By Miriam Cooper, JD
What if there was a way to go through a divorce that was calm, efficient and expedient? Does that sound too good to be true? It’s not. Illinois recently legally recognized a long-practiced type of divorce called Collaborative Divorce.
What is Collaborative Divorce?
As of January 1, 2018, there is a new law in Illinois called the Collaborative Process Act (750 ILCS 90/1 et sq.) officially recognizing and endorsing the practice that some attorneys and clients have sworn by for years. Collaborative Divorce is exactly how it sounds: collaborative. It involves the two divorcing parties coming to a civil, amicable agreement that helps them move forward with their lives with mutual satisfaction. There is no magic involved. Simply, both parties and their attorneys enter a comfortable environment to negotiate their divorce on their own terms. The parties may also be joined by other professionals—a Divorce Coach, a Financial Specialist and a Child Specialist (if needed)— who help guide the process in follow up meetings. Consider this as a “team” rather than two sides, like in standard litigation. Not every specialist need attend every meeting, but they may attend meetings as many meetings as are relative to their specialty topics, such as child-related issues and division of assets.
Why it Works
Collaborative Divorce is the most effective way of dissolving a marriage for a few reasons: First, it removes the litigation from the process, allowing the couple to work through their divorce without going to court. This can save couples precious time and resources. Second, it is respectful, cooperative and clients control the process. The agreements are constructed by the parties and their attorneys with input from the outside specialists to reach the best outcome and compromise for each party. Ultimately, the open information sharing and commitment to work in good faith to reach a common goal allows a couple greater control of the divorce process than would traditionally be possible.
What is different about Collaborative Divorce is that, unlike traditional litigation, the goal is not to work toward separate outcomes for each client. Rather, in Collaborative Divorce, all parties agree to work toward a common outcome. When all specialists and attorneys work together in an unbiased way for a united goal, the outcomes are favorable to both parties; thus, avoiding the possibility that one party may come away dissatisfied. An agreement will not be signed until both parties are on board, and the team of professionals works with this outcome in mind to ensure that that happens.
Finally, it’s a supportive process. Without the daunting stigma of appearing and reappearing in court, couples feel safer and calmer than in traditional divorce. And the supportive specialists are trained to maintain that calm environment, providing emotional support during all steps of the process. For many people, this component is the most important reason to choose Collaborative Divorce over a traditional one; the recognition of and assistance through a separation that can be emotionally painful is often the determining factor in how one fares through the process. With Collaborative Divorce, the chances of a positive long term outcome increase because it reduces the negatives associated with the traditional divorce process.
“Collaborative divorce is a client-centered, non-adversarial negotiation process. It is a voluntary, private, contractual agreement between the parties to resolve issues outside of court.2 The parties each agree to hire a specially trained collaborative attorney who helps them reach a win-win solution by problem solving, often with the help of an interdisciplinary team, including such other professionals as psychologists, parenting coaches, and financial planners. The parties sign a participation agreement stating that if the parties cannot reach agreement, the attorneys must withdraw. Each party may then hire its own trial counsel.” “Illinois Compiled Statutes: Families Collaborative Process Act.” Illinois General Assembly. Legislative Information System, Springfield IL.
How it Works
When a couple enters into a Collaborative Divorce, both parties sign an agreement to work together civilly and respectfully by providing relative documents including financial statements. In this agreement, both parties consent to participate in the process. Then, over a succession of meetings, the couple and their team are guided by supportive specialists to reach the best possible agreement for both parties.
Specialists, such as Financial Advisors, Accountants, Child Specialists, Social Workers, and Parenting Coaches, may be present during meetings, according to the needs of the couple. Some specialists attend each meeting after the first or may attend subsequent meetings according to need. They are neutral parties acting with the sole purpose of assisting the couple in reaching the best outcome in the most satisfying way possible. The Collaborative Divorce Attorney representing one party gathers members of this team according to the client’s needs and may add additional specialists to the team on an as-needed basis. Finally, after the amicable agreement is reached, the attorneys will construct a legal document signed by both parties, that is then presented in court for entry. The entire process may take less time than traditional divorce and is directed by the needs of the couple.
In the initial agreement, the parties recognize that if they fail to agree, the attorneys will withdraw, and each party will seek alternative counsel for trial. The key here is that Collaborative Divorce attorneys are there to make an agreement, not work against each other. And so, in the rare cases where the parties cannot agree, the lawyers do not pursue litigation. Their sole purpose is to collaborate, and thus, they would withdraw.
After the initial agreement, goals are identified, issues are identified, and a schedule will be set for the frequency and number of meetings. Before subsequent meetings, information is gathered, and shared with both parties and experts. From there, the negotiation process commences and pursues in consecutive meetings.
One reason Collaborative Divorce is successful is that everyone is working toward a common goal. In fact, the attorneys answer all of their client’s questions and together, with the entirety of the team, brainstorm outcomes and solutions. The client, along with the other parties, remains engaged for the duration of the process .
The Law Office of Miriam Cooper & Associates, LLC offers Collaborative Divorce in the Chicagoland area. Miriam Cooper understands the challenges clients face when going through a divorce and is versed in the Collaborative Law process, is committed to address and fulfill all of her client’s needs.