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What is Collaborative Divorce?

Collaborative Divorce is not the usual approach divorcing spouses experience during the divorce process, nor what family law attorneys normally practice when representing divorce clients.

As in the more traditional divorce process, the Collaborative attorney’s foremost responsibility is to represent their client and their client’s interests, with the client being afforded all customary confidences and protections. Unique to the Collaborative practice is that the attorney takes responsibility for advancing their client’s interests toward settlement; therefore, zealous advocacy in a Collaborative negotiation is focused on finding a mutually agreeable solution.

Collaborative Divorce is a legal process that allows couples ending their marriage to work with lawyers and appropriate neutral resources (e.g. a licensed clinical mental health professional, a financial expert for more complex financial issues) in order to avoid the uncertain outcomes of court and to achieve a settlement that best meets their particular needs and their children’s needs. Key is the couples’ ability to proceed without the underlying threat of going to court and having a trial.

Often a person beginning the divorce process thinks the Collaborative process is for those couples who are basically or almost already in agreement. This is not the case. Collaborative Law is for those couples who are not in agreement, but are looking for a different process than a litigated divorce. (For couples who are in agreement, mediation is likely a more suitable option.)

This voluntary process begins when the divorcing parties each agree to use the Collaborative process by signing its associated “participation agreement.” As part of this agreement, the parties are bound to the process therein and promise to take a reasoned approach in coming to a settlement. What does this mean? To start with, the parties must begin and continue to negotiate in good faith; transparency is key. Financial discovery is informal and cooperative. The coaches and financial professionals are neutrals; neutrality is what makes the independent professionals so effective in this process. If the Collaborative process breaks down and either party seeks intervention from the courts, both attorneys must withdraw from representation; the prospect of this consequence is an essential incentive to keep the parties working toward settlement. Either party can withdraw from participation in this process at any time.

Collaborative lawyers and coaches and financial professionals use principles of alternative dispute resolution and other mediation resources to move agreements forward efficiently, respectfully, and at times, with the purpose of maintaining and often improving necessary ongoing relationships. The Collaborative Law attorney is a principled solution-focused advocate for the client. Attorney Matthew Govan and Certified Financial Planner John LeMieux discuss Collaborative Law in this October 2016 episode of The Derry Rundlett Show.

For more information on the Collaborative divorce process in Maine, visit the website of the Maine Collaborative Law Alliance.

An extremely useful book on the Collaborative process is The Collaborative Way to Divorce: The Revolutionary Method That Results in Less Stress, Lower Costs, and Happier Kids—Without Going to Court, by Stuart G. Webb and Ronald Ousky.

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