Collaborative divorce is a cooperative, interest-based approach to dissolving a marriage, known as a form of alternative dispute resolution. You and your spouse each hire a lawyer, and their focus will be on helping you and your spouse reach agreements on all issues. Collaborative divorce lawyers will not go to court for a contested issue but will handle all legal aspects of your agreement.
The Collaborative Divorce Process
Both sides must be open to compromise for the collaborative divorce process to be effective, or it will not work. In the beginning, each spouse hires an attorney experienced in collaborative divorce, and they and their attorneys must sign a “participation agreement.” This document states that each party’s attorney cannot represent either spouse if they end up litigating. Therefore, both sides must hire new representation before beginning litigation.
Each party will then meet with their respective attorney privately to prepare documentation and discuss goals. For example, desired child support or spousal support payment, custody arrangements, property identification, and division, etc. It is important to understand and know what you are willing to compromise on as well as your limits. For instance, if you are willing to give up your share of the family home if necessary but are adamant about keeping your retirement account intact.
Once strategies are in place, both parties will meet along with their lawyers to exchange information and make decisions. There may be several of these sessions, and they might also be joined by other professionals such as child custody experts, financial experts, or mental health professionals.
Completing a Collaborative Divorce in Washington
Once all issues are resolved, you must file divorce paperwork jointly and your settlement agreement with the court. Because you took control over the decision-making process rather than leaving it all up to a trial judge, it is considered an uncontested divorce. Washington does not have a separate, expedited procedure for an uncontested divorce, so you will have to wait at least 90 days from the filing date before the judge will review your paperwork. The judge will then approve your settlement agreement if they consider it fair. If you have minor children, the judge must also approve your parenting plan after ensuring it serves the best interests of the child. Lastly, the judge will sign a divorce decree, and your collaborative divorce will be final.
What are the Differences Between Collaborative Divorce and Mediation?
Collaborative divorce and mediation are similar, but there are some notable differences. In mediation, there is a single neutral entity (mediator) that works with both parties to help them communicate and resolve disputes. Whereas collaborative divorce is more of a team-oriented approach. Mediation is a bit less formal than collaborative divorce and can cost less if you only hire a mediator rather than attorneys and the services of other professionals. However, having the guidance of an attorney looking out for your interests throughout the collaborative divorce process may be a better option.