What It Is and How It Works

You're probably asking what is collaborative divorce?

Collaborative Divorce is more than just negotiating a settlement. It’s a specific, carefully designed process in which a couple commits to reaching a divorce settlement outside of court with the support of legal and other professionals.

One of the difficult things about divorce for many people is not knowing what to expect. Although unexpected events can arise in any divorce, here is a general idea of what to expect from the collaborative process:

Committing to the Process and Assembling the Team

Both parties select attorneys trained in the collaborative process (see How to Choose a Collaborative Attorney). The parties, as well as their attorneys, sign a document called a participation agreement, in which they commit to work toward a divorce settlement with honest disclosure of all relevant information, and promise not to go to court or to threaten litigation. The first of a series of four-way meetings are scheduled for the husband and wife and their attorneys.

The attorneys will guide their clients in the selection of the other members of the collaborative divorce team. Marriage is not solely a legal relationship, but an emotional and financial one. It makes sense to address all these components in divorce as well. Therefore, the team includes:

a financial neutral party, to help the couple sort out their finances and financial goals and identify settlement options;
divorce coaches, to help each party deal with the emotional challenge of changing relationships;
a child specialist, if necessary, who gives the couple’s children a safe place to express their concerns about the divorce, and offers the couple insight into their children’s needs.

Working Toward Settlement in Team Meetings

The parties and attorneys will work on the settlement in a series of team meetings. These are often referred to as “four-way meetings,” although the other professionals may attend, depending on the subject matter of the meeting. The meetings often alternate between the attorneys’ offices, and always have an agenda to keep negotiations and discussions on track. Minutes are taken during the meeting and distributed afterward, so everyone is “on the same page.”

The focus of negotiations in the meetings is on interests and needs (e.g.,” I need to have an active engaged, relationship with the kids,” not positions (e.g. “I must have primary custody!”). Focusing on the need, instead of a particular position, allows for the possibility of various ways to meet the need, and the possibility of a win-win outcome. Focusing on positions, by contrast, necessarily results in a winner or a loser, or an unhappy compromise.

The number, length and frequency of the meetings depends on the needs of the parties, though it’s best to meet often enough to maintain momentum. Some couples want to get the divorce settled  quickly; others prefer a more deliberate, reflective pace to allow them to adjust to the changes in their lives.

Reaching Settlement and Finalizing the Divorce

When the parties have negotiated a satisfactory resolution to all the issues in their divorce, they, along with their attorneys will sign a settlement agreement containing all the terms of the divorce.  In order to make the divorce legal, a complaint for divorce must be filed in the county Circuit Court. The parties will agree which of them will initiate the divorce process.

Michigan has minimum time frames for the granting of a divorce. The minimum time period for a divorce with children is six months; however, many courts will routinely waive this requirement for good cause, and a divorce can be granted in as little as sixty days

We invite you to contact Pitler Family Law and Mediation at 248-584-0400 to arrange a consultation to learn more about the collaborative divorce process.