How to Create a Successful Collaborative Divorce

After the participants have selected the Collaborative law approach to resolve their differences and finalize their divorce, they will follow these steps.  Some of the steps may be repeated or skipped and some may not occur, depending on the facts of each matter.  These steps follow the steps found under Considering the Collaborative Process.

Here is a quick overview of each step.  Each step will be discussed in further detail later in the eBook.

Step #7:  Professionals’ Pre-Meeting.  The Professionals might have a pre-meeting before the 1st Full Team Meeting of participants and professionals.  During this meeting, the professionals will discuss the issues presented in the matter.  Also, the professionals will create an agenda for the first meeting.  The professionals will also discuss potential dates for a meeting, location of the meeting and specific roles of each team member to be played at the first meeting and subsequent meetings.

Step #8: 1st Full Team Meeting – Participants and All Professionals.  At this meeting, the entire team will review the Collaborative Participation Agreement and all team members, clients and all professionals, will sign the Agreement.  After all the members have signed the Agreement, the team then follows the agenda that the professionals prepared during their pre-meeting, unless there is a pressing issue that one of the participants feels is urgent to discuss.

Step #9:  Professionals Debrief.  The professionals will debrief and plan for their next pre-meeting which shall occur before the next team meeting.

Step #10: After the 1st full team meeting. The participants are given homework to prepare for the next meeting.  As well as the participants may meet with their coaches, the financial specialist or the child specialist.

Step #11: Additional Meetings/Final Meeting.  There will be a full team meeting with all professionals to resolve financial and parenting issues.  There may be some meetings where not all professionals are present, as the agenda does not require their presence.

Step #12: Acceptable Agreement.  The participants have reached an Agreement that both participants are satisfied with and are willing to sign after consultation with their various professional advisors.

F.O.R.D. Driven Approach to the Collaborative Divorce Process

After the participants have signed the Collaborative Divorce agreement, the participants will then identify all concerns or issues they may have and wish to discuss in the meetings.  When discussing each concern or issue the Professionals prefer to use the following process, that some like to call F.O.R.D.:

Fact Gathering:

In this stage the participants will gather all facts concerning the issue that the participants are discussing.  While the members all know about the date of marriage; the length of the marriage; if there are any children, the connection the children have with the home, location of the home in relation to the children’s school, etc.

Option Generating:

In this stage of the discussion, the participants and the professionals will all provide options as to how to resolve the issue or concern.  During the option gathering stage, it is best if the participants resist the temptation for making comments at the options given by the other participant or other professionals.  By having all the options provided at once, it will give the participants an opportunity to see all options before making a decision.  While some participants may find it hard to resist making comments about the options, it is best not to say them at this time as it is helpful to keep the process moving.

Review Options/Evaluate the Options:

During this stage, the participants with the professionals will review/evaluate all the options generated.  The participants will discuss the pros and cons of each option.  The participants may even think of more options that were not originally provided.  Each participant will go through the options and state whether they are in agreement or not, then the other participant will go through the list.  After the participants have gone through the lists, if there are any options that the participants both agree can come off the list, it will be eliminated.  The participants will then discuss the remaining options and give their reasons behind each.  The attorneys will provide legal advice about each option, if there are any legal implications.  The mental health coaches may assist the participants in understanding the other participants’ view and help their participant convey their true meanings without emotions or tensions.  The financial neutral will be able to provide a cost benefit analysis of the options generated.

Decision-making:

In this last stage, the participants will make their decisions from the options generated.  The participants will want to ultimately come to a decision that each participant finds acceptable.  This decision will then be drafted into an acceptable agreement.

The participants will continue the steps for each concern or issue that they have presented or they wish to be discussed.

You’ve Signed the Collaborative Divorce Agreement. Now What?

You and your partner have reached an acceptable Collaborative divorce agreement and you both have signed the Agreement.  So, what happens now?

Depending on when you and your partner separated you may have to wait until you have been separated for one (1) year before filing for divorce with the Court.  If you have already been separated for one (1) year, then you can file for a divorce immediately.  During a team meeting the participants may decide who will file for divorce, this decision will be incorporated into the Marital Settlement Agreement.

Unlike litigation, the attorney that represented you throughout the Collaborative process can represent you in your Uncontested Hearing.

If you are the filing participant, your attorney will draft a Complaint for Absolute Divorce and will state that the matter is uncontested.  A copy of your Marital Settlement Agreement will be attached to your Complaint and you will be asking the Court to incorporate the Agreement into the Judgment of Absolute Divorce.  You will need to sign the Complaint for Absolute Divorce before your attorney files it with the Court.  After filing the Complaint, your attorney will have to serve the Complaint on your partner.  In most cases, your attorney will serve your partner by sending the Complaint to his/her attorney.

