First, both divorcing spouses must voluntarily agree to engage in a Collaborative Divorce. Next, they select the professionals who will comprise the inter-disciplinary Collaborative professional team in their case. The divorcing parties and the collaborative team then meet to set an initial schedule for the case and sign a collaborative agreement setting forth the terms and conditions for the collaborative process including the commitment of the divorcing parties and their Collaborative Attorneys to negotiate transparently and in good faith, to resolve all issues in the case, and not to litigate the divorce in court.
In most instances, the parties then begin working with their Collaborative Coaches, the Collaborative Child Specialist (if children are involved), and the Collaborative Financial Specialist. The Collaborative Attorneys typically are not heavily involved in this phase of the process, unless called upon to help address specific issues. The divorcing parties, with the support and guidance of their Collaborative Coaches, begin to work through emotional issues, deal with communication barriers, develop a parenting plan, and assess and articulate needs and concerns. With the help of the Collaborative Child Specialist, the parties explore their children’s issues with respect to the divorce, and begin to develop strategies to address them. Working with the Collaborative Financial Specialist, the parties gather and analyze information concerning their assets, liabilities, and other marital property, and develop budgets, financial transition plans, and longer term financial plans. As issues are framed, they are addressed in negotiations involving the parties and their Collaborative Attorneys, with support from the other collaborative professionals. As issues are resolved, the Collaborative Attorneys document the agreements of the parties in pleadings that are filed in court and enacted in the form of decrees and orders entered by a judge. Normally, the parties in a Collaborative Divorce case will never appear in court, because all matters are resolved by mutual consent.
A very important condition of Collaborative Divorce is that, if one or both of the divorcing spouses chooses to withdraw from collaboration, the case is terminated and the divorcing spouses can no longer be represented by their collaborative attorneys, have the benefit of their collaborative coaches, or make use of the work product or command the testimony of any of the collaborative professionals in later litigation. The reason for this condition, which is part of the collaborative agreement signed by the divorcing spouses at the beginning of the case, is that it serves as an incentive to the parties to resolve their issues collaboratively, because the breach or termination of that agreement will have undesirable consequences for the spouses.