Few things are as sad as the end of a marriage. In all too many cases, that level of sadness is accompanied by deep bitterness and hostility, particularly if one spouse has been unfaithful. In other cases, however, the situation may be more amicable. The couple may recognize that while dissolution of the marriage is necessary, it need not be acrimonious. In Washington State, is there an alternative to adopting a “scorched earth” philosophy when it comes to divorce? In many instances, the answer is yes. While it isn’t for every divorcing couple, a collaborative law divorce may make sense.
Collaborative Law Divorce: What is it?
Since well before 2013, when Washington became the seventh state to enact the Collaborative Law Act (“UCLA”), parties to a number of different types of disputes – including divorces – have been able to come to agreement, through collaboration, instead of having the dispute determined in the adversarial court administered process. The collaborative process is a voluntary, structured, non-adversarial approach to resolving family law disputes. The parties and their attorneys seek to work together to resolve issues, rather than battle them out before a judge.
Collaborative Law Divorce: An Overview
The UCLA generally requires the use of a Participation Agreement – a formal, written contract setting out the respective roles not only of the parties involved, but also of the attorneys representing them. The agreement describes the dispute and lists the issue or issues to be resolved. The idea is to work toward a settlement that will be less destructive than through a litigated hearing.
The collaborative process requires the full and truthful exchange of information related to the issues that are to be resolved. Unlike the procedure in a case filed with a court, there is no resort to formal discovery. While each party is represented by his or her own attorney, in most cases, the couple agrees on the use of neutral financial advisors to help iron out monetary issues. They also usually agree on the use of neutral mental health professionals, if needed.
The collaborative process ends with any of the following:
- A negotiated, executed agreement resolving the matter or matters in dispute
- An agreement resolving a portion of the matter originally in controversy, with a provision that both parties agree that the remaining issues cannot be so resolved voluntarily
- Notice by one of the parties that agreement is not attainable and that the party intends to proceed in court
Ordinarily, if the collaborative law process is terminated without settlement, the collaborative lawyer may no longer represent a party in a subsequent proceeding.
Collaborative Law Divorce: Its Advantages
Collaborative law divorce can have advantages, including the following:
- Cost savings – since only one financial advisor and/or one mental health professional is hired, the cost of experts can be halved
- Less stress and strain for children – most experts agree that a collaborative approach results in significantly less stress on children who may otherwise feel torn between two parents whom they love
- Greater “durability” of agreement – since both parties feel invested in the final collaborative agreement, the agreement is much more likely to be permanent and durable.
Collaborative Law Divorce: Is it For You?
Collaborative law divorce isn’t for everyone. Generally speaking, if the dissolution of your marriage involves issues of domestic violence or child abuse, collaboration will be very difficult. If one spouse has typically dominated financial matters or has always insisted on having things his or her way, the couple may be wasting time and money with the collaborative method if the other party is not able to assert a voice, with the assistance of his or her attorney. Yet more and more couples have determined that the next chapter in each of their lives can be written without resorting to one last fight. A knowledgeable, skilled attorney can help you come to an appropriate decision about what course is best in pursuing a divorce.
Skilled, Experienced Legal Counsel is a Must
Have you and your spouse discussed divorce? Do you think a collaborative approach suits your needs? Blado Kiger Bolan, P.S. has more than 30 years of combined experience providing quality legal services to individuals throughout the Pacific Northwest. Attorney Nicole Bolan has extensive experience in collaborative law. She has served on the Executive Board of the Collaborative Law Professionals of Pierce County and is a member of the International Academy of Collaborative Law Professionals and the Collaborative Professionals of Washington. She and her colleagues can provide you with the most capable, most compassionate legal counsel possible. Contact us on the web, or call our office at 253-272-2997.