28 October 2019
Collaborative Divorce – The gift of teamwork that keeps on giving
When people think of separation or divorce, they often think of two people aggressively fighting over their respective rights to finances, and access to shared children. This view is perpetuated in the media and from the spreading of “horror stories” amongst friends and family members.
While this is occasionally the case, the truth is that many people manage to navigate through a separation and divorce on relatively amicable terms, with a healthy focus on the psychological and financial protection of the children. They may retain lawyers for advice along the way, to make sure they have covered all bases, but for the most part they handle the details of the separation themselves.
But what about the people who find themselves somewhere in-between the “amicable breakup” and the “toxic breakup”? These are the people who can benefit most from a team-based approach, referred to as Collaborative Divorce, that will help them focus on what matters most – the protection of the psychological and financial integrity of the family.
Although the couple has separated, if they have children, they will forever be a family – it will just look different than it did before. The Collaborative Divorce process can help families successfully navigate from an intact family to one that has is based out of two homes.
Who is on the Collaborative Divorce team and what are their roles?
Generally, the Collaborative Divorce team consists of a lawyer and a parenting/divorce coach for each party. The lawyers assist the parties with the financial issues, and the parenting/divorce coaches assist the parties with the emotional implications of the separation, and help parents develop an agreed upon parenting plan, if needed. The lawyers and coaches communicate regularly so that they can strategize ways to overcome any hurdles that may come up during the process.
If necessary, a Child Specialist and/or a Financial Neutral can be brought in to assist the team. The Child Specialist has expertise in the area of child development and can help the parents understand their children’s unique views and needs, which are often age-dependant. A Financial Neutral can gather all pertinent financial information and present it to both parties in a straightforward and understandable way. This is particularly useful when one party has primarily overseen the finances in the relationship, while the other has limited experience with or access to the family financial information.
All team members are all specifically trained in the Collaborative Divorce process which means that everyone is speaking the same “language”, are on the same page with the process, and are all working toward the same goal. Of course, while the professionals are working as a team the parties each have his or her own lawyer and coach so they can be confident that they always have someone advocating for their needs and interests.
How does Collaborative Divorce work?
The Collaborative Divorce process begins with all parties, including the professionals, signing a Collaborative Participation Agreement. By doing so, the parties agree that they will not start a court action while in the Collaborative Divorce process, and that they will provide full disclosure and negotiate in good faith.
The process carries on by way of four-way meetings, either with lawyers and clients, or coaches and clients. On occasion, there is the need to have a six-way meeting with the lawyers, coaches and clients to deal with particular issues. The process is ultimately very efficient because everyone is in the same room having discussions with professionals who are trained in the process.
Why Collaborative Divorce instead of regular negotiation?
Traditional negotiation and litigation have no requirement for good faith and ensuring disclosure can sometimes be difficult. Often, communication is conducted via letters and emails which can be inefficient and costly and result in miscommunications due to misunderstandings around tone and intention.
It is more of a “battle” than an attempt to reach a resolution that works for the family as a whole, and can create resentments that can fester over time and affect the ongoing co-parenting relationship. The guidance provided by trained professionals, and focus on in-person direct communication during the collaborative process, can often sidestep this adversarial trap.
Another advantage of the Collaborative Divorce process is that all proceedings are confidential, and not a matter of public record as is the case with litigation. Additionally, decisions are reached by people who have a deep understanding of the issues, and who know the family members personally, as opposed to a judge who must make decisions with limited access to information.
A new kind of family
A divorce with children involved is not the end of a relationship. It is the beginning of a different kind of relationship, which requires a certain amount of ongoing goodwill and respect to remain healthy for the duration of the parenting years. The Collaborative Divorce process, through its focus on resolution through consensus, and with the best interests of the family as a whole in mind, protects families and especially children from unnecessary dysfunction in the long term.
Fiona Beveridge is Senior Associate in our Family Law Group and is a member of Collaborative Divorce Vancouver, as well as the BC Collaborative Roster Society.