Divorce has been happening for ages. You know the old story - the couple splits up, one party gets everything, everyone is miserable, the attorneys make off with the lion's share of the marital estate, The End! It does not have to be this way. While there are ways to avoid this scenario that do not have a special name, one of the best ways to avoid a bad divorce is to go the Collaborative Practice route.
What is Collaborative Practice?
Simply, Collaborative Practice is a process that takes place outside of Court and where everyone works as a team toward mutually determined common goals.
Less simply, Collaborative Practice is a legal process enabling couples who have decided to seek a divorce to work with their collaboratively trained lawyers and other professionals to avoid court and to reach a settlement that best meets the needs of the parties without the threat of litigation.
The cornerstone of the collaborative process is a contract. The parties sign the contract with their collaboratively trained attorneys and this contract prohibits either party from filing for a divorce in the Court system without the parties reaching a settlement first. If the parties do wish to file in Court, they have to fire their collaborative attorneys and start from scratch.
What does Collaborative Practice look like in motion?
Most commonly, Collaborative Practice involves several sessions where the parties, lawyers, and other professionals meet. Other professionals can be brought in to help resolves issues regarding parenting, financial issues, etc. For instance, a collaboratively trained therapist could be brought in to help the divorcing couple figure out a parenting plan for their children. A collaboratively trained accountant could be brought in to help the couple figure out how to adequately divide the marital estate.
The lawyers and the parties, and any other professionals, generally sit around a table together. The lawyers and other professionals will guide their clients through the agenda for that day's session. This could take an hour, or three, but there is usually a set time limit. At the end of that session, the parties will divvy up homework assignments and set a tentative agenda for the next session.
The parties participate in collaborative sessions until they have reached a settlement. Once a settlement is reached, the attorneys will draft the documents, the parties will sign them, and the divorce is filed in Court. The Court can finalize it without the parties ever setting foot in a Courthouse.
Collaborative Practice sounds a little too good to be true, doesn't it?
I know what you are thinking. "That might work for some people, but not for me." Or maybe you are thinking, "if people got along well enough to make that work, why are they divorcing?" But the truth is that it works for A LOT of people. It works for people who did not expect it to work for them.
People who divorce using Collaborative Practice report a very high satisfaction rate with their divorce. Yes. You can be satisfied with your divorce!
If you have come to the point in your marriage where you feel like it is time to divorce, you might not see how you could sit down at a table and work out the settlement with your spouse. But that is what your trained attorneys and professionals are designed to help you do. Your job is to show up and participate. Our job is to lead you through the process.
Sometimes things get heated or emotional in a session. This is normal and ok. The parties are allowed to take breaks, go into another room, even cut a session short if need be. And, your trained attorneys know how to handle these situations.
Is Collaborative Practice offered in Montana?
The answer to this one is a resounding YES!
In 2015 a hard-working bunch of my colleagues and friends fought hard to get the Uniform Collaborative Law Act passed in Montana. And they succeeded! Check out the Montana Code Annotated 25-40-101 et. seq.
There are 35+ collaboratively trained professionals in Montana. I can think of at least two, generally more, collaboratively trained attorneys in each larger Montana city.
This is going to be really expensive, isn't it?
The answer to this one is a resounding NO!
Collaborative divorces are generally a lot cheaper than a regular divorce. Why? Because all of your time and resources (read: money) are going towards a resolution. In a standard divorce, some of the time and money goes towards resolution, but the biggest chunk of cash goes towards preparing for Court. If you take Court out of the equation, your divorce just got a lot cheaper.
Collaborative lawyers charge the same hourly rate for doing collaborative as they do for doing a regular divorce, so you are not paying any extra to take advantage of their training and expertise in this area, and your money is not getting funneled into the time consuming court process.
How do I get started?
Contact an attorney who is trained in collaborative law. If you contact one collaboratively trained lawyer, they can refer you to someone trained in collaborative who can represent your spouse. Once you both have hired your collaboratively trained lawyers, they will guide you on the first steps.
Collaborative Practice is a wonderful new way to get the best divorce result possible. You will be able to look back on your divorce and be truly satisfied with the result.
I am currently taking Collaborative cases in Kalispell and Helena, and I can refer your spouse to an excellent, collaboratively trained attorney in either city. Contact me if you are interested in learning more.