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Collaborative divorce may be the right way to end your Illinois marriage

On behalf of Joe Lucas at Lucas Law

When you finally decide to divorce, sometimes facing a courtroom brawl is just too much on top of everything else. Collaborative divorce is a relatively recent alternative divorce process that was developed in Minnesota, but spread rapidly to Illinois, other states and around the world. Collaborative law emphasizes respect, dignity, honesty, privacy and personal control over the process.

Participation agreement and process

In collaboration, the parties sign an agreement laying out special terms of negotiation very different from the traditional process in which the two lawyers bargain back and forth on behalf of their clients. In a traditional setting, it would be considered unethical for a divorce lawyer to have direct contact with his or her client's spouse.

Instead, the collaborative process has the two divorcing spouses and each of their divorce attorneys sit down around a table in a series of meetings to set goals and resolve all issues, culminating in a written marital settlement agreement that is then submitted to the state court for approval. Participants are encouraged to develop win-win, creative solutions that will work for their particular family. Particular issues that will need resolution include property and debt division, alimony or spousal maintenance, child support, child custody and parenting time.

Neutral experts

To assist in the collaborative process, when the parties need professional advice or information, they might choose to retain one or more neutral experts. To the extent they are needed, these experts are part of the negotiation team without favoring either side. Typical experts in collaboration include a divorce coach to assist in working through the emotional issues that come up in the process (or one for each spouse), a child consultant to help determine the best interests of the children and develop custody and parenting time plans, and a financial specialist to sort out past and future finances and budgets as well as related tax issues.

Important considerations

Collaboration can be less upsetting to the children of the marriage because the process emphasizes civility. Sometimes maintaining a decent relationship is important to the divorcing couple because the spouses plan to closely co-parent their children after the divorce.

Another important component of collaboration is a commitment to honesty and openness. Each spouse agrees to share relevant information in a truthful and comprehensive manner. If one of them has a history of dishonesty or deception, collaborative law may not be a good choice.

For a divorcing couple that is relatively amicable and that can communicate effectively, collaborative law can be quicker and cheaper than traditional litigation. However, sometimes the dynamics between the two spouses do not lend themselves to this type of negotiation and trying to settle collaboratively may not be less costly or faster in the long run.

A caveat to collaborative divorce is a provision in the participation agreement that if the process breaks down and the parties are not able to collaborate, they must each hire a new divorce lawyer and start over in mediation or traditional divorce. This does give all involved motivation to work hard to settle and come up with fair resolution to all issues.

It is best to consult with an Illinois family law attorney who has specific training in collaborative divorce. Legal counsel with both collaborative and traditional experience will be able to help a divorcing client sort out the pros and cons of collaboration and make an informed decision about whether it is a wise choice for that particular person and couple in their unique circumstances.

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