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What is Collaborative Divorce?
Recently, we conducted a very unscientific poll on the @BealLawFirm twitter account. The question asked was, “Do you know the difference between a Collaborative Divorce and an Uncontested Divorce?” The choices were: “1) Yes, 2) No, and 3) Aren’t they the same?” Fewer than 6 in 10 people even claimed to understand the difference between the two – and a huge percentage of the account followers are lawyers, law firms, etc.
So, with more than 4 in 10 people possibly not understanding the difference between the two – or even if there is one, it seems that Collaborative Divorce bears some explaining.
Collaborative Divorce is an alternative to traditional divorce. Traditional divorce is conducted in the litigation model, whereas Collaborative Divorce is an entirely different model.
In the Litigation Model, divorces typically move through several stages until the case is either settled or makes it to trial. The stages are:
Negotiation between the parties;
Negotiation between the attorneys;
Post-mediation negotiation; and
Throughout all of these stages, the parties can engage in formal discovery – including written interrogatories, requests for production, requests for admission, requests for disclosure, written depositions, and oral depositions – and/or ask the court to grant various requests in countless motions and hearings.
In a Collaborative Divorce, the parties agree that they will suspend their rights to engage in anything other than formal meetings between themselves and the rest of the collaborative team, which typically includes their attorneys and two neutral professionals. One of the neutrals is known as the Financial Professional (FP) – usually a CPA, CFP, or CDFA – and the other is the Mental Health Professional (MHP). Although the MHP is likely to be a psychologist or licensed clinical social worker, the role of the MHP is not to counsel or analyze any of the participants. Rather, the MHP’s job is to run the meetings and help the parties arrive at an agreement on parenting issues. The FP’s job is to gather the parties’ financial information and help construct current and proposed budgets.
So, with all that being said, what is a Collaborative Divorce? It is a series of meetings in which the parties attempt to arrive at an agreement on all issues in their case. Because the meetings and everything discussed at the meetings are confidential, should the process break down, the parties are free to re-enter the Litigation Model, but both of the Collaborative Attorneys MUST withdraw from representation at that point.
What is an Uncontested Divorce? It is an ill-defined term that everyone uses to describe a case in which the parties to a divorce argue to a lesser degree than the arguing that takes place in a divorce that is referred to as a Contested Divorce.
The terms do not mean the same thing, because typically when an attorney speaks of an Uncontested Divorce, he or she is talking about a case in which the parties are in the Litigation Model, but able to arrive at an agreement fairly early in the process. The term Collaborative Divorce is reserved for divorces that are being conducted in the Collaborative Model and under the rules for Collaborative Divorce promulgated in the Texas Family Code.