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Collaborative Law FAQ

What is collaborative divorce in Pennsylvania?

Collaborative divorce is a dispute resolution process through which you and your spouse negotiate, with the advice and assistance of your collaboratively trained attorneys, to reach a settlement of your divorce issues instead of going to court to litigate. The parties in a collaborative divorce are in control of the outcome of their case — it is not left up to a judge or other third party to decide the outcome. The process fosters respect and encourages trust through interest-based negotiations.

How is collaborative divorce different from mediation?

In mediation, the mediator can be an attorney, but the mediator’s job is to act as a third-party neutral who facilitates communication between the parties to enable them to reach an agreement between themselves. The mediator does not give legal advice to the parties nor does the mediator tell either of the parties whether the agreement they are entering into is in their best interests. During collaborative proceedings, each party is represented by their own collaboratively trained attorney, whose job is to act as a resource, an educator and an advocate for his or her client.

Is collaborative divorce a good choice for me?

Collaborative divorce is a great option for parties who do not have a high amount of conflict between them and who have no addiction or abuse issues. This does not mean the parties have to agree on everything or be friends. In fact, during such a difficult time, it is expected that the parties are going to have some level of hurt and anger between them. However, it is the job of the attorneys to work with their clients, and each other as a team, to resolve these issues and reach an agreement that is in the best interests of all involved. It is often a preferable method for couples with children. The hope is that the parties can maintain a civil relationship for the benefit of their children, and be able to attend family functions together without wanting to start an argument.

Is a collaborative divorce more expensive than going to court to handle a divorce?

Although each case is different, collaborative divorces can be less expensive than going to court to litigate a divorce. A litigation-based divorce involves court appearances and possibly a trial. Additionally, with a noncollaborative divorce, discovery can be very costly, whereas parties going through collaborative divorces do not engage in discovery the traditional way. The idea behind the collaborative process is that there is complete transparency and no game playing. For instance, if a party wants a year’s worth of bank statements, the other party would simply provide them. In a traditional litigation-based divorce, one attorney would request the statements through discovery from the other attorney, who may or may not comply. If they do not comply, you may have to file and present a motion to have a judge order the other side to cooperate. Then, there’s always the possibility that the other side does not obey the court order, and you have to go back to court for a petition for contempt which would involve at least one more court appearance, if not two.

How does the collaborative process work?

Once the parties agree to proceeding with a collaborative divorce, each party needs to retain their own collaborative lawyer and meet privately with him or her. The attorneys will then communicate and plan for the process including the potential use of collaborative neutrals like collaborative coaches, child specialists and financial neutrals. Once the professional team is created, the attorneys draft an agenda for the first full team collaborative meeting. At this first meeting both spouses and all members of the professional team agree not to go to court, and other important issues are addressed through the review and signing of a collaborative participation agreement. The parties’ respective interests for their futures apart, hopes and fears are then discussed. The individual family’s needs and expectations are the focus of the team, with a particular emphasis on the best interests of the children involved, if any. Through the process, the full team works together to gather and process information, explore settlement options, test the consequences of the options presented and eventually reach settlement.

What happens if my spouse and I do not reach an agreement during the collaborative process?

If the parties cannot reach an agreement during the collaborative process, then the collaborative process is terminated and both parties must retain new attorneys and start the litigation process. The attorneys who represented them in the collaborative process may not also represent them in litigation.