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Collaborative divorce is a formal process, not a verb or adjective

Divorce is an extremely common process but one that is highly misunderstood. While statistics vary from one study to another, the divorce rate in the U.S. is somewhere around 50 percent. You probably know at least one person, if not several people, who have gone through a divorce.

The frequency of divorce actually contributes to the misinformation about divorce, like the name itself. People use "divorce" to describe several different processes for ending a marital relationship.

The terms divorce, dissolution, mediated divorce, collaborative divorce and legal separation are different. They can also have very different meanings and consequences depending on the jurisdiction in which you file. In some jurisdictions, you can obtain a divorce or dissolution. Under Florida law, the official name for a divorce is dissolution.

This can certainly be problematic. Choosing the wrong "type" of process won't prevent you from being able to legally end your marriage. The problem is that you could end it with unnecessary costs, confused expectations or unintended consequences.

Let us use collaborative divorce as an example. People often use the term as a verb, "My spouse and I are willing to collaborate." They might use it as an adjective, "Our divorce was very collaborative." It is neither.

What is collaborative law?

Collaborative divorce or collaborative law is a formal process for resolving family disputes. The first step in the process, before any discussions take place, is for each spouse sign a contract, called a Participation Agreement. This contract and its terms are binding for each party involved.

Below are a few other important things to know about the collaborative process:

  • You and your spouse each have your own attorney: An attorney represents you individually in the collaborative process. The attorney is there to help guide you and advocate for you at every step.
  • You have control over the decisions: A third party, called a neutral mental health professional, facilitates the process, but you, your spouse and your attorneys have control over the decisions you make. You can also agree to hire and pay a neutral professional, like an accountant, for help with complex financial matters.
  • All parties agree to work together in good faith: The process is voluntary, and all parties, spouses and their attorneys, agree to participate in good faith. Your lawyer will advocate for you, but they will do so in a cooperative manner. This includes an open and voluntary exchange of information and documents related to the divorce.
  • You do not have to agree on all issues at the beginning: You agree to cooperate in good faith, but you do not have to agree at the outset on all issues relating to property division, support, custody or visitation.
  • Everything you say is confidential: In court, everything you say becomes part of the court record. In the collaborative process, you must share all information openly, but it is a confidential process. You say everything behind closed doors in a private setting.
  • You can end the process and go to court: The agreement is binding, but the process is not all or nothing. At any point you or your spouse can terminate the process and proceed with contested litigation.
  • Your attorney cannot represent you in litigation: One of the disadvantages of the process is that if you quit, your attorney cannot represent you in court. You must find and hire a new attorney if you proceed with litigation.

The benefits of using collaborative law for your divorce or other family law matter are very real. It can help you save time and money. You have control over decisions, which tends to lead to greater satisfaction with the outcome.

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