Working Together to Protect Your Family’s Interests
Even though your marriage is ending, you and your spouse most likely want to protect your children from the stress and conflict of divorce and preserve your financial assets to the greatest extent possible. In addition, you probably share the goal of avoiding the emotional and financial costs of a litigated divorce. If these things are important to you, working with a Collaborative Divorce attorney may be the right option for your family.
What is a Collaborative Divorce?
From anger and sadness to worry about the future, divorce evokes strong emotions. Yet, even with emotions running high, most couples agree that they want to minimize the negative impact divorce will have on their children and their finances.
Collaborative Divorce – also known as the collaborative law process – is a specially designed legal process that enables the spouses to retain greater control over the outcome by committing to resolve the divorce outside of court.
This does not necessarily guarantee that your divorce will be easy or friendly. But if both of you can make key decisions about your divorce together, with the advice and help of family lawyers trained in the collaborative model, you can achieve an acceptable, confidential outcome that is more creative than what a judge is allowed to do.
When is Collaborative Divorce a Good Option?
Collaborative Divorce is an option for divorcing spouses who agree to keep their case out of the courtroom and who historically have been able to make important decisions together. Most people feel better about solutions they had a hand in creating rather than having solutions imposed upon them. Couples who choose the collaborative model retain and equally share control over the decisions that will affect their future lives instead of handing that power over to a judge or jury.
Divorce is never pleasant, but it is possible to move out of the process without a lot of bitterness and resentment. This is especially important if children of any age are involved, and you have hope for a productive future co-parenting relationship.
What Are Key Advantages of a Collaborative Divorce?
The key advantages of a Collaborative Divorce include:
- Increased Privacy and Confidentiality: Collaborative cases are private and confidential, and the outcomes are controlled by the divorcing couple rather than by a judge.
- Increased Control. Collaborative Divorce participants do not rely on the courts, judges, or rules of procedure to set deadlines or timelines for the case. Collaborative Divorces set their timelines according to the shared decisions of the spouses.
- Reduced Conflict: Although emotions frequently remain strong, the level of overt hostility in a Collaborative Divorce is drastically reduced as a byproduct of the process itself. Everyone involved, including the lawyers, are highly motivated by the shared goals of achieving a mutually-agreeable resolution that minimizes additional harm to relationships or the estate.
Three of the core principles that serve to reduce the overall level of toxicity and overt hostility during the divorce are as follows:
- Spouses expressly agree to treat each other with civility, dignity, and respect in spite of their disagreements;
- Spouses agree to concentrate on identifying and meeting needs rather than arguing over positions; and
- Spouses agree to full and honest disclosure of financial and other information needed to make informed choices.
These Collaborative Divorce principles foster an environment conducive to resolving conflict and finding custom-made solutions that truly fit your needs and the needs of your children, whether they are young or adults.
Solution-Focused Problem Solving. Collaborative Divorce participants can, with the help of their professional team, address and resolve the same temporary and permanent issues that family law judges frequently have to resolve in traditional divorce litigation, including:
- Who will live in the house?
- How parents will share time with children?
- How the financial needs of the children will be met?
- How will bills get paid?
- Will either spouse need to pay spousal support?
- How will retirement be handled?
Team of Specialists Centered Around You. Collaborative Divorce participants have the opportunity, but not the obligation, to work with jointly hired neutral experts to help them with specific parts of their case.
These experts often bill their time at a lower rate than lawyers. For example, a neutral mental health professional with Collaborative Divorce training can help the parents identify each parent’s interests, goals, and concerns regarding the children, and then develop a parenting plan that best meets those interests.
Likewise, a neutral financial professional can efficiently compile, organize, and share all financial information, including assets, liabilities, budgets of income and expenses, needed to develop potential solutions to the financial issues presented during the divorce.
The use of these neutral professionals is a more efficient use of financial resources than having the lawyers handle everything.
More Efficient and Cost-Effective. Most divorces, even contested ones, ultimately resolve by agreement. Yet couples still routinely hire litigation attorneys to prepare for a contested final trial that almost never actually occurs. That is wasteful and inefficient.
In contrast, every dollar spent by the spouses pursuing a Collaborative Divorce is spent in furtherance of achieving a mutually-agreeable resolution.
Additionally, if a valuation expert is needed for a business or house, instead of hiring two opposing experts at twice the cost, only one, mutually-agreed upon neutral valuation expert needs to be hired.
Creative Solutions. Because participants are not relying on courts for answers, spouses are free to explore many creative solutions to the issues presented in the case. In addition, the Collaborative Divorce team, including the participants themselves, consistently develops options for outcomes during the process that are better for their family than what the law allows in the courtroom.
How Does a Collaborative Divorce Work?
