Collaborative Team Divorce
What is Collaborative Team Divorce?
Collaborative team divorce is a process in which a non-adversarial team of divorce professionals is formed consisting of a collaborative attorney for each client, a divorce coach for each client (or one neutral divorce coach for the two of them), a neutral financial specialist, and a neutral child specialist. Together this team facilitates the negotiation of a settlement based on the family’s needs and interests, not using the law as the primary framework for the negotiations. In collaborative team divorce, the attorneys do not give their clients individual legal advice in private one-on-one consultations until after the law has been first presented jointly by both collaborative attorneys together in a meeting attended by both clients and their divorce coaches.
In collaborative team divorce each client has his and her own divorce coach who is a mental health professional (MFT, LCSW, Ph.D. or Psy.D). Alternatively, the clients may agree to use a single neutral divorce coach. The divorce coaches emotionally support the clients during all negotiation sessions (including sessions on property division and support, as well as sessions on child custody) and help the clients develop a co-parenting schedule and communication plan. They do not provide psychotherapy and do not take the place of or interfere with a client’s personal psychotherapist.
The neutral financial specialist is a licensed financial planner or analyst who helps the clients understand their financial documentation and situation. He or she prepares asset and debt balance sheets and generates reports giving the clients short term and long term cash flow and budget projections under different settlement scenarios. The clients may meet separately or together with the financial specialist, as often as needed, to get help in understanding the financial disclosure documentation and generating and evaluating different scenarios for property division, debt allocation, child support child, and spousal support.
The child specialist is a licensed mental health professional (MFT, LCSW, Ph.D. or Psy.D) who meets with the children, finds out how they are currently being impacted by the family transition, and makes recommendations as needed to create a temporary therapeutic support system for them. He or she also provides the clients’ divorce coaches with an analysis of how different co-parenting arrangements would impact the children.
The collaborative team attorneys commit themselves to the goal of attaining an out-of-court settlement. They are disqualified from later representing their clients in court litigation by the collaborative divorce contract and a court-filed stipulation. They are also required to disclose all significant information learned from any source to all the other professionals in the collaborative team as soon as they learn it, to assure total transparency. Their role is: (1) to make sure that each client understands all settlement options; (2) to first present the substantive law jointly with the other collaborative attorney in a meeting attended by both clients and their divorce coaches and then continue to explain legal issues to their individual client one-on-one as needed; and (3) to advocate for a settlement that benefits each member of the family instead of one member at the expense of the others.
Collaborative Team Process Steps
The collaborative team process often begins with one or both clients learning about the process from a single professional who then helps the client or clients assemble the full collaborative professional team. Once the team is assembled, a group meeting is held to sign the collaborative divorce contract and schedule a series of team meetings with specified tasks to be completed by each meeting. The first stage of meetings focuses on the clients writing a mission statement for the well being of their future family relations, completing the mandatory disclosure forms and document production, and making sure that the clients understand their own financial information and situation. The next stage of meetings focuses on generating different property, debt and financial settlement scenarios along with different scenarios for child support and spousal support. At the same time, the clients work in smaller group meetings with their divorce coaches, the child specialist, and collaborative attorneys to develop the co-parenting schedule and communication plan. The next stage of meetings focuses on analyzing the pro’s and con’s of all the settlement options, particularly with reference to the clients’ own future family relations mission statement. During this stage, the collaborative attorneys make a joint presentation on the substantive law and range of results that a solely legalistic approach to settlement might produce, with the understanding that the clients are not limited to this range of results in their negotiation. In the final stage of meetings, the clients select specific settlement options which the collaborative attorneys record in the form of a written settlement agreement. Once this agreement is signed by the clients, the attorneys have it converted into a court judgment or order.
When to Use the Collaborative Process
The collaborative team divorce process is designed for clients who are more interested in a legal settlement that benefits each member of the family than they are in pursuing their individual rights to the full letter of the law.This process is advantageous for clients who will benefit from a full team professional support system which provides ongoing access to emotional support and financial analysis.
Collaborative Divorce Professional Associations and Websites
Faith Jansen is a member of Collaborative Practice East Bay, a collaborative divorce professional association in the East San Francisco Bay Area, Collaborative Practice California and the International Association of Collaborative Professionals (IACP).