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Anybody who has gone through the process, or has walked someone through the process, of a divorce knows how challenging it can be. These days, the "standard" concerns and stresses that accompany a divorce in court could very well be magnified for many couples also facing a difficult economy. However, one option that people generally might have heard of, but not know too much about, is that of a collaborative divorce, which may provide a more private, less stressful, and less costly alternative to an adversarial courtroom divorce.
First off, a collaborative divorce is a structured, out-of-court process by which spouses/parents can finalize a divorce and resolve any related support and property disputes without stepping into a courtroom. In a collaborative divorce, each spouse hires an attorney trained in the collaborative process who advises and assists in negotiating the settlement agreement between the parties. The process may also involve professionals such as child custody specialists or neutral accountants (agreed upon by the parties) who will be there to help address the specific issues involved in a particular case, avoiding any need for costly litigation.
By law, divorcing parties are required have some contact approved by a domestic relations or family court in order to get legally divorced. However, once an agreement is reached on the applicable issues of the parties' case, that required contract can be brief and minimal, and be approved by the court in a simple, uncontested procedure.
This all sounds pretty great, but are there any drawbacks to collaborative divorces? The price tag might be a double-edged sword as far as collaborative divorce goes. On the one hand, a collaborative divorce can provide a far less costly alternative to traditional adversarial litigation in court. But at the same time, hiring collaborative lawyers and other professionals to help with the divorce process can be costly in and of itself. Further, should the parties fail to come to an agreement via the collaborative divorce process, then litigation and its associated costs might end up happening anyway. For this reason, it's important for divorcing spouses to consider their particular circumstances and commitment to cooperation and compromise up front.
Lastly, because collaborative divorce is a relatively new area of law, individuals may have to do a little more looking around to find qualified collaborative lawyers to handle the process. Below are some links to more information on the process, as well as some related resources.