What is the difference between collaborative practice and mediation?

In mediation, an impartial third party (the mediator) assists the negotiations of both parties and tries to help settle your case. However, the mediator cannot give either of you legal advice or be an advocate for either side. If there are lawyers for each of you, they may or may not be present at the mediation sessions, but if they are not present, then you can consult them between mediation sessions. When there’s an agreement, the mediator prepares a draft of the settlement terms for review and editing by both you and your lawyers.

Collaborative Practice allows you both to have lawyers present during the negotiation process to keep settlement as the top priority. The lawyers, who have training similar to mediators, work with their clients and one another to assure a balanced process that’s positive and productive. When there is agreement, a document is drafted by the lawyers, and reviewed and edited by you both until everyone is satisfied.

Both Collaborative Practice and mediation rely on voluntary, free exchange of information and commitment to resolutions respecting everyone’s shared goals. If mediation doesn’t result in a settlement, you may choose to use your counsel in litigation, if this is what you and your lawyer have agreed. In Collaborative Practice, the lawyers and parties sign an agreement aligning everyone’s interests in resolution. It specifically states that the Collaborative attorneys and other professional team members are disqualified from participating in litigation if the Collaborative process ends without reaching an agreement. Your choice of mediation or Collaborative Practice should be made with professional advice.

What is the difference between collaborative practice and conventional divorce?

In a conventional divorce, parties rely upon the court system and judges to resolve their disputes. Unfortunately, in a conventional divorce you often come to view each other as adversaries, and your divorce may be a battleground. The resulting conflicts take an immense toll on emotions—especially the children’s. Collaborative Practice is by definition a non-adversarial approach. Your lawyers pledge in writing not to go to court. They negotiate in good faith, and work together with you to achieve mutual settlement outside the courts. Collaborative Practice eases the emotional strains of a breakup, and protects the well-being of children.

What is a collaborative team?

A Collaborative team is the combination of professionals that you choose to work with to resolve your dispute. In some cases, the team may simply consist of you and your Collaborative attorneys.  However, divorce is more than just a legal process.  There are often emotional and financial issues that may best be resolved by working with professionals trained to work with those concerns.  Your Collaborative attorneys may recommend that you include neutral financial professional, divorce coaches, a child specialist or other specialists you and your spouse believe would be helpful. Your "Collaborative team" will guide and support you as problem-solvers, not as adversaries.

How does collaborative practice minimize the hostility of divorce?

The guiding principle of Collaborative Practice is respect. This respectful tone encourages you to show compassion, understanding, and cooperation. Collaborative professionals are trained in non-confrontational negotiation, helping keep discussions productive. The goal of Collaborative Practice is to build a settlement on areas of agreement, not to perpetuate disagreement.  Additionally, the Mental Health Professionals that may involved in the process teach each spouse how to: communicate and negotiate in a non-adversarial manner, minimize the negative effects of divorce on their children, and express emotions in a healthy way while staying focused on the best interests of the entire family during and after divorce. 

How does collaborative practice actually work step by step?

There is no single “step by step” process for settling your divorce with the Collaborative Practice approach.  Most often one or both spouses jointly, will choose to divorce and will first seek out a divorce attorney.  If that is the case, it is essential that both spouses choose attorneys who have been trained in Collaborative Practice.   An initial “four –way” meeting including both spouses and both attorneys may be held.  It is usually in this meeting when everyone agrees in writing not to go to court (The Participation Agreement).  Depending on your specific circumstances, additional experts such as Mental Health Practitioners (MHP, or Divorce Coach), and Child and Financial Specialists may join the process as you continue to meet with your attorneys individually or jointly.   For some couples, it has been essential that they work with their MHPs or Child Specialist prior to further settlement discussions with attorneys.  Resolving emotional issues surrounding the divorce, or working out parenting plans first, has sometimes proven to be a necessary initial step for resolving other issues.   Likewise, meeting with a Financial Specialist prior to settlement discussions with attorneys may be recommended.  All meetings are intended to produce an honest exchange of information and clear understanding about needs and expectations, especially concerning the well-being of children. Mutual problem-solving by all parties leads to the final divorce agreement.

Is collaborative practice a faster way to get a divorce?

Your situation determines how quickly your divorce process proceeds. However, Collaborative Practice can be more direct and efficient. By focusing on problem-solving—instead of blame and grievances—there’s an opportunity to strive for respectful results. Full disclosure and open communications assure that you cover all the issues in a timely manner. And since you settle out of court, there’s no wait for the multiple court dates necessary with conventional divorce.

How does collaborative practice focus on the future?

Divorce is both an ending and a beginning. Collaborative Practice helps you anticipate and include your need to move forward, and makes the future of your children a top priority. As a more respectful, dignified process, Collaborative Practice supports your family’s goals for a smoother transition to the next stage of your lives.  The Collaborative Team strongly encourages the clients to make decisions that center on the needs and interests of the entire family.  Further emphasis is put on making healthy decisions for everyone involved for the present and the future, not just the present.