When a marriage has broken down and can't be saved, it's understandable for the parties to assume they'll soon face their spouse in court. However, some states, like New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York, don't require a courtroom proceeding. When both parties agree that the marriage is over and both are open to finding common ground on issues like child custody and the division of assets, these states offer an alternative. That alternative is known as a collaborative divorce.
What is a Collaborative Divorce?
A collaborative divorce is an amicable legal process that does not involve facing a judge or viewing your spouse as a legal adversary. Instead, spouses enter a collaborative process of flexible negotiations with the goal of settling their divorce without any major conflict. To ensure their commitment to the process, each party will sign a written agreement to enter into negotiations in good faith and with the goal of a fair compromise on any issues that become contested. They each also agree, along with their attorneys, not to file any pleadings with the court unless the collaboration attempt has failed.
What are the Benefits of Collaborative Divorce?
One of the main benefits of a collaborative divorce is skipping the litigation process. Settling your divorce out of court means avoiding the cost of extra legal fees for a long, drawn-out conflict in the courtroom. It also offers an avenue for keeping the details of your divorce private. After all, if the matter ends up in court, every aspect of your lives that enters the courtroom will become a matter of public record.
Commencing a Collaborative Divorce
Instead of heading to the courthouse to file a divorce complaint, a couple contemplating collaborative divorce should start by seeking their own legal representation. In many marriages, one partner has more access to funds or information than the other spouse does, creating a power imbalance. Having each spouse hire their own attorney to represent their interests helps ensure that no one is taken advantage of, even inadvertently.
The next step is to meet an independent mediator or divorce coach. Typically, family law attorneys in the area will have a working relationship with a network of these professionals, so you won't have to seek them out. Your attorney will most likely also be able to recommend other professionals you may end up needing, such as financial advisors or parenting coaches, though you are always welcome to find these providers on your own. These specialists will help you settle on a plan that looks out for the future of both spouses and any children who might be involved.
How do I Prepare for a Collaborative Divorce?
Before you enter the collaborative divorce process, it is essential that you and your spouse have an honest conversation about your goals and concerns. Not every couple is equipped to end their marriage in such an amicable manner. If you aren't able to communicate with each other about what you want for the future and articulate the reason you think what you're asking for is fair, the process may not be the best option for you. If the relationship is volatile and emotions tend to run high, an attempt at a collaborative divorce is likely to fail and end up in court.
Just like you would with a traditional divorce, you'll need to gather as much information as possible about the life you're about to divide. Bank and credit card statements, deeds, tax returns, car and mortgage notes, and any other jointly held debts and assets will need to be gathered, examined, and negotiated. Since there's always a chance you might not be able to locate some of the paperwork you'll need to complete your divorce, begin your preparations as soon as you agree to the collaboration process. In the meantime, consider brushing up on your negotiation tactics.
The Negotiation Process
In a collaborative divorce, there is no judge for you to convince that your settlement proposal is fair. It's just you, your spouse, and your collaboration team. Your main goal is to persuade your spouse to agree to your version of a fair settlement. Of course, their goal is to persuade you to agree to theirs. So, how does anyone get anywhere?
Before you begin negotiating with your spouse, have a private meeting with your attorney. They will remind you of settlement issues that you may not have even considered. Let your attorney know your position on every issue requiring agreement, including the division of property and debts, child custody, and spousal support. This isn't just to gain legal knowledge. It's also so that your attorney can take over negotiations for you if the conversation between you and your spouse becomes too heated or difficult to continue.
When you've agreed on all the issues, your attorneys will write up a settlement agreement, which both spouses will sign. In most counties in New Jersey, this settlement can be filed along with divorce proceedings in court without the parties' presence in the courtroom becoming necessary at any point. Most divorces will be finalized within three months, as long as the marriage lasted at least six months before you separated.
How Attorney Joseph D. Lento can Help
If you're facing divorce and considering a collaborative process, you need an attorney who understands how to negotiate effectively. With years of experience, Attorney Joseph D. Lento knows how to provide strong, high-quality legal advice and representation during delicate negotiations.
Before entering into a settlement agreement or committing to the collaborative divorce process, call 888-535-3686 to contact the Lento Law Firm. Attorney Joseph Lento and his team will protect your interests throughout the process while helping you to navigate the end of your marriage with dignity and respect for all parties.