Ann Buscho, PhD, a recently retired psychologist and Divorce Coach, wrote a compelling blog for Psychology Today on May 16, 2023 which dealt with how effective a Collaborative Divorce can be especially how it can protect children and restructure a family to move forward in a more peaceful way. Please read the following:
How it began, how it works, and how it benefits restructuring families.
- Each member of the divorcing couple has their own lawyer to support, educate, advise, and guide them.
- The team may also include a neutral financial specialist, a child specialist, and divorce coaches.
- Unlike litigation, collaborative divorce is a private, confidential process.
Does this describe you? You have decided you need to divorce, or perhaps your spouse has made that decision. Despite your grief, anger, shock, or guilt, you want to divorce in a respectful or even amicable way. You don’t want a war. You want to get through it without further harm to yourself or your children. You dread divorce, but you also are determined that life must be better in the long run. If this is you, learn about and consider collaborative divorce.
The History of Collaborative Divorce
In 1990, a family law attorney in Minneapolis was so burned out on escalating, high-conflict divorces in court that he was ready to give up his career. Instead, he came up with the radical idea of inviting the opposing lawyer to work with him to resolve the adversarial issues. They were successful, the idea spread, and, today, Stu Webb is considered the founding father of Collaborative Divorce. This out-of-court process is now available across the nation and in about 25 countries around the world.
How Collaborative Divorce Works
- You and your partner will each hire an attorney trained in the Collaborative Divorce model. So you’ll each have your own lawyer to support, educate, advise, and guide you through your divorce.
- Depending on the circumstances of your family and the divorce, you may also bring in a neutral financial specialist (CDFA ), a neutral child specialist, and either a neutral or two allied divorce coaches, all with extensive training in the Collaborative Divorce process. More on their roles below.
- The child specialist will assist you in developing your parenting plan with your coach (or coaches), which is especially important if you have children with special concerns. The child specialist is not a custody evaluator but will meet once or twice with you, your co-parent, and/or the children to provide feedback to you based on your unique children and informed by his/her knowledge of child development and the effect of divorce on children at different ages.
- The divorce coaches help you with communication and negotiation skills so that you can manage your emotions and express yourself respectfully at the negotiation table. They help prepare you for meetings and help you articulate what matters most to you. Since divorce is 95 percent emotional and only 5 percent legal/financial, the coaches often attend meetings to support respectful, clear communication. In addition, if you have children, they will guide you in the development of a documented parenting plan that will be filed with (or incorporated into) your marital settlement agreement.
- Your “team” and you will sign an agreement up front that you will stay out of court. This means you and your spouse cannot threaten each other with court to get what you want. Instead, you agree to negotiate respectfully together, with the support of your team, to find a resolution that is acceptable to each of you. You agree to be open and transparent in your disclosures and recognize that if you and your partner reach an equitable agreement, you and your family will benefit. Where the court is a win–lose battle process, Collaborative Divorce aims to be a win–win cooperative process. If you threaten court or decide to litigate, your professionals will all withdraw and you will need to hire a new lawyer. This contract helps keep you and your spouse engaged in the process when things become difficult, as divorces often do. The team helps you see the light at the end of the tunnel when you come up against the potholes.
Why One Should Consider Collaborative Divorce
Your agreements are “durable.” Since you and your partner work together to resolve the various issues of divorce (money, property, and children), Collaborative Divorce agreements are durable, unlike many court-involved divorces that seem to have a revolving door as litigants return to court again and again in the hope of a different outcome.
You and your partner control the outcome. You and your partner make all the decisions. You know your family better than anyone. In court, the decision-making is taken out of your hands and put into the hands of the judge, who probably doesn’t know you or your family. Because of the backlog in most courts, your divorce might take many months or longer.
It’s confidential. Collaborative Divorce is a private, confidential process, like mediation. Litigation is not confidential, and you may even have strangers in the courtroom with you, and anyone may be able to access your court filings and documents.
The whole team has the same goal: the welfare of your family. The process of divorce is painful for almost everyone. In a Collaborative Divorce, everyone is committed to the healing of the entire family so that you can recover and thrive. Your co-parenting relationship will be easier, and this has benefits for the children since research has shown that it is parents in conflict that cause the most damage to children of divorce.
It saves money. Collaborative Divorce is usually less expensive than a court-involved divorce. However, costs can mount if you and your partner argue, fight, don’t do the tasks asked of you by the professionals, use delay tactics, or simply cannot come to an agreement. The process can be very effective and efficient when you allow professionals to guide you. Coaches can help you process the emotions when these problems arise so that you can stay on the Collaborative track.
You have full support. Unlike in mediation, you have a lot of support and guidance throughout your Collaborative Divorce. A mediator is neutral, so he/she cannot advise you or advocate for either of you. The mediator should educate you about the law and can facilitate the conversation between you and your partner, but cannot stop you from making an uninformed or unwise decision. If you like the idea of mediation but feel that you would benefit from having your own lawyer’s guidance and support, Collaborative Divorce is the process to consider.
When It Isn’t Appropriate
Some divorcing partners need an outside decision-maker (a judge) because they are unable to negotiate decisions successfully. If there is intimate partner violence or uncontrolled mental illness or addiction, when one of you is unwilling or unable to be coached in communication skills and emotional regulation, or when threats are being thrown around, litigation is the best route.
Although you and your partner may be flooded with emotions, and trust may be at a low point, if you are both willing to invest in a better post-divorce relationship and the well-being of your children, and you would like to recover and move into a new, happier next chapter of life, then consider collaborative divorce.
Ann Buscho, PhD is a recently retired Collaborative Divorce Coach practicing in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is also the author of The Parent’s Guide to Birdnesting: A Child-Centered Solution to Co-parenting during Separation and Divorce. Learn more at https://drannbuscho.com/