Forward Thinking Family Law Since 1994

The Collaborative Divorce Process

Collaborative law book

It’s time to end your marriage. You both agree on that. Still, the idea of putting your life -- and your marital assets -- in a judge’s hands, in a public forum is troubling. You and your partner both wish you had more control over the process, and maybe more support in getting there. You don’t agree on everything, but you do agree you want your marriage to end peacefully. If so, you might be a candidate for the collaborative divorce process.

What is Collaborative Divorce?

Collaborative divorce -- or collaborative law more generally -- is an alternative to the drawn out courtroom battles that represent traditional divorce litigation. In a collaborative divorce, both spouses commit to resolving their marriage outside the courtroom with the help of skilled professionals like:

  • Collaborative law certified attorneys
  • Mental Health Professionals (MHP) / Divorce coaches
  • Therapists (in addition to MHPs and divorce coaches)
  • Financial planners
  • Parenting coordinators

While in the end, only a judge can legally dissolve a marriage, the collaborative law process means that you and your spouse enter the courtroom and ask the judge to approve the resolution you reached together. This can help avoid the time, expense, and uncertainty of a divorce trial and maintains your privacy.

What Makes Collaborative Law Different?

Very few divorces go to trial. Most settle during the course of litigation. But even if your case is referred to mediation, it isn’t the same as resolving your marriage through the collaborative process. One way to think about the differences between litigation, mediation, and collaborative divorce, is this:

  • Litigation focuses on the past: Attorneys present evidence on what has happened to bring the parties to this point and use evidence of past actions to steer the judge toward a particular outcome.
  • Mediation focuses on the present: Facilitative mediators look at a snapshot of the parties’ assets, liabilities, and circumstances, to try to resolve the dispute as it exists in the moment.
  • Collaborative divorce focuses on the future: Divorce coaches and collaborative divorce lawyers help both spouses develop conflict resolution techniques they can use to resolve differences over the division of the marital assets, and use when differences arise over custody and parenting time. The ultimate goal for the collaborative team is a forward looking resolution that provides the parties’ long term stability.

Who Should Choose Collaborative Divorce?

There is no one-size-fits-all divorce solution. Collaborative divorce isn’t right for every couple. However, if you and your spouse are committed to a peaceful and holistic resolution of your differences, you may want to explore it as an option. Collaborative law works well when:

  • Both sides value avoiding conflict
  • You want to control the details of your divorce resolution
  • You want to maintain your privacy
  • You want to coordinate work by financial professionals, appraisers, and others to reduce the cost of divorce
  • Ongoing coaching or therapy will assist in resolving disputes
  • You intend to shield your children from the stress and conflict of divorce

However, some couples are not well-suited to the collaborative process. You may want to use a different strategy if:

  • There is a history of domestic violence in the relationship
  • Spouses have different levels of control over or access to information
  • Either side wants their “day in court”
  • Parties have difficulty communicating or can’t sit together to work things out
  • One spouse is absent from the process
  • You and your spouse have already distributed most or all of your assets and don’t have children in common

How Does the Collaborative Process Work?

If you think you are a good candidate for collaborative divorce, the process starts by meeting with a certified collaborative divorce attorney. This initial consultation is designed to see if you are a good fit for the process, and to guide you in selecting the right professionals to help you through the process. Each spouse will need their own collaborative law attorney, who will help them consider options and understand the legal effects of their choices. Other professionals, such as a divorce coach, financial planner, accountant, or real estate appraiser can and usually work with both sides.

Both spouses and their attorneys must sign an agreement, committing to the collaborative process. Part of this process is that both parties agree to be entirely transparent and full disclosures are required. If either side walks away from that process or files something in a Michigan family court before it is complete, the process ends and both collaborative lawyers must walk away. You will both need to hire new attorneys to take the matter to court. The other members of the collaborative team are likewise precluded from further participating in the case.

Once the team is assembled, each party will meet with their own attorney to help you identify your priorities and brainstorm strategies for how to get there. This will include establishing where you can compromise, and what issues are absolutes for you. At this stage the other members of the team, typically including a mental health professional and financial expert, will also be retained.

Next, you, your spouse, and your attorneys will have a series of “four-way” meetings. These meetings usually happen after the parties have sessions with the mental health professional(s) and financial expert to inform the agenda. At each meeting, you will use the ideas created at your brainstorming sessions to try to move toward resolution. The goal of these meetings is to narrow down the number of conflicts between you and an uncontested divorce. You may have a meeting that focuses on a single issue -- such as setting a child support amount -- or you might hammer out several small details at once.

Any time an issue comes up that needs outside assistance -- such as setting the value of the marital home -- you can pause meetings on that issue until an expert has had a chance to weigh in. You can also ask for a break if you need time to process things emotionally, or want to talk to a coach, therapist, or your attorney before continuing.

Once all the issues have been resolved, your collaborative divorce lawyers will put together the final divorce settlement agreement, along with all the necessary paperwork for a Michigan uncontested divorce. With these documents in hand, you and your spouse can appear before the court as “co-petitioners” and ask the judge to dissolve your marriage on your terms.

Connect with an Experienced Collaborative Divorce Attorney

At NSSSB, we help many couples and co-parents who come to us resolve their Michigan divorce or custody disputes through the collaborative process. Our Ann Arbor collaborative divorce attorneys will walk you through the process and help you resolve all facets of your case, without resorting to filing motions in court. Click here to schedule a consultation with our collaborative divorce team.