After the other attorney has been served with the Complaint, they have thirty (30) days to file an Answer to the Complaint.  If you are the non-filing participant, your Answer will be simple, as you will be admitting to all the allegations listed in the Complaint for Absolute Divorce.  You will need to sign your Answers before your attorney files your Answer in the Court.

After the Complaint, has been filed in the Court, the Court will set this matter in for a scheduling conference.  If at the time the Answer is filed before the scheduling conference, you will be able to proceed with an uncontested hearing.  At the uncontested hearing, you will need a corroborating witness who preferably knows both you and your partner.  At the hearing, your attorney will ask both you and your witness questions regarding your marriage, separation, whether the separation agreement is fair to both participants, and whether there is any hope of reconciliation.  If the hearing is before a Master, the Master’s report and recommendation will be submitted to a Circuit Court Judge for executed; if the hearing is before a Judge, the Judge can sign the Judgment immediately.

Please note that you will not be divorced until a Judge has signed your Judgment of Absolute Divorce and it has been entered in the court files.

How to Shield a Court Record after Peace or Protective Order is Denied or Dismissed

Under certain circumstances, the person against whom a peace or protective order case was filed can keep the public from seeing information about the case. The person against whom the case was filed is the Respondent, and the person who filed for the case is the Petitioner.

If the peace or protective order was denied or dismissed, the Respondent can file a Request to Shield Records. If less than three (3) years has passed since the date of the denial or dismissal, the Respondent must also file a General Waiver and Release. The Respondent must mail a copy of the petition to the Petitioner, or the Respondent can file a Motion for Appropriate Relief if the address of the Petitioner is unknown.

Once the Court receives the Petition, it will schedule a hearing. Both the Petitioner and the Respondent will receive a Notice of the hearing, and both parties have a right to be present at the hearing.

The Court will grant the shielding request if all of the following are true: (1) the petition was denied or dismissed at either the interim, temporary, or final stage; (2) that a final protective order or peace order has not been previously issued against the respondent in a proceeding between the petitioner and the respondent; (3) that there is not currently pending an interim or temporary protective order or peace order issued against the respondent in a proceeding between the petitioner and respondent; and that there is not currently pending a criminal charge against the respondent arising from the alleged abuse against the petitioner.

If the Petitioner shows up at the hearing, he/she will be given an opportunity to explain why the Respondent’s Petition should be denied. The Court may deny the shielding for good cause. In determining whether good cause exists, the Court shall balance the privacy of the Respondent and the potential danger of adverse consequences to the Respondent against the potential risk of future harm and danger to the Petitioner and the community. Furthermore, if the Petitioner objects at the hearing, information about the proceeding will not be removed from Domestic Violence Central Repository.

It is important to note that once the Respondent’s request has been granted, it is only court records that are shielded. All records relating to the Peace or Protective Order will be removed from public record, but there will be records kept in a separate, secure area where the public cannot access the records.

An attorney can often assist in preparing the Petition and representing the Respondent at any hearing.

Is the Collaborative Divorce Process Right for You?

Before starting the Collaborative Process, the participants might follow the following steps in order to choose whether the Collaborative Process is for them.  Here is a quick overview of each step, which will be discussed in further detail later in this eBook.

Step #1: Learning about and understanding the Collaborative Process. It is different from Litigation, Mediation, and Settlement Negotiations.  In the Collaborative Process, there are attorneys, mental health coaches, financial neutrals and child specialist that are Collaboratively Trained Professionals.  Parties can learn about the process from any of these Professionals and each professional will have their distinct role in the Collaborative Team.

Step #2: Choosing a Collaboratively Trained Professional.  Each party will need to retain a lawyer who has been collaboratively trained.   Because this process is so different from other areas of law, each professional needs to be specially trained.

Step #3: Talking to your Partner about the Collaborative Process and how to convince them it is the best process for you both.  In some situations one partner may be willing to proceed with the Collaborative Process, but the other spouse may dig their heels in and not understand what the process is or how it works.  Each partner should speak with a Collaboratively Trained Professional to learn about the process or how the process might work toward achieving his or her goals.

Step #4: Meet with other Collaborative Professionals. The participants’ counsel will speak with each other and the participants to determine whether mental health coaches or financial neutrals might be used in this process.  The participants will then meet with their coaches and/or financial neutrals.

Step #5: Discussion about the Process.  The participants will then discuss their options together and/or with their Collaboratively Trained Attorneys and decided whether they are willing to participate in this process.

