What Is Collaborative Divorce?

Collaborative Practice is a way for spouses to resolve their divorce respectfully, without going to court. The Collaborative Law model was developed in Minnesota in the 1980s. Each client has the support, protection and guidance of his or her own lawyer.

While Collaborative lawyers are always a part of the process, sometimes child specialists, financial specialists and divorce coaches become involved as part of the clients’ team.

Clients choose professionals as needed and benefit from their expertise and support throughout the process.

Collaborative Practice is distinguished from traditional litigation by these core elements:

  • Professionals are hired to negotiate a mutually acceptable settlement without using court to decide any issues
  • The professionals must withdraw if either client goes to court
  • Clients and professionals engage in open communication and information sharing, and
  • Everyone creates shared solutions that take into account the highest priorities of both spouses

How Does Collaborative Divorce Work?

While you will always need to have Collaborative lawyers, you may also choose to start the process with a Collaborative Divorce Coach or a Collaborative Financial Professional. You will meet privately and in joint sessions with your professionals. Collaborative Practice is unique in that it calls for both spouses, and your lawyers, to meet for face-to-face discussions and negotiations-outside the courtroom. In an atmosphere of openness and honesty, all assets are disclosed, needs are communicated, and solutions are explored. When there are children, their interests are given top priority.

The end result of Collaborative Practice is a divorce agreement that has been achieved through mutual problem solving. You, along with your lawyers and other chosen collaborative professionals, take control of shaping the final agreement, rather than having a settlement imposed on you by the court.

What Are The Advantages Of Collaborative Practice?

You keep control of the process, without going to court.

  • Children’s needs are given priority.
  • You and your spouse commit to reaching agreement through a problem-solving approach.
  • An atmosphere of respect minimizes conflict.
  • Open communication allows both of you to express your needs for moving forward and gives you new tools for effective problem-solving in the future.
  • There is full disclosure of facts and information.
  • Face-to-face meetings in the presence of lawyers make negotiations direct and efficient and allow for mutually created resolutions.
  • The Collaborative process helps both of you plan for your own future and that of your children, and begin new lives.


In a traditional divorce, one spouse begins the process by filing a lawsuit against the other for divorce. Spouses going through a traditional divorce often view each other as adversaries, and their divorce can become a battleground. This can create or increase conflict and take a toll on the family, especially children.

A collaborative divorce is a non- combative process. Both spouses-and their lawyers-pledge in writing not to go to court. They negotiate in good faith, and reach a mutual agreement outside of court. Ending your marriage collaboratively can lessen the emotional strain caused by the end of the relationship, and protect the well being of children.

No. In mediation, a neutral third party (the mediator) facilitates negotiations between the husband and wife. But the mediator doesn’t represent either spouse, cannot give either spouse legal advice, and cannot be an advocate for either spouse. The mediator’s primary function is to facilitate a settlement. If a spouse wants advice, he or she must hire a lawyer to get it.

Collaborative Practice combines the settlement goal of the mediator and the independent representation of the lawyer into one process. Each spouse hires a lawyer (and sometimes mental health and financial professionals) to represent him or her during the process, but with settlement as the goal. The lawyers – who are also trained mediators – have also received special training in interest-based negotiation. Their job is to work together with everyone ensuring the process stays balanced, positive and productive.

Collaborative practice and mediation both rely on the voluntary and free exchange of information and a commitment to finding solutions that meet the goals of both the husband and wife. The lawyers, spouses and any other professionals sign an agreement, which focuses everyone on resolution. The agreement prohibits the attorneys and any other professionals from participating in litigation if the spouses are unable to reach an agreement and the collaborative process is terminated.

When a couple decides to pursue a collaborative divorce, they each hire collaborative lawyers. Then, each spouse meets privately with his or her lawyer. The next step is usually a four-way meeting with both lawyers and both spouses. The meetings are designed to create an atmosphere of mutual respect and engage in joint problem solving.

Additional experts, such as divorce coaches and child or financial specialists, may join the process. In some cases, the mental health or financial expert may be the first professional a spouse sees. These sessions, between spouses and their mental health or financial experts, help each spouse identify and express his or her needs and expectations. The well being of children is a priority.

That’s really up to the couple. Collaborative Practice can be a very efficient process for several reasons. The couple retains control of the timing instead of being subject to legal procedural requirements. The spouses focus on problem solving, not blaming or endlessly airing grievances. Lengthy court disputes over information and documents are avoided by voluntary full disclosure and open communication. Issues are raised and discussed in a timely manner. And finally, because settlement is reached out of court, you are not at the mercy of crowded court dockets that may be necessary with traditional divorce.

That depends on the couple. The cost of a collaborative family law case is directly related to the pace at which you and your spouse are able to reach an agreement on all issues. Our collaborative professionals charge by the hour just as in a traditional divorce. The difference is in how they use their time. Collaborative divorce eliminates the need for multiple court appearances, depositions and contested legal proceedings. By eliminating the court appearances and conflicts that are often part of a traditional divorce, the collaborative professionals are able to focus their time on either preparing for, conducting or following up after settlement conferences. This reduces not only the emotional, but the financial costs.

Are the answers to most of these questions true for both of you?

  • You want a civilized, respectful resolution of the issues.
  • You have children and want avoid the harm associated with court battles.
  • You want guidance and legal advice without the risk of escalated court proceedings.
  • You recognize the importance of working through emotions in order to make important legal, financial and child-related agreements.
  • You and your spouse have a circle of friends in common.
    You value privacy and don’t want your personal or financial information available in public court records.
  • You believe you and your spouse can make better decisions about your family and finances than a judge.
  • You want to avoid the pain and expense of having to return to court after the divorce if finalized.
  • Your vision for you and your family extends beyond the divorce, into retirement and adulthood of your children.

Is Collaborative Practice Right For You?

Divorce is a highly personal matter, and no one approach is right for everyone. However, many couples have found that Collaborative Practice is a welcome alternative to the potentially destructive aspects of conventional divorce. To determine if Collaborative Practice is right for you, ask yourself if these values are important to you:

  • Maintaining respect
  • Minimizing conflict
  • Prioritizing the needs of your children.
  • Being able to listen objectively to your spouse’s needs
  • Having your needs be given equal consideration.
  • Working cooperatively
  • Having your needs be given equal consideration.
  • Seeing beyond the frustration and pain of the present to plan for your future.
  • Keeping control of the divorce process, and staying out of the court system.

If you and your spouse agree with these basic principles, Collaborative Practice may be a viable option for you. Talk with a Collaborative professional to get a better idea if this process is right for you.

Take The Next Step

Schedule a consultation with one of our collaborative professionals. You can schedule an appointment with one of our attorneys, or if you feel more comfortable you can contact a financial professional or divorce coach.