Various Meanings of Collaborative Divorce

The first time I became aware of the idea of collaborative divorce was when I was representing a man whose wife’s attorney said he was a collaborative attorney. He gave me a thumbnail sketch of what that term meant to him, and I thought it sounded smart. We could work together as a team and help our clients reach a global amicable settlement without spending unnecessary time and money on the court process. Yes, I thought, I want to work with this collaborative attorney!

In that particular case, I came to learn that the other attorney was really just a litigator and that he did not know anything about collaboration. He used all of the same tolls and strategies that he used in his“former” life as a litigator, after selling his client on the collaboration concept.

Since then, I tend to think of the best case for most divorces as more of a team sport. I find huge benefit to my clients (and, more importantly, to their children) when I am fortunate to work with other professionals on their behalf.

The undertaking of a divorce is to help two established adults dismantle a lot of pieces. Not just their own relationship. There might be kids involved. Minor children present one set of challenges. Adult children present different issues. But there are also in-laws and friends and neighbors who all come into play throughout and after the divorce process. And the better a collaborative divorce team is at keeping these various aspects of the family whole, the better off the divorcing individuals will be when they are no longer married.

The legal profession can only do so much to help people change their entire relationship. We can oversee the rights and protections afforded to each party and their children. We can navigate the court system. We can give researched counsel and advice. We can indicate directions I which we have seen other clients succeed, such as when or if to sell real estate, various custody arrangements, and intelligent ways to divide assets and debts for the most mutual gain.

But we are not experts in the emotional and psychological issues that brought a couple from marriage to divorce, or what is to prevent those issues form haunting the post-divorce dynamics. We recommend the best realtors and mortgage professionals we know to help make sure that the real estate assets produce the greatest amount of liquidity for our clients. We meet with certified financial planners and analysts to help our clients understand what they will need to get from divorce through retirement in the best way possible.

All of this requires that the attorneys themselves (ourselves) be great collaborators. We need to have the humility to know when a different professional is the right person for a task, the strength of conviction to have our clients follow our good advice, and the patience to let the other experts work their own particular magic. A truly collaborative attorney is one who keeps the clients’ overall best interest at the forefront of the process. Even if it doesn’t match the lawyer’s expectations of a typical divorce.

What we Love: Thinking of divorce as team sport.

Published by Sharon Oberst DeFala

Sharon Oberst DeFala has practiced low-impact safe divorce since 1992.

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