Step #6: The Parties Select the Collaborative Process. After the participants have selected the Collaborative approach to resolve their differences and finalize their divorce, they will follow these steps. Some of the steps may be repeated or skipped and some may not occur, depending on the facts of each matter. These steps follow the steps found under Considering the Collaborative Process.

Discussion About the Collaborative Process

This is the fifth step of a series of 12 steps that explains in detail how the Collaborative Law Process works. Click here for the previous step.

collaborative processOnce the partners have gained a basic understanding of the Collaborative Process and spoken with Collaboratively Trained Professionals, it is time for them to decide whether they want to select this process. It is usually a good idea for partners to weigh their options together as a test to see how well they can communicate together. The partners should discuss what major issues need to be resolved and how they want to resolve the issues.

When considering whether the Collaborative Process is right for you, think about what the process represents. The Collaborative Process is an out-of-court method that uses a team of trained professionals to help partners come to a mutually satisfying agreement. If one of the partners is focused on “winning,” the Collaborative Process might not be right for this particular matter. The partners must agree to stay out of court and put for a good faith effort to resolve their issues together with the help of the Collaborative Professionals.

Another important aspect to think about when considering the Collaborative Process is how well you can communicate with your partner. The Collaborative Process is most successful when partners work together, through the Collaborative Professionals, to find solutions. If a partner cannot listen to the other partner’s ideas, the Collaborative Process might not be a good choice. Furthermore, if one partner is afraid to speak up, the Collaborative Process might not be successful.

Divorce is an emotional process. There will be times during the Collaborative Process where the partners feel uncomfortable or even angry, but if you are willing to preserve through discomfort, the Collaborative Process is suitable for you. The Collaborative Process is most successful when the partners are able to sit in the same room together, so if there is too much anger, the Collaborative Process might not be the right choice.

There are out-of-court methods other than the Collaborative Process, so partners do not have to select this method just to stay out of the courtroom. The Collaborative Process works best for partners who are able to be civil with one another and are willing to work toward a mutually satisfying agreement.

Click here for the next step in the Collaborative Process.

Acceptable Collaborative Settlement Agreement

This is the final step of a 12 step series that explains in detail how the Collaborative Law Process works. Click here for the previous step.

Collaborative Settlement AgreementOnce the participants have reached an agreement on all issues, the settlement agreement should be reduced to writing. The Collaborative team should coordinate which attorney will draft the settlement agreement, and then the participants and their attorneys will each have an opportunity to review the written agreement. When the agreement is acceptable to both participants, they will each sign the agreement in front of a notary.

For participants with minor children, it is important to come up with a parenting plan, which can be a separate agreement incorporated into the final collaborative settlement agreement. The parenting plan should consist of an access schedule that covers both a regular schedule and a holiday schedule. The parenting plan should also explain how the participants will make major decisions regarding the child(ren)’s religion, education, and health (i.e. make decisions together, one party has a tie-breaking vote, etc). When creating a parenting plan, the participants should also consider what to do in the event of emergencies, relocation of either parent, and phone calls between the child(ren) and the non-custodial parent.

A settlement agreement should resolve all financial issues of the participants. The agreement should include a provision for any real property owned by the participants, the household contents and other tangible personal property. Further, the agreement should include provisions about automobiles, bank accounts, retirements/pensions, and debts.

A settlement agreement that was reached through the Collaborative Process might also include a provision regarding the Collaborative Process to acknowledge that the parties negotiated in good faith in an effort to reach a resolution. Additionally, there might be a provision reaffirming the full disclosure by each participant.

The team members should discuss the logistics of signing the agreement. Some teams will schedule a full team meeting for the participants to sign the agreement, but other teams will have each participant sign the agreement in his or her respective attorney’s office.

Collaborative Divorce Solution Meetings

This is the eleventh step of a series of 12 steps that explains in detail how the Collaborative Law Process works. Click here for the previous step.

Collaborative Divorce MeetingAfter the first collaborative divorce meeting with all team members, the participants may meet with their coaches, neutrals or specialist before all the team members meet again.  At these meetings each professional will be handling matters relevant to their expertise.  During these collaborative divorce meetings, the participants’ attorneys will most likely not be present.  The participants may meet with the specialists separately or together and they may meet with these professionals a couple of times before all the members meet again.

Similar to the first full collaborative divorce meeting, the professionals will meet again to have a pre-meeting to discuss any issues that came up during the other meetings with the participants and the agenda for the next meeting.  These meetings are generally two (2) hours long, but the participants may meet longer with the specialists.

There may be multiple team meetings, depending on the issues and concerns of the participants and how far they progress during each meeting.  At the meetings, the participants, their attorneys and coaches, if applicable, are normally present.  However, not all the specialists are present as the participants may have already resolved their issues regarding finances or the a parenting plan.

