Collaborative Divorce is for couples with moderate to high amounts of conflict, who want to ensure their rights and goals are protected, but who at least agree that they would like a more civil and flexible process for handling their divorce. If you and your spouse do not see eye to eye on many things, but agree that the option of going to court should be a last resort, Collaborative Divorce may be your best option so that you can resolve and repair the disagreements you do have, rather than becoming entrenched through the court process.
In Collaborative Divorce, couples sign an agreement to handle their dispute through meetings mediated by a neutral mental health professional and financial planner, rather than by going to court. Each person hires their own attorney to protect their interests through the process, but the agreement requires both sides to remain open to negotiation, brainstorming, and feedback on parenting and finances as they go through the process.
After a series of meetings with the couple and their professionals, the result will be a clear plan for the future that draws sustainable boundaries and expectations for creating two separate families out of what once was one. The couple will be provided with a final divorce package and parenting plan to drop off to the court for the judge's signature, and none of the parties will set foot in a courtroom.
Identify your interests and goals
The team begins by setting up ground rules and expectations. The spouses and professionals all agree to be honest and communicate respectfully, looking to the mental health professional to facilitate and mediate each meeting. All participants will sign the Collaborative Participation Agreement, to signify that all parties agree that they will not file anything with the court, nor threaten court action in order to get what they want. Each spouse will meet with the mental health professional, financial planner, and their attorney in order to process and identify their goals and a vision for success.
The couple will work with the financial planner to gather all financial information relevant to the divorce. This information is shared with all of the participants and gives the team a foundation for generating options for dividing the estate in a way that meets both persons' goals. Both spouses are required by Montana Law and the collaborative process to fully disclose and compile all financial data.
Both spouses will also work with the neutral mental health professional to identify all of the logistics and parenting expectations that the couple will need to work through in order to create a parenting plan. If co-parenting coaching is necessary, the couple will work with the mental health professional to create the best boundaries and processes for co-parenting into the future.
After compiling all of the data necessary, the team will begin to meet regularly to generate as as many settlement options as possible. We will try to come up with as many options as we can in order to be sure we have brainstormed every possible outcome, including who moves, how to handle future payments to divide assets, debts, for child support, or maintenance, what schools the kids should attend in the future, whether the parenting plan should change as the children grow, and whether the parents want to enact a college savings or payment plan. Although not all options will be logistically possible or desirable, the goal of these sessions is to simply brainstorm the longest list possible in order to help get couples away from being entrenched in their own desired outcomes, and these sessions are a valuable part of the mediation process.
Evaluate Options and Come to Agreement
Next, the team will evaluate the pros, cons, and realities of each option. We will think through how each option might play out in the real world or will even test the options by trying out certain parenting plans for several weeks to see how they go. Each spouse will have an opportunity to express concerns and come up with solutions until a final agreement is reached that seems workable for everyone. This process will take one or two more meetings and the mental health professional will mediate each meeting to ensure everyone's voice is heard in a productive manner.
Sign Final Agreements
Once a solid plan is agreed-upon the attorneys will type up everything that is needed to comply with Montana Law and accomplish your divorce. Everyone will have plenty of time to review and edit the agreements and your attorneys will file the final paperwork with the court for the judge to sign without a hearing.
If the team agrees that meetings are no longer productive, or one party staunchly refuses to participate in good faith (or at all), the team may decide that the family should opt out of the collaborative process. In the event of an opt-out, all of the information generated during the collaborative process is confidential and the parties must hire new attorneys to begin the litigation process from square one. However, because all of the professionals involved are trained in keeping families working forward together, the Collaborative Process has a very low opt-out rate.