign onto the final divorce agreement until they are completely satisfied with it. Even the lawyers are there only as advisors.
- The fourth is that they offer more privacy, as a court case can put every issue present in your family on public record.
- Finally, and most importantly: it is the best option for the children. The sort of adversarial relationship fostered in a confrontational divorce is very damaging for children, who are usually caught in the middle of it, and the resentment that follows will affect the children every bit as long as it affects their parents.
Overall, Collaborative Law is a much more peaceful alternative to litigation, when possible. Remember that even if you cannot prevent your divorce, you can prevent it from being destructive.
By Connor Douglas Johnson