During these collaborative divorce meetings, the participants will discuss each of their issues and concerns.  Each concern and issue will be discussed separately and the team will use a decision making process called F.O.R.D. which stands for 1) Fact gathering, 2) Option generating, 3) Reviewing and evaluating options, and 4) Decision making.  The team will use this process for each issue until all concerns and issues have been addressed.  During these meetings new concerns and/or issues may arise that the participants didn’t think of or may not have thought about.  Having all the team members present during these meetings helps the give the participants additional options that they may not have thought about or considered.  The mental health coaches will help the other members understand why one participant may be offering one option they can also provide additional insight about a possible parenting plan or ideas that may not have been suggestion.  The attorneys can provide legal advice concerning different options suggestion they may even be able to provide other options that may have difference legal implications to the issues.

The team members will continue to have meetings similar to these until the participants have reached terms that may be drafted into an acceptable agreement between the participants.

Click here for the next step in the Collaborative Process.

After The First Full Team Collaborative Divorce Meeting

This is the tenth step of a series of 12 steps that explains in detail how the Collaborative Law Process works. Click here for the previous step.

collaborative meetingThe participants will meet with their financial neutral/specialist, coaches and/or child specialist in between each collaborative meeting.

A: Financial Specialist/Neutral

The financial neutral may ask the participants to provide to him or her copies of the following documents (please note this list is not necessarily a complete list that a financial specialist may require):

  • Assets (house, cars, bank accounts, etc.); Income
  • Liabilities (mortgages, car notes, etc.)
  • Business interests
  • Retirement
  • Employee benefits
  • Insurance
  • Tax returns
  • Expenses
  • Cash flow Analysis
  • Budgets
  • Children’s accounts
  • Trusts

The financial specialist will go into greater detail regarding each document that he or she requires.  After the specialist has had time to review the documents and create an analysis of the participants’ financial situation, the specialist will meet with the participants and their attorneys regarding the financial issues.

B.  Mental Health Coaches.

While many participants may not want to use a mental health coach and are hesitant to do so at the beginning of the process, most participants will find that coaches are very useful members to the team.  The coaches will meet with the participants individually.  The coaches may also work with the participants together.  In these sessions, the attorneys and other neutrals are not present.  If a child specialist is not being used in the process, the coaches will help the participants create a parenting plan without speaking with the child(ren).

There may be situations where the participants only use one each.  In this situation, the participants will meet with the coach separately and then together.  The coach will be a neutral who will be helping both participants.

The coach has a large role throughout the whole Collaborative Process.  The coaches will be there to help the participants, the specialists and the attorneys.

C. Child Specialist

If the team determines that a child specialist is appropriate in their case.  The participants will meet with the specialist without the other professionals present.  The child(ren) of the participants will then meet with the specialist.  After the specialist has meet with the participants’ child(ren), then he or she will give his or her input to the participants and their coaches.   The coaches and the participants meet to prepare a parenting plan.  This plan is then presented to the full team at the next full collaborative meeting.

Click here for the next step in the Collaborative Process.

Collaborative Professionals Debrief

This is the ninth step of a series of 12 steps that explains in detail how the Collaborative Law Process works. Click here for the previous step.

collaborative professionalsIt is a good idea for the collaborative professionals to debrief each meeting immediately following the meeting. Coordinating schedules can be difficult, so the easiest way to debrief is to plan for a short, fifteen to twenty minute meeting for the collaborative professionals following each team meeting. If an in-person debrief after the meeting does not work, the professionals could schedule a brief teleconference instead.

The purpose of the collaborative professionals debrief is to discuss how well the team did during the meeting as well as areas where the team could improve. It is important that the collaborative professionals debrief without the participants so they can focus on the progress of the meeting rather than the merits. The collaborative professionals can use their training and experience to constructively discuss how the meeting went.

During the debrief, the collaborative professionals should discuss the dynamics of the participants. If either participant was acting positional or if a team member noticed any trigger points of one of the participants, the debrief is the time to discuss such things. Furthermore, the professionals should discuss whether the team stayed true to the Collaborative Process. Debriefing allows the collaborative professionals to seek advice from each other about issues they noticed during the meeting. This is particularly important during the beginning of the Collaborative Process while the participants are still getting used to the process and the professionals are getting to know the participants.

The collaborative professionals might also discuss their next pre-meeting during the debrief. The professionals could discuss a possible agenda for the next meeting and any potential contact with one of the participants prior to the next meeting.

Debriefing is essential throughout the Collaborative Process, but it can also be helpful to debrief once a final agreement is signed by the participants. The final debrief can help the collaborative professionals with future cases if they discuss what worked well and what did not.

Click here for the next step in the Collaborative Process.