The Collaborative Divorce Process

Below is a general outline of the typical marital dissolution process. Each couple’s divorce is unique in its own way. Although the divorce process may be confusing and frustrating at times, our goal is to assist you in reaching a satisfactory resolution.

Step 1: Understanding the Collaborative Process

At the first meeting, the clients and professionals (attorneys and any other members of your collaborative team that you have agreed should be present at this first meeting) review the process and tools.  The Collaborative Process documents are then signed by all participants.

The Collaborative Process is more likely to succeed when the participants understand and commit to the process together.

Step 2: Information Gathering

The first task in the Collaborative Process is to gather information to assist you and your professionals in developing a creative and appropriate settlement. 

Each spouse must share with the other spouse his/her understanding of the marital assets and debts, separate property assets and debts, incomes, and potential opportunities and/or liabilities. There are specific forms that are used to disclose this information.

The Collaborative Team will provide you with the initial forms and questionnaires to assist you in gathering this information. As you work through this step, the professionals and clients will work together to determine any additional information or documents that are needed and who will be responsible for these items.

Sometimes a third party will need to be contacted to provide records or to appraise an asset. The work of the professionals will be coordinated to provide you with the best possible assistance in the most cost-effective manner.

The Collaborative Team may include other professionals to assist you including divorce coaches and a child specialist as needed. The information-gathering stage will be different for these professionals; they will need to know more about you and your family than just your financial situation.

Step 3: Temporary Arrangements

Clients often need immediate structures for financial support, parenting arrangements, and/or management of assets and debts. Either formal or informal agreements can be reached during the Collaborative Process.

An informal agreement is usually captured in the minutes of your meetings with the professionals, and it may not be written up or signed. Even so, the clients’ commitment to the Collaborative Process bind them ethically to follow through on these informal agreements.

A formal agreement can be either in the form of a written agreement or can be a “stipulation” which will be submitted to the court to issue a temporary order. Typically, a stipulation and order is only used in the Collaborative Process if a third party is involved (e.g., retirement benefit plans).

Step 4: Exploring the Interests, Needs, and Values of the Participants

In order to increase the possibility of reaching a mutually acceptable agreement, the professionals and clients in the Collaborative Process explore the interests, needs, and values of each client. Each spouse is asked to consider his or her core interests, needs, and values and to communicate those needs to the other spouse and the professionals.

This process can be done with your Collaborative attorneys, with your coaches, or with any combination of professionals on your team that makes sense for you.

Step 5: Brainstorming Settlement Possibilities and Negotiating a Settlement

Once all factual information has been gathered and the spouses have exchanged information regarding their interests, needs, and values, the spouses and Collaborative Team can begin to brainstorm possible settlement options.

During the brainstorming phase, financial specialists can assist with developing options as well as provide projections regarding the impact of different options.  Divorce coaches can help facilitate the process.

There are often many ways of putting together the pieces of the puzzle, and an open-minded discussion of all the possibilities usually leads to the discovery of a good fit for clients’ circumstances.

Step 6: Memorializing Your Agreement and Obtaining Permanent Orders

Once you have reached an agreement, the attorneys will prepare a Marital Settlement Agreement and any other settlement documents for your review. When everyone has agreed on the language of the agreement, the agreement and necessary court forms are signed and submitted to the court.