Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What if I want to use this process, but I am worried my spouse won’t want to use the process?
The Collaborative law process is completely voluntary. You and your spouse must choose to participate. If your spouse does not recognize the advantages of this process and chooses to communicate through lawyers, documents and the court process then unfortunately there is not much you can do about that. However, with education, your spouse may perceive the same advantages you do. Don’t write the process off without first trying to talk to your spouse about it and giving him or her the web-site address to discover the facts for himself or herself.
Q: What if my spouse chooses a lawyer who isn’t a member of the Collaborative Family Law group?
For the collaborative process to work, it is essential that each party’s lawyer understands and is committed to the principles of collaboration and has signed a collaborative agreement.
Q: Is the collaborative law approach cheaper and faster?
We do believe that generally it is less expensive than going to court (there are no two cases exactly the same), although we aren’t saying it is “cheap”. Like anything where you use highly trained professionals, you will still be charged an hourly rate for their time. However, they won’t be wasting their time and your money on preparing lengthy court documents and filings, waiting in court, or trying to convince a judge that you are right and should win. Instead they will be working on and managing the negotiations, getting you focused on your needs and wants, reviewing your legal rights, crunching numbers, and building an agreement piece by piece. All of this is usually faster than going to court by not having to wait for discussions and agreements to be defined by the court calendar.
Q: What happens if we don’t agree?
If an Agreement is not reached, the lawyers must withdraw from the case, and the parties must litigate whatever they cannot agree upon in court with different counsel. Collaborative Lawyers are settlement experts and other lawyers are trial experts. Trust is a big component in the Collaborative approach and if you always knew that your spouse’s attorney may have the right to cross examine you in court then you would be less likely to work openly and honestly in the team. Remember the attorneys will narrow down your issues and resolve the ones you can agree on, and then spend time on the ones that seem to be more contentious. If you cannot agree on one aspect of the agreement you may choose to go to court on that one dispute and accept the partial Agreement.
Q: Will my children be involved in the process, and if so, to what extent?
If a child specialist is needed, the specialist will interview the child individually or as a sibling group at least once. The children’s involvement in your legal matter is limited to those contacts.
Q: I am scared to disclose all my financial documents and what if my spouse doesn’t want to do the same?
Remember this is a voluntary process you “both” chose. Both parties are to voluntarily provide and disclose all their financial information and back it up with the needed supporting documentation. If you or your lawyer are not satisfied with the documentation and information you are given that will likely slow the process down as well as hurt the negotiations. If you are convinced that your spouse is hiding assets you will bring it up at the next “Four-way Meeting” and share your perspective, and if you can’t trust the disclosure you may end the process. One last point, your spouse’s attorney is obligated to ensure that the disclosure rules are respected and if they aren’t, they themselves are obligated to withdraw from the case.
Q: What about complicated financial situations, like owning a business, stocks, and pensions?
You may need a financial expert and the good thing is that usually two collaborative lawyers can agree on the person to use which saves you and your spouse money by using one professional and not two.
Q: How can a cooperative approach work when my spouse is just so wrong about most things and we won’t agree about anything?
One of the hardest first things you must accept as you begin to walk the path of separation and divorce is whether you go to court, get a judges’ signature or whatever your vehicle for your divorce settlement you aren’t going to change your spouse. If it couldn’t happen during a marriage it certainly isn’t going to happen during a divorce. The game of chasing vindication through the court process is a terribly expensive and emotionally devastating game to play, and usually ends in disappointment.
If you can accept this fact and focus your energy, time and money on what must be settled, you will discover some issues aren’t that big and you can agree on them. If your lawyers can determine and find those reasonable points and can recommend to both of you to accept agreement of those points, then agreement is possible.
The process does require communication and a desire to understand the other’s viewpoint if an agreement is to be reached. We can tell you without equivocation that court pleadings and affidavits are not “effective communication”. It is also important to distinguish between “understanding and approval”. You don’t have to approve of his or her viewpoint, way of being or lifestyle, but understanding why your spouse wants what he or she wants is sometimes very helpful. Remember, you are not about to get more control over your spouse or his or her parenting style now that you are separated. Short of some substantial concern about the child’s safety, the court is not going to micro-manage your spouse’s life or parenting either.
This process isn’t right for everyone, but if you understand what is reasonably achievable through the divorce process, and seek first to understand your spouse’s viewpoint, you might be surprised at what is possible.
Q: Will my collaborative lawyer “fight” for me?
Your lawyer is your advocate in the collaborative process. However, the advocacy is different from the lawyer’s role in a traditional case. Your attorneys will focus on educating, advising and assisting you to understand the legal issues and options for settlement. They will strive to achieve your goals in a respectful and cooperative manner and will be committed to preserving your interest in reaching an outcome that is best for you and your family.
Q: My spouse already has filed papers with the court. Can we still choose collaborative family law?
Yes. Even though an action already may have been filed, you and your spouse may begin the process by contacting a collaborative law attorney and discussing your options.
Q: My spouse and I are planning to get a divorce without lawyers because we believe lawyers will turn it into a court battle, so why would we want a collaborative divorce?
It’s commendable that you are trying to reach a resolution without a court battle. Collaborative attorneys can help you by educating and guiding you in reaching fully informed agreements; they avoid creating disagreements where there are none. Even people who desire a peaceful divorce often find themselves struggling – not necessarily fighting – but they just don’t know their rights, the terms, effects of decisions for their children, allocation of income, and division of assets. Collaborative professionals can guide you through those discussions and help you efficiently reach resolutions. Using the services of a collaborative lawyer and other professionals reduces the likelihood of returning to court because your initial do-it-yourself agreement was incomplete or doesn’t work long term for the family.
Q: Why have I not heard of the Collaborative Law Process before?
Collaborative Law is new over recent years and is a rapidly growing approach to settling family divorces. It was born in 1991 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.A., and started with an idea, by a group of lawyers, to try to “do divorce differently”. The basic concepts were put together and they started to practice this way with a small group of lawyers. Their success (and the positive feedback from clients) caused the idea to grow, and from that beginning the idea and practice of Collaborative Family Law has continued to grow and change the lives of many divorcing families for the better.