In my last post I introduced Kathleen Christensen who described the relationship she now has with her ex as a miracle. She says that’s due in large part to the “collaborative divorce” which doesn’t refer to the way she and her ex worked together but rather a very specific divorce process. Here’s how she described it to me.
You each have your own lawyer and we would meet with our own lawyers and we would meet in four-ways. The difference is that we signed a long contract ahead of time promising that we would be honest about everything and that we would work in a cooperative way for win-win scenarios. It’s a different process because when you meet in a four-way your lawyer can talk to your soon-to-be-ex. We also signed that if we wanted to go to court after all, we had to start over with new lawyers.
It really puts a container around what you’re doing. In a regular divorce even if you want to be cooperative, your lawyer would be in the background preparing for court and that creates a mindset which doesn’t exist with a collaborative divorce. I think that really helped.
In general collaborative divorce is a lot cheaper than a regular divorce but we spent a lot of time talking. We spent a lot of time hacking out decisions with our lawyers even though we didn’t have a lot of issues to resolve or a lot of financial resources.
The neat thing about it was we had to make the decisions – nobody outside was making decisions based on formulas that may or may not have fit for us. Nobody was bringing in experts to testify how much the other was capable of earning never mind if they wanted to be doing that kind of work. I think that structure was really helpful. I think if we had done a mediation it might not have worked since we had spiraled down with a therapist.
Each of us having our own advocate was helpful. Your own lawyer can act as brakes for you. I remember one day I had talked to my dad who thought maybe I was getting taken advantage of. Later, we were in a four-way and I told my lawyer I needed to talk to her for a minute. I told how I was feeling and I think that’s when she said,
‘What’s going to be important when you’re on your death bed? The last $5,000 of equity in the house or a good relationship with your ex for your daughter?’
Same with my ex’s lawyer. There was one thing relating to social security that I asked my ex if he would do for me. It wouldn’t have cost him anything but he didn’t want to do it. I think his lawyer said to him,
‘Look, I think this would be a fine thing for you to do.’
It took a lot of hard work and it took quite a number of months. I think we both thought it would be over much faster and it cost more money than I thought. However, I still think it was worth it.
The Divorce Coach Says
I had not heard of collaborative divorce until I met Kathleen and I completely understand how it would create a different mindset. Here in Colorado there is a very specific time frame that divorces follow and we had a tentative court date set early on in the proceedings in case we couldn’t come to an agreement. That means if your attorney is doing her job, she’s preparing to go to trial while working towards an agreement.And any information shared during the negotiations can be used in the trial, possibly to your disadvantage. That’s why the agreement to start afresh with new lawyers if you can’t reach agreement is so critical.
I like Kathleen’s point that it was her and her ex making the decisions and not a judge. Even attorneys will tell you that leaving decisions about parenting and custody to a judge is risky and it is way better if you can resolve the issues outside the court room.
There’s a ton information on the process at the International Academy for Collaborative Professionals. If you’ve had experience with a collaborative divorce, how did it work for you? Would you recommend it to others? Any other good sources of information?