Collaborative Divorce

Collaborative Divorce

Divorce is a challenging time for any family. If you would prefer a divorce that lets you and your spouse respectfully unwind your marriage while reducing the stress on your family, collaborative family law may be the right choice for your Alaska family law matter.

What is Collaborative Divorce?

Collaborative divorce is an out-of-court process in which the divorcing parties, not a judge, make the decisions about the terms of their divorce. Many other family law disputes, such as custody or child support issues, can also be resolved by the collaborative dispute resolution process. Each party is represented by an attorney who has been trained in the collaborative process. Other professionals, such as financial professionals, bring their particular expertise to assisting the team. Together with their attorneys and allied professionals, the parties meet to identify their interests and needs. This client-centered, client-driven team then works together to resolve issues in ways that meet the needs of all family members.

Why Collaborative Family Law?

Litigated divorce, by its nature, pits one divorcing party against the other. It is stressful, expensive, and often increases hostility between the parties. The collaborative model, with its emphasis on reaching resolution as a team, often reduces expense by eliminating the barrage of discovery requests, court filings, and appearances. The team approach also reduces stress by leaving control in the hands of the people who best understand the family’s needs—the divorcing parties. When the parties work together to resolve issues, hostility and anger are reduced. This not only makes the divorce easier, but sets the stage for easier co-parenting in the years following the divorce. In addition, unlike arguments in open court, or court files which may be accessible to the public, negotiation in collaborative divorce is completely confidential.

How Does Collaborative Family Law Work?

All participants, including attorneys and other professionals, sign an agreement detailing the terms of the collaboration, including an agreement not to seek or threaten court intervention. The participants agree to negotiate in good faith, to remain flexible and open to others’ ideas, to disclose all relevant information, and to communicate respectfully. Because collaborative divorce offers parties so much more control over the divorce process than litigation, it also requires greater commitment on their part. Like anything custom-made, however, a divorce carefully crafted to address your family’s needs is more likely to give you a good outcome.

If you are interested in learning more about the benefits of collaborative family law, we invite you to contact Colbert Family Law, LLC online or at (907) 279-5001 to schedule a consultation.

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Common Collaborative Divorce Concerns

Can the collaborative approach be used for problems other than divorce?

The collaborative approach (for more information on this, go to www.alaskacollaborative.org) is suitable for many legal issues in addition to divorce.  Family legal issues are very sensitive and personal.  Many - if not most - clients would like to address their problems in a way that is less public and less confrontational than going to court.  The collaborative process meets this need.  It can be used to negotiate pre-and post-nuptial agreements; child support; child custody modifications; college support issues; and most other family legal problems you may face.  It is also very useful for negotiating relationship contracts and break-ups for couples who are not legally married.  If you find yourself in any of these situations, we would be happy to try to help you.

What do I need to think about if I want to change custody of my children?

In custody cases it is not unusual for a parent to agree to the entry of a custody order they’re not all that happy with because they think that it will be simple enough to change later on.   This isn’t necessarily so.

To change custody so that a new court order is issued, the parent that wants to change it must show two things.  The first is that there has been a significant change in circumstances since the last custody order was entered.  The court can be fairly strict as to what amounts to a significant change in circumstances and what doesn’t.  For instance, a change of circumstances the court will consider does not include situations where a parent has simply changed his/her mind and does not like the current custody situation anymore; situations where the child simply says he/she wants to live with that parent; or situations where the parties previously agreed between themselves that custody would somehow change later on.  Some examples of changes in circumstances the court will pay attention to are things like one parent moving out of the state or community; one parent having developed legal problems or substance abuse issues that are bad enough to interfere with his/her parenting responsibilities; or one parent being with a partner who abuses substances or abuses the parent.

If the parent meets the first criteria, the second thing a parent wanting to change custody must establish is that the new custody plan they are offering to the court meets the child’s best interests.  Parents often assume that if they get over the first hurdle, that custody will in fact change.  That isn’t necessarily so.  Courts can and do find that even when it agrees that circumstances have changed enough for it to reconsider custody, the current custody order is still meeting the child’s best interests.  For instance, if the change in circumstance was substance abuse related, the court will look to see if that parent is in treatment or otherwise has the issue under control.  It is not unheard of for parents like these to defeat a motion to change custody if they “rehabilitate” themselves while the attempt to change custody is going on in the court.  These kinds of things can be very frustrating for the parent wanting to change custody.

In a nutshell, the court takes its orders regarding custody very seriously, and does not review requests for changes in them lightly if the parents do not agree.  Every parent preparing to enter into an agreement about custody that is going to be made an order of the court needs to think about the terms of the agreement they are making, whether they can really live with it, the effect it will have on the child and on them in the future; and whether the agreement will wear well practically and in other ways.  If not, you may want to think again about going ahead with having the court enter that order.

What is the difference between collaborative practice and mediation?

The most important difference between collaborative practice and mediation is that in the collaborative process, you have your own lawyer to advise and support you.  A mediator cannot give you legal advice, and cannot assist you in reaching your goals.  The mediator is a neutral, whose job is to facilitate an agreement.  Many people seeking a divorce or addressing some other family problem do not have the legal knowledge to use a mediator without the help of a lawyer, and many are too distraught and upset to participate successfully in mediation.  If your issues are complicated or particularly emotional, collaborative law might be a better option for you.

We just want an amicable divorce. We agree about everything. Why would I need a lawyer?

Your story makes no sense. If you agree about everything, why do you need a divorce? There is hurt and distrust lurking under every divorce. If you could trust each other absolutely, you would not be divorcing. Spouses naturally want to take advice from each other and rely on each other. But once the fundamental glue in your relationship has dissolved, you can't trust your spouse's advice. You need someone neutral and knowledgeable, whose advice you can rely on. Maybe that is your mother; or it might be a lawyer.

Can I get a quick, easy divorce?

Probably not, unless you haven't known your spouse very long and you don't own anything. Otherwise, divorce is a very difficult, emotional process. It is like watching a loved one's long, lingering death. And when the disease proves fatal, your ex is still living in the world, but no longer in your world. That can be either infuriating or sad, or probably both. It won't be either easy or quick. But there are ways to make it less painful and lingering.