In a traditional model of divorce, a divorce starts with the filing of a Petition for Dissolution.
In Collaborative Divorce, the process more typically starts with a meeting.
At the first Collaborative conference, both spouses and their attorneys have a conference, with these tasks:
- To review how the Collaborative process works,
- To review and sign the Collaborative Participation Agreement (which outlines the process and obligates all parties to avoid court),
- To discuss goals,
- To consider which other professionals (mental health and/or financial) would be the best fit, and
- To start the process of gathering information.
Often, each person leaves that first conference with a list of tasks---for example, financial documents to gather, topics to discuss in therapy sessions, etc. The final task of the first meeting is to decide when to reconvene. Typically, that will be in two to four weeks, although it may be longer due to scheduling or due to particular tasks that need to be completed. If there are children involved, the participants will often discuss how to help them understand, in an age appropriate way, what is happening. In an ideal circumstance, the parents will agree on how to discuss the divorce with the children from the outset.
In between meetings, the participants share information they've gathered. For example, if one spouse was to gather credit card statements, those might be emailed to all participants. Another spouse might have the responsibility of developing a script for how to tell the children.
At the second Collaborative conference, the participants review the information gathered to-date, discuss what else might be needed, and can even begin discussing possible settlement options.
Often, in between the second and third meetings, the attorneys will begin to draft a Marital Settlement Agreement. Once drafted, it is shared with all participants for their review and editing.
At the third Collaborative conference, the settlement agreement will be discussed and negotiated. For some cases, the Agreement is ready to sign and complete at the third meeting. For other cases, more homework and additional meetings need to happen before agreement is reached.
Once an Agreement is signed by all participants, the Agreement is submitted to the Court for approval and the case is complete.
Of course, the example above is a typical case, and most cases will have some variations. For example, the participants may wish to give more time between meetings to allow one or both participants to work through the divorce in therapy, or it may take some extended time to gather financial information that is needed.
Throughout the Collaborative Process, a Collaboratively-trained mental health professional can serve as a coach, helping spouses process the complicated emotions that come with divorce. A mental health professional can also serve as a neutral adviser to parents concerned about doing the right thing for their children. Having a mental health professional assist with the Collaborative process is not typically covered by insurance, as it is not considered therapy.
Similarly, a financial professional can serve as a neutral adviser, to ensure that the spouses understand the consequences of a given settlement option, handle tax situations carefully, and preserve assets for the benefit of both participants and any children.