Michigan judges and lawyers have long understood that mediated divorce settlements are often easier to obtain than divorces that depend upon a court trial to reach a resolution. In recent years, however, these same judges and lawyers have been looking for a process that addresses the individual concerns of each party more effectively than mediation. The answer to the search is a collaborative divorce.
The basics of collaborative divorce
In 2014, the Michigan legislature and legislatures in nine other states adopted the Uniform Collaborative Law Act. The basic concept underlying collaborative divorce is the need to ensure that both parties make a full disclosure of their assets and concerns and that any settlement has the informed consent of both parties.
The first step is an explanation provided to each party by their attorney of all options, including a settlement, a mediated settlement or a trial of the issues before the judge. All parties and their attorneys must sign a participation agreement that commits everyone to the collaborative process. If a party retains an attorney to promote a collaborative settlement, that attorney must agree to withdraw if the parties are ultimately unable to reach a collaborative agreement. This agreement to withdraw provides a powerful incentive to the parties and the lawyers to devote their energies toward finding creative and fair solutions of the parties’ disagreements.
Prerequisites and other aspects of collaborative divorce
A key prerequisite to the collaborative approach is the parties’ individual agreement to make a complete disclosure of their assets, income and debts. While the lawyers do not have access to traditional discovery, such as interrogatories and depositions, experience with collaborative divorce shows that parties are more inclined to cooperate in making what are essentially voluntary disclosures.
Another crucial aspect of collaborative divorce is the agreement to work in teams. Rather than each parent hiring a child psychologist to testify on what arrangements will best serve the children, the parties hire a single team of experts to provide answers that will best serve both the parents and the children.
Does professional guidance help?
Anyone who is considering a divorce and wants to avoid the stress and emotional turmoil that can accompany a divorce in the usual style may wish to consult a divorce attorney who is familiar with collaborative divorce. A knowledgeable family law lawyer can provide advice on how the process works and whether it would be suitable for the potential client.