More and more in recent years, divorcing couples have been turning to a hybrid process known in Texas as collaborative divorce, which combines a lawyer’s advocacy and legal know-how with the problem-solving orientation of divorce mediation. The process begins when each disputant hires a collaborative lawyer who will negotiate, not litigate. The parties sign a disqualification agreement stating that they will hire a different lawyer if they decide to instead litigate their dispute—an agreement designed to commit disputants to the negotiation process, as well as reducing lawyers’ financial incentives to pursue a lengthy litigation process.
In addition, disputants agree in advance to disclose all information relevant to the case, to treat each other with respect, to jointly hire experts (such as psychologists in child-custody cases and financial professionals in complicated financial situations), and to address each other’s needs and interests. In turn, their lawyers promise to serve as negotiators, not litigators, and to try to keep the process honest, respectful, and productive. Working together, the clients and their lawyers, mental health professionals, and financial professionals engage in a series of meetings aimed at finding creative solutions that meet both parties’ interests.
By combining divorce mediation with negotiation, collaborative law increases the facilitative nature of divorce negotiations in a traditionally competitive realm. It also eliminates the conflict of interest faced by lawyers who could gain more financially from a long litigation process than from a quick settlement.
Individuals who choose collaborative divorce are likely to reduce the acrimony that’s often linked to divorce and improve their odds of reaching a mutually beneficial resolution. Overall, those preparing to divorce would be wise to seek out collaborative divorce lawyers, who believe that collaborative strategies and techniques aimed at encouraging an open dialogue are more likely to promote a satisfactory divorce than a straightforward competitive approach would.
If the parties get stuck and cannot reach an agreement, they can try mediation. The most effective mediators are board certified family law attorneys with collaborative divorce experience.