The Collaborative Divorce model was developed by a group of attorneys, mental health professionals and financial planning experts whose experience with traditional divorce led them to the conclusion that litigation is injurious to families and especially to children. They were certain they could develop a healthier way to help families through divorce. The Collaborative Divorce model has grown rapidly with practitioners throughout the United States and Canada.

In Collaborative Divorce, couples who have decided to end their marriage work with a team of professionals to avoid the arbitrary and uncertain outcomes of court and to achieve a divorce settlement that best meets the specific needs of both parties and their children. Collaborative Divorce focuses on settlement, and addresses communication dynamics. It offers a more healthy and effective forum for the resolution of the couple’s divorce issues. The goal of Collaborative Divorce is to help the couple define and implement the settlement that best meets the needs of their family, and learn new skills for more effective communication, conflict resolution and post-divorce co-parenting. In order to accomplish these goals, three independent professional disciplines work together as a team to integrate the legal, emotional, and financial aspects of divorce.

The Collaborative Team helps the parties achieve a divorce that minimizes the negative economic, social, and emotional consequences that undermine families in the traditional adversarial divorce process. By maintaining a primary focus on the needs of children and the welfare of the family overall, the Collaborative approach helps parents provide their children with the emotional support, and healthy co-parenting they need.

The specific roles of the professionals on the Collaborative Divorce team are as follows:

The Role of The Collaborative Family Law Attorney

Each party has a Collaborative Family Law attorney. In individual meetings with the client, and in joint meetings with the other attorney and the other party, each attorney will:

1. Represent the best interests of his/her respective client while maintaining the overall goals of the Collaborative Process.
2. Work with the other attorney and the Collaborative Team to help the parties design the settlement agreement that is most appropriate for their family.
3. Facilitate the settlement discussion and incorporate client agreements into the final settlement documents.
4. Prepare all the documents that need to be filed with the Court.

The Role of the Collaborative Divorce Coach

Each party has a Collaborative Divorce Coach. Divorce Coaches are licensed mental health professionals. In individual and joint meetings the coaches work with the couple to:

1. Identify and prioritize the concerns of each person.
2. Make effective use of conflict resolution and communication skills.
3. Develop effective co-parenting skills.
4. Work collaboratively with the couple, their attorneys and the other involved professionals to improve communication, reduce misunderstandings and solve problems as they come up.

The Collaborative Divorce process has demonstrated that the family can get through divorce in a more emotionally healthy way when the couple is able to learn to interact and communicate with each other in a more respectful, honest and open manner. Communication and self-management skills are taught to parents by their coaches. The couple uses these new skills in their settlement discussions, and in their post divorce co-parenting.

The Role of the Child Specialist

The Collaborative Team Child Specialist will work with the children and the parents to:

1. Provide each child with an opportunity to voice his/her concerns regarding the divorce.
2. Provide the parents with information and guidance to help their children through this process.
3. Give information to the parties and the Collaborative team that will help the parties in developing an effective co-parenting plan for their children.

The Role of the financial specialist

The Collaborative Team financial specialist works with the couple to:

1. Provide on-going, practical financial guidance, planning, support, and budgeting guidance throughout the divorce process.
2. Assist with the discovery process by gathering and organizing documentation and information relating to the parties’ incomes, expenses, assets, and debts.
3. Make sure that both parties have a thorough understanding of their current financial situation.
4. Educate the clients regarding the short and long-term economic consequences of settlement plans being considered so as to enable them to make fully informed decisions and choose what is most appropriate for their situation.

The Collaborative Divorce process is controlled by the parties. It keeps the decision-making power where it belongs, with the people affected by the outcome. This is very different from a court process where ultimately the court and state formulas decide what the divorce settlement and co-parenting arrangement will be. In the Collaborative Divorce model the couple sets the agenda for their divorce, and they determine the settlement that is best for their family. The parties retain full decision making authority and control.

There are requirements for what constitutes a Collaborative Divorce. Both parties must dedicate themselves to honesty, openness and a willingness to place the welfare of the entire family first. The desire to change ineffective communication patterns and the commitment to work at change are vital to a successful outcome. Communication training is as critical to the process as the legal and financial negotiations. If dysfunctional patterns are not changed, conflict persists. It is this focus on changing the couple’s way of interacting with each other that makes the Collaborative Divorce process a better approach to both divorce, and post divorce co-parenting.

SOURCE: Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego