How collaborative divorce works and what to expect

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Collaborative divorce is a relatively new practice, that is gaining popularity.

In a collaborative divorce, each party has their own attorney. It is critical to choose a divorce lawyer who is specially trained in collaborative divorce. In collaborative divorce, both the spouses as well as their divorce attorneys sign an agreement that commits them to the collaborative process. This includes:

  • All parties are committed to resolving the divorce without going to court
  • Spouses are forthcoming with documents and information, including income, tax and investments
  • Should either spouse choose to move the case to court, the attorneys cannot continue working on the case.

These rules of collaborative divorce incentivize all parties to play fair, negotiate and stay away from the expense and stress of litigation.

How does collaborative divorce work?

Here is what happens in a collaborative divorce:

  1. The divorcing couple comes together and agrees to a collaborative divorce. If either husband or wife refuses, then collaborative divorce is not an option. Remember: You must commit to resolving the divorce outside of court, and be forthcoming with any documents and information.
  2. Each spouse hires an attorney who is experienced in collaborative divorce.
  3. Each spouse meets privately with his or her attorney to discuss your goals, concerns and to gather information for the negotiation for division of assets, child time-sharing and child support and alimony.
  4. Both spouses and their attorneys meet in a four-way meeting to start to work towards a win-win settlement. There will likely be multiple meetings, whether in-person, on the phone, as well as emails and calls between the attorneys.
  5. Once all items have been agreed to, the attorneys will draft an agreement, which both parties will sign, and will be filed for a final divorce decree in your local court hosue.

Many divorcing couples will also hire divorce professionals include divorce coaches, financial advisors and accountants and therapists.

Who should use collaborative divorce?

A collaborative divorce is a good option for couples who have too many disagreements to manage their own divorce, but are also committed to a fair, and amicable separation — especially if they have children they will co-parent.

Who should not use collaborative divorce?

Collaborative divorce is not suggested for these couples, who likely need to keep litigation as an option:

  • A spouse is severely mentally ill
  • A spouse is actively addicted
  • There is a recent history of abuse: physical, mental, financial
  • There is a reason to believe assets or other information is being hidden
  • Too much drama and inability to agree to disagree

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Does collaborative divorce work?

Similar to a mediated divorce, collaborative divorce can help both parties understand one another, set a healthy stage for positive co-parenting into the future.

If yours is an amicable divorce, consider working out the details between you and your spouse, and filing online. This post outlines the pros and cons of DIY divorce, as well as the best online divorce paper companies for free and cheap resources. Our recommendation is 3StepDivorce, which has an A+ BBB rating, $50 rebate and guarantee papers will be accepted in your local court.

3 Step Divorce review

Is a collaborative divorce cheaper?

The price of a collaborative divorce is typically lower than going to court, but more expensive than a mediator (since there are two attorneys, opposed to one mediator, who tend to charge less than a lawyer). 

Keep in mind that more than 90% of divorcing couples do settle outside of court anyway, but by taking the thread of a trial out of the divorce process, the tone of the process is lower-conflict, which means less fighting and fewer billable hours for the attorneys.

Read our complete guide to uncontested divorces to learn more.

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How much does it cost for a collaborative divorce?

How quickly you and your spouse come to an agreement, the individual rates of each of your divorce lawyers, and whether or not you need to bring in other professionals (such as a family counselor, child specialist, financial professionals, etc.) can all affect the final cost. That being said, by some estimates, a collaborative divorce can cost around quarter to half of what you might expect to pay for a traditional litigated divorce.

Collaborative divorce attorneys pay similar to other family lawyers, with rates ranging from $100 to $1,000 per hour, based on location and experience.

Complete guide to the divorce filing process

What is the difference between mediation and collaborative divorce?

In a mediated divorce, both spouses use one mediator — it could be an attorney, certified mediator, or even a therapist, family friend, religious leader or other.

In a collaborative divorce, both partners hire separate attorneys.

Obviously, one professional is less expensive than two. Also, mediators who are not attorneys tend to be less expensive than lawyers. And finally, the mediation process tends to be far less contentious than collaborative divorce.

In short: mediated divorce is way cheaper and less complicated and lower-conflict than collaborative (though collaborative divorce is certainly cheaper and lower-conflict than traditionally negotatied divorce).

The cheapest way to divorce is always to do it yourself, without any outside counsel.

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Cozi app for FREE for family organization and communication founder Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, activist, author and expert. A former Associated Press reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has appeared on CNBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, TIME, The Doctors, Elle, O, The Oprah Magazine. Winner of Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web” and a New York Observer “Most Eligible New Yorker," her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was a New York Post Must Read. As an expert on divorce and gender, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality and multiple state legislature hearings. More about Emma's credentials.

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