Collaborative law: an innovative option for Utah divorce negotiation

Many people face the divorce process with dread. Some are concerned about their attorneys' ability to negotiate on their behalves, or if they cannot settle the terms of their divorces by negotiation, the prospect of judges deciding such personal matters might sound even more unpredictable.

In recent times, a new method of divorce negotiation has taken off in Utah as it has in many other states: collaborative law. The collaborative process was developed as an alternative to the traditional adversarial model wherein divorcing spouses usually assumed a suspicious, combative stance throughout the process.

In collaborative law, the parties enter into an agreement in which they pledge to negotiate the terms of a divorce agreement with respect and cooperation, and outside of court, although the agreement must ultimately be approved by a judge.

They also agree to exchange relevant information freely between them and be truthful. In a major change from traditional divorce, they sit down and negotiate around a table with each of their divorce attorneys present and participating. Together, the four of them hammer out an agreement.

The process allows for creativity and a dialog not otherwise available in traditional divorce. It may tend to appeal to couples that are still on good terms and able to effectively communicate. However, if they reach an impasse or find the discussions are tougher than anticipated, they can engage a professional therapist skilled in conflict resolution to help them communicate better, sometimes known as a divorce coach.

In fact, a major feature of the collaborative process is the use of neutral experts. For example, the couple could hire a financial expert to help them understand their prospective budgets after marriage and the tax consequences of various arrangements. Or they could retain a parenting expert to talk to the children and provide valuable insights to use in fashioning future custody arrangements and parenting plans. Other experts can include accountants, appraisers or mental health professionals, or any other specialist, depending on the needs of the couple.

Often the collaborative process can be cheaper than protracted litigation, but the parties must be committed to progressing through their issues since they are paying two attorneys in every meeting and neutral experts can have significant hourly rates.

Collaborative law is not for every couple facing divorce. For example, if one party does not trust the other to be truthful and forthcoming, traditional negotiation, mediation or litigation may actually be a better choice. And if the issues between the parties are especially difficult or intractable, sitting around a table together may just not be the best approach in the long run. In particular, when there is a history of abuse the process may actually not be healthy for the victimized spouse.

Finally, another important aspect of collaborative law is that everyone agrees that the lawyers representing the parties in collaborative negotiation may not continue to represent them if the collaborative process breaks down and the matter becomes adversarial. This gives both the parties and attorneys impetus to negotiate hard and creatively, so that they do not have to start over from scratch later.

If you are contemplating divorce and want to explore the collaborative option, consult a family law attorney trained in collaborative law to find out whether it sounds like a good option for you and your family.

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