Forward Thinking Family Law Since 1994

Collaborative Practice

When couples aren’t looking for a fight, collaborative divorce focuses on settlement, instead of winning.

Many Michigan couples today know that life carries on after divorce. By focusing on settlement and conflict resolution instead of litigation, a collaborative divorce helps you stay in control of the end of your marriage and allows both parties to move forward positively.

What is Collaborative Divorce?

Collaborative divorce is an alternative to more traditional divorce routes like attorney negotiated settlements, mediation, or trial. The collaborative model focuses on two basic principles:

  1. A commitment to resolve the case outside of court
  2. The support of a professional team

More formal and structured than a traditionally mediated divorce, collaborative divorce pairs each party with a certified collaborative divorce attorney, supported by other professionals as deemed necessary for the specific needs of the case. The end goal is to empower the parties with conflict resolution strategies and techniques, allowing them to settle their property, custody, and support issues themselves, and avoid the time, expense, and emotional toll of going to court.

Advantages to Collaborative Divorce

  • Less stress and animosity than a court trial
  • Past differences and unproductive behaviors are left behind
  • Parenting decisions put the interests of children first
  • Both parties feel more in control
  • Cost-savings by sharing neutral members of the support team
  • The dignity of the family is respected
  • The privacy of the family is preserved
  • Your divorce judgment is your own, making it easier to follow
  • You and your spouse reach an agreement that works best for your family

Read More: Selecting the Best Divorce Process for You

How the Collaborative Divorce Process Works

Once each party has hired a certified collaborative divorce attorney, the parties can begin the process. The steps are flexible, allowing the parties and their team to craft a plan of action that meets the specific needs of the parties to address the practical and emotional aspects of a divorce. However, most collaborative divorces will include these basic steps:

Step 1: The Collaborative Agreement

When you opt into a collaborative divorce, you are promising to do your best to avoid taking the matter to court. You and your spouse must sign a collaborative agreement committing to:

  • Meaningful participation
  • Treating each other with respect
  • Open and honest, voluntary disclosure of relevant information
  • Keeping the information provided confidential

It also says that if the collaborative process breaks down and/or either party files a complaint for divorce in court, both the parties will need to retain new attorneys, and any information provided during the collaborative process cannot be used as evidence in court. 

Step 2: Selecting the Support Team

In addition to your collaborative divorce lawyers and the divorce coach who facilitates the process, you both may get assistance from other professionals including:

  • Individual therapists
  • Financial planners
  • Appraisers or real estate professionals
  • Mediators
  • Child specialists

This support team can help you understand the results of choices you make in the collaborative process. For example, a financial planner could explain if you will have enough retirement savings after the accounts are divided. A therapist can help you process your feelings about the case away from the negotiation table.

Step 3: Private Consultations with Your Collaborative Divorce Lawyer

Unlike some forms of facilitated mediation that parties may choose to engage in without attorneys, in  collaborative divorce each party must have his or her own attorney. You can meet with your collaborative divorce lawyer at any time, even during joint sessions, to discuss strategy, create proposals, or to help you understand the law around an issue.

Step 4: Collaborative Joint Sessions

After the engagement agreement is signed and other professional members of the team are retained, everyone will come together in one or more joint sessions to work out the details of your divorce. Typically, these sessions will take place after the parties have had a chance to meet with the financial professional and divorce coach at least once. You and your team may break up joint sessions by topic and meet as many times as necessary. During these joint sessions either party can take a break at any time if they need to resolve something privately with their attorney, the divorce coach, or therapist. These sessions are meant to be productive safe spaces that allow the parties to reach resolutions while ensuring their personal and emotional needs are met in a way that divorce litigation can never provide.

Step 5: The Final Settlement

Once you agree on everything, your divorce lawyers will put together a settlement agreement, along with a joint petition for uncontested divorce, and any other related documents. You and your spouse will sign everything, and then the attorneys will file the court documents. Depending on your county, either one or both parties will need to appear in court one time to answer a series of short questions and ask the judge to sign the Consent Judgment of Divorce. This hearing is relatively quick once the case is called and will involve very basic questions such as whether there has been a breakdown of the marital relationship, if you and your spouse reached a settlement as to all the issues, and whether you believe the settlement is in the best interests of the minor children. This step is also known as preserving the proofs.

Applying the Process to All Family Law

The process is often called “Collaborative Divorce” but it works just as well in other family-law settings. Child custody, parenting time, child support, even dissolving a non-marriage domestic partnership, can all benefit from the focus on civility and dispute resolution used in collaborative law.

When the Collaborative Process Won’t Work

Collaborative divorce only works if both sides can commit to it. There are some types of divorce that are not well suited to the collaborative process:

  • Domestic abuse, dominance, or control
  • Feelings hurt beyond the point of negotiation
  • Either party demands their “day in court”
  • Assets are hidden or you need discovery to learn the truth
  • Financial resources are limited or there isn’t much to divide

You should speak to an experienced collaborative divorce attorney before committing to the process to make sure you and your spouse are good candidates.

Going to court for your divorce or family law case can hurt feelings and make co-parenting harder after the judgment is entered. Our certified collaborative divorce attorneys can help you resolve your matter with respect, dignity, and privacy.  Schedule a consultation to discuss your specific situation and begin the divorce process for you and your family.