1. Agreements not War
A Collaborative Divorce involves direct negotiation between the parties, in joint meetings, with lawyers present and participating. Everyone signs an agreement at the beginning of the case committing to reach a final agreement, even if difficult, and not to go to court to resolve differences. Neither spouse can force the other spouse to settle; the final settlement must be acceptable to both spouses. All the same issues resolved in a traditional divorce are resolved in a Collaborative Divorce including who moves from the marital residence, how parents share time with children, how the financial needs of the children are met, how bills get paid, and how property is divided.
2. Legal Advice
Each spouse has a lawyer who has been trained to handle Collaborative Divorces. Collaborative training emphasizes the need for lawyers to balance advocacy with wise counsel and problem solving. Everyone must have a lawyer in order to level the playing field and give each client the benefit of expert legal advice throughout the case.
Clients and their families move from point A to point B in the most time-efficient, cost-efficient way possible under the circumstances. Participants do not rely on the availability of courts or judges to set deadlines or timelines for the case. Collaborative lawyers regularly help clients analyze costs versus possible benefits of various decisions and outcomes.
Collaborative clients control the speed of the case, the costs of the case, and the outcome of the case.
5. Parenting, Communication & Financial Advice
Clients have the opportunity (but not the obligation) to work with other, less expensive but more qualified, experts to help them with specific parts of their case. A mental health professional can help improve communication and create the parenting plan. A financial professional can gather financial information, create an inventory of the marital estate, and advise on post-divorce budgets.
6. Creative Solutions
Judges are limited to orders based on the Texas Family Code. Collaborative clients may want outcomes that are not based on the Texas Family Code. Because clients are not relying on judges for answers, clients have the option to choose non-Family Code solutions to the issues in the case that work better for their specific family.
All relevant information is exchanged voluntarily between the parties and lawyers which eliminates the need for costly formal discovery. Only after everyone is fully informed can negotiations begin.
8. Neutral Experts
Collaborative lawyers have a list of resources to address a myriad of issues that arise in a divorce. If other experts are needed (i.e., appraisers, accountants) only one expert is hired, by agreement, and the expert is neutral. The expert provides their expert opinion to both parties. This is more practical (and cost effective) than each client hiring their own expert to duel with the other.
At the onset of the case, the lawyers help clients think through what is important to them and what concerns them so that their “interests” can be identified. “Interests” are what cause a client to take a specific position on a given issue. Instead of haggling over positions (each spouse wants to own the only car), the group focuses on interests (each spouse needs a way to get to/from work).
10. No Surprises
Unilateral action of any kind is discouraged. Joint meetings are governed by an agenda prepared in advance of meetings. Clients are not required to discuss any topic they are not prepared to discuss. Clients are provided with a case roadmap so they can easily identify where they are in the process and how their case is progressing.