In the emerging field of collaborative law, there is an approach known as the Multi-Disciplinary Model. In essence, this model provides for a collaborative divorce team consisting of two lawyers, two divorce coaches, a child specialist and a financial advisor to assist the couple. Many people may scoff at this idea, especially since one of the goals of collaborative law is to reduce the amount of cost associated with divorce. But a closer look at the multi disciplinary approach helps explain why this team of six can be more cost effective than the traditional method of divorce.

The first thing to keep in mind is that divorce affects couples on many levels. There are financial, legal and emotional considerations and then there are issues involving children. In simple terms, a divorce is a multi task assignment. These tasks include not only reaching a legal division, but also the development of age-appropriate parenting plans, learning communication skills that will move spouses successfully along the road of co-parenting, moving away from the blame/shame cycle. The financial portion of a divorce can be complicated by uncertainty about the future, tax considerations, and different methods of structuring a financial settlement.

In the traditional model, lawyers are called upon to handle all of these tasks, which is impossible considering that lawyers are neither accountants, therapists or child specialists. As a result, the divorce becomes final but many issues often go unresolved. In a collaborative divorce, there are neither dueling lawyers nor dueling experts. The Collaborative Divorce model instead uses a collaborative team who provides containment for the couple as they go through the divorce transition. Within this model, clients are informed of their process choices, which includes the involvement of different professionals such as lawyers, mental health professionals who act as divorce coaches, mental health professionals who act as neutral child specialists, and neutral financial specialists.

Clients may choose to involve lawyers, coaches, a child specialist and a financial adviser from the beginning. It is more common for parties to build their team as they proceed through the process, depending upon their needs. For instance, spouses may choose to engage coaches only after hitting “speed bumps” in their work with lawyers.

The divorce team communicates in team meetings about the parties and the issues they are working through. Clients sign agreements with their lawyers, with any divorce coaches they retain, with the child specialist and financial specialist (if retained) that confirm no one will subpoena any professionals if the case goes out of the collaborative process. The contracts also allow the professionals to communicate freely amongst themselves to further understanding of the clients’ needs.

Clients often question the cost of this process. Cost is a huge factor for most couples as they divorce. In a traditional divorce, litigants’ often have little or no over legal bills once the litigation template becomes the engine of their divorce. Litigants are completely unable to control the time their lawyers spend waiting in court to be heard, the volume and length of correspondence exchanged between counsel, or the extensive Pretrial discovery, required by the Court, but often not particularly needed by the clients.

It makes not only good practical sense but also good fiscal sense to allow clients to retain professionals that will be used only as much as the client requires them, and whose specific skills are geared to the clients’ needs. On an hourly basis, therapists and counsellors are less expensive than lawyers, and more skilled in dealing with conflict. Even in high conflict families, both the inter-disciplinary groups and the Collaborative Divorce teams are finding that couples spend less on divorce coaches than litigants in the same community are spending on psychologists for custody and access assessments. The outcome for couples using divorce coaches is a de-escalation of the conflict, as opposed to custody and access assessments which provide the spouses with no new skills and are often more divisive for the family.

SOURCE: Lori Barkus at