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An alternative to traditional Colorado divorce: the collaborative model

Collaborative divorce is an open, respectful negotiation method.

Imagine a divorce without courtroom drama that can build animosity between you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse, increase stress on everyone - including children - and not necessarily result in the kind of court order you were hoping for. That other kind of divorce is the collaborative process, an approach to dissolving a marriage that emphasizes negotiation, creativity, respect and honesty.

Collaborative divorce was conceived of by a Minnesota family lawyer who had tired of the high-conflict experience of courtroom litigation and its potentially negative impact upon the family. Stuart Webb created a completely new approach in which the parties pledge to stay out of court and negotiate a settlement in a series of four-way meetings with the two parties and their specially trained collaborative lawyers, along with other hired neutral professionals when appropriate.

The idea is that the parties are trying for a win-win arrangement that attempts to meet both parties' needs rather than a win-lose adversarial scenario in which getting the better deal is the goal no matter what that means for the other spouse's future.

Webb's brain child has spread to many other states and even to some other countries and has come into use in some other kinds of legal conflict besides divorce. The Colorado bar has a number of trained, experienced collaborative divorce attorneys and if you feel a collaborative resolution to your divorce may be possible considering your relationship with your spouse and his or her propensity for honesty, respect and openness, it is smart to discuss the possibility with such a lawyer.

In that conversation, the alternatives of mediation, traditional negotiation and litigation can be analyzed to determine the smart choice for your particular divorce.

The process begins with the execution of a participation agreement in which the parties promise to treat each other respectfully; voluntary disclose all relevant financial and asset information; stay out of court; bring in neutral professionals (financial planners, mental health professionals, parenting or child experts, divorce coaches and so on) to provide expert information or help through impasses; and keep the process confidential.

Should the collaborative process fail, the attorneys must withdraw and new counsel retained for whatever process is chosen.

Benefits of collaboration often (but not always, depending on the circumstances) include:

  • Less stress and conflict
  • No formal discovery process to obtain financial and other information because of voluntary disclosure
  • Privacy instead of public disclosure of personal information in court
  • Control over the speed of progress and schedule of meetings
  • Control over the outcome through creative negotiation instead of leaving the decisions to a judge
  • Cheaper in some situations
  • Upholds ideals of cooperation, respect and dignity
  • Protects children from the adversity of litigation
  • Promotes healing of relationships, communication and even friendship, especially beneficial between two parents who will need to work together to co-parent

Collaboration must be carefully chosen, however, as some situations are not ideal for the process. For example, when a spouse has a history of controlling behavior, abuse or dishonesty, he or she is not a good candidate for a collaborative negotiation partner. Also, if the parties are unlikely to be able to compromise and negotiate in good faith, the process could get longer than expected and more expensive, since two lawyers plus neutral professionals are potentially paid for each meeting.

The family lawyers at Tolison & Williams, Attorneys at Law, LLC, in Brighton, Colorado, represent clients in the northern Denver area, Boulder Valley and Front Range going through divorce using the collaborative approach, mediation or traditional litigation, depending on the needs of the family.

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