Initiating the Collaborative Divorce Approach
STEP 1: Retaining Collaborative Lawyers
To start the process, each party needs to retain their own collaborative divorce lawyer. These family lawyers have completed special training in collaborative law, mediation, and interest-based negotiation.
STEP 2: Signing the participation agreement
At the first four-way meeting, the parties sign a participation agreement with their family lawyers to enter the collaborative divorce process. If the parties have retained divorce coaches or other professionals, they may also sign the agreement. This agreement contains a “disqualification clause” that says that if either party commences litigation in court, the collaborative process will end and the family lawyers can no longer represent their clients. This means that both separating spouses must hire new lawyers and it acts as a deterrent to quitting the collaborative divorce process.
STEP 3: Collaborative Four-Way Meetings
The collaborative family law process consists of a series of four-way meetings. While a traditional four-way meeting in family law involves a settlement meeting between the former spouses and their lawyers, a collaborative family law meeting is different.
First, the collaborative family law meeting may include other specialists from the collaborative team, such as a financial or divorce coaches.
The nature of a collaborative family law meeting is also different. Traditionally, lawyers engage in position-oriented negotiation when meeting. However, in collaborative family law the parties and their lawyers work as a team during these meetings and negotiations are interest-based. Interest based negotiations are focused on the underlying needs, wants, goals, and concerns of the family.
While there are no rules about the number of meetings, the process typically involves around two to four meetings. The first meeting consists of introductions, reviewing and signing the participation agreement, explaining the collaborative process, discussing expectations and ground rules, and setting an agenda that identifies the issues at hand.
Between the meetings, the parties engage in information gathering by exchanging document requests between their family lawyers and consulting with other professionals as needed. The collaborative divorce experts may assist in preparing reports, such as a business valuation. If divorce coaches have been retained, the separating spouses may meet them individually for emotional support, or together to develop a parenting plan, to resolve parenting conflicts, or assist with communication strategies.
During subsequent meetings, the separating couple will continue to explore interests, generate options and negotiate mutually acceptable resolutions. This continues until a separation agreement has been reached.
Step 4: Separation Agreement
Once the parties have reached an agreement on all issues, the collaborative lawyers will prepare a separation agreement, which will set out the agreement on all issues. The separation agreement is a legally binding contract that is enforceable by a judge, and can include terms on parenting, child support, spousal support, and the division of family property.
There is a common misconception that the collaborative divorce process requires a divorcing couple to be friendly and in agreement on most of the issues in question. The reality is that the collaborative process is an excellent option for resolving family law issues, even in cases where there is considerable disagreement and conflict.
Yes, you will be required to attend the mediation. The foundation for mediation is that the parties buy into the process and work together to come to a resolution.
We recognize that it is often difficult and not always possible to have a candid discussion with your spouse about how you envision your separation and divorce. How do you get them to buy into the collaborative family law process? In our experience, what works is having one of the spouses attend for a meeting with a family lawyer to go over the collaborative process as well as family law in general.
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