As the Twentieth Century was coming to a close, people in Northern Illinois who were contemplating a divorce had basically two options: attempt to negotiate an agreement with the other spouse on all aspects of the divorce, including child custody, child support, alimony and property division, or, failing to reach an agreement, go to trial and ask the judge to resolve their disagreements. With the passage of the millennium, divorce attorneys and bar associations have realized the need for more alternatives in order to resolve divorce issues without the usual level of anger and stress. One of these alternative is called “collaborative divorce.” While this process may not be the best choice for everyone, a knowledge of the benefits and difficulties of collaborative divorce can help people select a divorce proceeding that may work.
As the name suggests, a collaborative divorce involves the agreement of both spouses to enter upon a process that uses collaboration to resolve disagreements. Before beginning the collaborative divorce process, both parties must do the following:
- Agree to resolve all issues in a respectful, open and honest manner outside of the court system, and
- Retain a lawyer trained in the methods and purposes of collaborative divorce
Once the parties have decided to pursue a collaborative divorce, they and their attorneys will sign an enforceable contract in which they agree to submit their dispute for resolution according to collaborative law principles.
The divorcing couple will usually agree to retain a panel of experts trained in the emotional, financial and social aspects of divorce. The experts and the parties will participate in a series of meetings, each one focused on a different aspect of the divorce. One meeting may review financial aspects such as property division and alimony, while another meeting may focus on related issues such as child support and child custody. When the parties have reached an agreement on all aspects of their divorce, the agreement is reduced to writing and signed by the parties and their attorneys. The agreement is then submitted to the court and becomes the court’s order ending the marriage.
Anyone who is facing a divorce and is interested in collaborative divorce may wish to consult an attorney who has handled other collaborative divorces for a description of the process and advice on whether the process is suitable.