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What is collaborative divorce?

If you are a California resident contemplating divorce, you and your spouse, despite your differences, probably are dreading the prospect of an expensive contentious court battle. If you would prefer a more amicable approach, a collaborative divorce may be just what you are looking for.

Per FindLaw, one of the major advantages of a collaborative divorce is that you and your spouse each have your own attorney. However, all four of you will sign a “no court” agreement whereby you and your spouse agree to negotiate any differences you may have regarding the following:

  • Child custody, visitation and support
  • Spousal support
  • Property division
  • Any other relevant issue

You and your spouse also will agree to negotiate in good faith, including disclosing all relevant information and producing all relevant documents. Your respective attorneys will agree to withdraw if you cannot resolve your differences and decide to litigate.

The collaborative process

The first step is for you and your spouse to each hire an attorney and meet with him or her privately. You should each be completely honest with your attorney about all of your issues, concerns and goals, but also what you can accept in the way of compromises. With this knowledge in hand, one of the attorneys will schedule a four-way meeting in his or her conference room or another reasonably neutral location.

All of you will sign the “no court” agreement at this initial meeting before beginning the negotiation process. If you and your spouse are in basic agreement on all issues, this may be the only meeting required. If, however, you are a high-asset couple with complex issues such as a family business, multiple real estate holdings, etc., additional negotiation sessions may be required. If necessary, either or both of you may ask other people like financial advisors, tax specialists, appraisers, etc. to participate in these meetings.

The goal of collaborative divorce is to allow you and your spouse to resolve your own issues rather than having a judge resolve them for you. Nevertheless, should your good faith negotiations fail and you have to litigate, your respective attorneys must stop representing you and you each will have to hire a different attorney. While this information should not be taken as legal advice, it can help you understand the collaborative divorce process and what to expect.