The signing of the Participation Agreement and the contractually agreed-upon boundaries that are put in place as part of it serve to promote a safe environment that is characterized by confidentiality, mutual respect, and control over the outcome. At the same time, the threat of the courtroom is eliminated.
The participants’ specially-trained Collaborative Divorce attorneys guide the participants through a series of scheduled meetings with pre-planned agendas, during which the participants work their way through the substantive issues that must be addressed and resolved as part of any divorce.
Issues unique to the participants, such as minor children, small businesses, retirement, or complex financial investments can be addressed with or without the assistance of jointly-engaged neutral professionals, such as child specialists, financial consultants, business valuation experts, estate planning professionals, and others. The participants themselves, with the counsel of their respective attorneys, determine whether and when to involve such neutrals.
Once a final agreement is achieved, the lawyers jointly draft the final documents and file them with the appropriate court for approval.
How Long Does a Collaborative Divorce Take?
The spouses in a Collaborative Divorce will participate in a series of preplanned, face-to-face meetings with a team consisting of their lawyers, along with a neutral mental health professional, and a neutral financial professional. The joint meetings are typically limited to two hours in length and occur on a schedule determined by the clients’ needs and desires. The average collaborative case usually resolves in four to six joint meetings. Any of the highly experienced attorneys in our Dallas, Austin and Plano offices can help prepare you for the process and what to expect during these meetings.
What is the Difference Between Collaborative Divorce and Mediation?
Although both Collaborative Divorce and mediation are confidential, non-adversarial methods of resolving family law conflicts without going to court, the similarities end there. Mediation is a process that typically takes place over the course of one or two long days lasting 10 to 12 hours. A neutral third person called a mediator meets privately with each party and his or her attorney over the course of the day to gather information, explore options, and facilitate a binding agreement.
If an agreement is reached, it is reduced to writing on the spot, and everyone signs the document before adjourning the session. If no agreement is reached, the process typically ends. Mediation is an excellent settlement tool that is highly favored by both the courts and most lawyers because of its high success rate in resolving conflict without going to court. Unfortunately, mediation is most effective when utilized in the shadow of the courthouse. In other words, the optimal time to mediate arises only after the parties have already invested untold thousands of dollars and months of time litigating the conflict. By this point in the case, the parties are usually emotionally exhausted, financially drained, and yet still must face the prospect of a looming final trial date in the near future. This places tremendous pressure on both sides to make high-stakes decisions in an extremely compressed timeframe.
In stark contrast to traditional mediation, the Collaborative Divorce model completely eliminates the threat of the courthouse from the outset. Additionally, instead of creating a high-pressure environment near the end of the case in which the parties are required to make important decisions in one or two marathon sessions, the Collaborative Divorce model schedules multiple shorter meetings from the very beginning of the divorce. These meetings usually last no longer than two hours each and are spread out over several weeks, with offline work taking place behind the scenes in between each meeting. Each meeting has a pre-planned agenda that the parties themselves have a hand in setting, so there are no surprises during the meetings.
As tentative agreements are achieved, they are noted in the minutes of the meeting, but the parties are free to reconsider until all issues have been similarly addressed. At that point, a comprehensive and binding agreement is circulated. Only after all questions and been addressed satisfactorily do the parties bind themselves to the final, comprehensive agreement.
What is Unique About Collaborative Divorce?
The Collaborative Divorce model is completely different than the traditional litigation model for divorce, and it is both established by, and protected by, Texas law. Once the spouses “opt in” to the collaborative process by signing the Participation Agreement, the judge legally cannot interfere with the divorce process, except in very limited circumstances.
So long as the spouses choose to remain in the process, they remain the sole decision makers. If either spouse decides to “opt out” of the process to return to litigation, both spouses must hire new trial attorneys, as the collaborative lawyers are required by Texas law to withdraw. Although most collaborative attorneys are also trial attorneys, they cannot serve in both roles in the same case.
This unique feature of the Collaborative Divorce model enables the whole process to work seamlessly because it keeps the lawyer’s interests aligned with the client’s interests.
How a Collaborative Divorce Attorney Can Help You
If you are considering a legal action such as divorce, a contested property division or a child custody modification, Goranson Bain Ausley can help you formulate a strategy that will move you toward a successful outcome. With a seasoned team that includes former judges and some of the state’s most respected family law attorneys, we offer you a clear perspective that will help you decide whether it is best to pursue your objectives through litigation, Collaborative Divorce, or other alternative dispute resolution methods.
Our Experienced Collaborative Divorce Attorneys
Goranson Bain Ausley lawyers are leaders in Texas in the Collaborative Divorce process. Over 50 % of our lawyers have been collaboratively trained and have supported many Texas families with collaborative divorces. We empower families to find productive, customized solutions to help them face the future with confidence. Contact a Collaborative Divorce attorney today to learn more about your legal options. Goranson Bain Ausley has three office locations in Dallas, Plano, and Austin, Texas.