Collaborative Divorce the Right Way

In the world of family law, collaborative divorce is trending, gaining popularity that makes attorneys and clients alike want to explore how they can be more “collaborative” throughout the divorce process. And who wouldn’t?! Collaborative divorce is often more cost effective, supportive of the mental and physical health of everyone involved, and typically leads to fewer post-resolution enforcement issues. But, as with anything up-and coming, there is a learning curve and many professionals and clients alike don’t realize that “working collaboratively” is not the same as truly practicing Collaborative Divorce.

What is a Collaborative Divorce?

Using the true definition of “collaborative,” Collaborative Divorce is a specific alternative dispute resolution process that utilizes a team approach, allowing attorneys, mental health professionals, financial experts, and clients to all work together to manage the divorce and problem-solve outside of the courtroom. This requires professionals and clients that are dedicated to avoiding litigation and are willing to communicate with each other respectfully, even when they disagree. Don’t get me wrong, Collaborative Divorce is not just for clients that work well together or have healthy communication styles. Many do not have these skills at the outset. But it is for clients that recognize that having control over the outcome of their divorce is preferable to a Judge making decisions for them and their family moving forward.

How to Make Divorce Easier in Virginia

While many clients might say this is what they want their divorce to be like – kind, healthy, united – wanting and doing are not the same thing. And many family lawyers out there might say they prioritize “collaborative” support, but if they aren’t truly a trained Collaborative Professional, this more likely than not will devolve into a litigious, stressful, and expensive case for everyone involved.

So, if you are truly interested in Collaborative Divorce and ready to hire an attorney, how do you make sure you do it right?

1) Ask About Their Training

There is no question about it, if you want to explore Collaborative Divorce, the attorney you hire MUST be collaboratively trained. An attorney should be able to provide confirmation of their collaborative training, how long they have practiced collaborative law, and require a Collaborative Participation Agreement. Any attorney can throw out broad buzzwords like “cooperative,” or “settlement,” or “mental health,” but make sure that you get details of an attorney’s Collaborative training and experience before agreeing to work with them.

2) Take Time to Understand Their Mindset

We have all seen television attorneys fight passionately for their clients in a staged courtroom. And while the drama of litigation makes for great binge watching, it is the opposite of what you want from your Collaborative Divorce Attorney. While your attorney may also litigate cases, a Collaborative Divorce Attorney needs to approach your case with a completely different frame of mind that is committed to work in a non-adversarial way. They have to be able to understand the wants and needs of both parties, and the family as a whole, not just their client’s. The hardest part (in my opinion!) about Collaborative Divorce is stopping myself from saying “But you wouldn’t get that in Court” to the other party. The law is just one touchpoint in Collaborative Divorce. Ask questions about how the attorney usually handles reaching a settlement, how they work with others, and what they think the best outcome of a Collaborative Divorce would be.

3) Require A Team

Like the definition of “collaborative” suggests, to truly have a Collaborative Divorce you need a team of two or more parties working together to resolve your case. Collaborative teams don’t always look the same, but will typically consist of divorce attorneys for each party and a mix of mental health professionals, coaches, mediators, and financial neutrals that works best for you. While hiring multiple professionals can feel counterintuitive at first, having professionals in each field can make the divorce process smoother, quicker, and less expensive. Discussing goals together means you won’t have to pay attorneys to go back and forth on every small detail, you may identify solutions faster, and you can get the right support and information from the correct professional to begin with.

4) Take Care Of Yourself

No matter which legal route you take, the healthier you are, the better you will be able to think clearly, communicate honestly, and negotiate fairly. We know that divorce is an emotional process, even with the most collaborative of couples, and your attorneys want to make sure that you feel safe, heard, and ready for the next chapter. Collaborative Divorce can include licensed counselors or therapists, neutral parties, or collaborative coaches to help the parties manage the mental and emotional burden for you and your family. VaCP has so many wonderful Collaborative Professionals and research available to help you get started, so take a deep breath and reach out. We are here to help!

Collaborative Divorce Attorney Virginia

About the Author: Elizabeth Bookwalter is a founding partner of Patterson Bookwalter PLLC, a law firm located in Fairfax, Virginia. Elizabeth exclusively practices family law and believes that litigation is often the last resort in handling family law matters. She encourages her clients to consider alternatives to litigation, including lawyer negotiation, mediation, and collaborative law. Her cases have included complex issues such as mental health concerns, domestic abuse, alcohol and drug addiction, parental alienation, financial tracing, and unilateral dissipation of assets. Elizabeth is a trained Collaborative Divorce Attorney and serves as an executive member of the Virginia Collaborative Professionals Associate and as a member of the Virginia State Bar Standing Committee on Professionalism.

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