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Collaboration: An alternative to traditional divorce in Texas

Collaborative divorce has some surprising, out-of-the-box features.

If you are facing divorce, do you dread the thought of a high-conflict, drawn-out fight? Are you concerned about your privacy in a court trial? How would further deterioration of your relationship with your spouse impact your ability to co-parent your kids after the divorce is over?

Whatever your concerns about traditional divorce, one alternative available to divorcing spouses in Texas is the collaborative law process. Collaboration may address all these concerns and more.

A relatively recent development, collaboration is a process in which the parties, their lawyers and hired, neutral experts work together to craft a settlement agreement in the divorce without going to court, which allows the parties more privacy than a trial would.

A key feature of the collaborative process is an agreement that if it breaks down, the parties must hire different attorneys when they start over in a new process.

Four-way meetings

The process consists of a series of four-way meetings involving the parties and their attorneys. In a traditional divorce, negotiation is between the two attorneys toward a possible settlement – there is no direct contact between one spouse’s legal counsel and the other spouse. But in a collaborative meeting, there is free discussion among the four participants.

The parties may choose to retain neutral experts like financial planners, tax advisors, parenting consultants, child specialists and any other professionals needed to provide information the parties need to reach fair settlement. Another neutral expert sometimes brought in is a divorce coach, who is a mental health professional with the skills to provide support and advice to help through impasses in negotiation and communication as well as emotional turmoil that comes up in the process.

A dignified approach

Another basic principle in collaboration is a commitment to participate with respect and dignity. The parties must commit not to let the process deteriorate into negativity and adversity and to stay amicable.

Along with this, they also agree to keep the proceedings confidential and to bring all information to the table required to resolve all issues. For example, in a court trial, a party can be compelled to disclose all accounts and other assets for purposes of resolving property division, alimony and child support issues. But in collaboration, parties are on the honor system.

The goal is to come to agreement on all issues and the collaborative process allows parties to come up with creative solutions that a judge may not. The parties sign the settlement agreement and submit it to the court, where it becomes the terms of the final divorce.

As an added benefit, collaboration is often cheaper than traditional divorce.

Careful consideration

Not every divorce is necessarily right for the collaborative process. For example, any couple with a history of abuse or violence would not be a good candidate. Other concerns that may steer a person away from this process is if the other spouse is dishonest or controlling, or has mental health or substance abuse problems, depending on the nature and severity of those problems. In addition, if the breakup was particularly painful, it may just be too difficult and counterproductive to sit down face to face.

An attorney can advise a person facing divorce about whether collaboration would be a good option or if another process may be more beneficial. When the circumstances are right, the collaborative process can be a positive way to “uncouple” with dignity and creative solutions for the future.

To represent clients in collaborative divorce, lawyers must go through special training. The attorneys at Teller Law Firm, P.C., in Grapevine, Texas, represent divorce clients throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex using collaborative law as well as mediation and traditional divorce proceedings.