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What Is a Collaborative Divorce?

Posted by Carmine R. Villani | Feb 04, 2020 | 0 Comments

Divorce has a reputation for being contentious and sometimes nasty. Many couples do face a great deal of conflict when dissolving their marriage, however, if you and your spouse can cooperate there's a lot you can do to make divorce a less painful process for all involved.

Options like settlement agreements, mediation, and collaborative divorce can keep your case out of court and reduce legal costs. Many couples also find that the outcome is more satisfactory when they retain control over their case instead of leaving decisions up to a judge. These alternatives to litigation can also help parents maintain an amicable relationship for the benefit of their children.

Collaborative divorce is a somewhat new option in New Jersey, and it's ideal for cases where both parties wish to avoid litigation but disagree on various aspects of their divorce. The collaborative process gives divorcing spouses a way to resolve disagreements and incentivizes them to keep the keep case out of court.

If you would like to pursue a collaborative divorce, you'll need to hire a knowledgeable divorce attorney who is familiar with the process. Although collaborative divorce aims to keep your case out of the courtroom, you still have valuable rights and interests at stake. The lawyers at Villani & DeLuca have extensive family law experience and will work to protect your rights while resolving your case.

Overview of the Collaborative Divorce Process

The goal of a collaborative divorce is to settle a divorce without any contested court hearings. Both spouses and their attorneys sign a participation contract in which they agree to make their best efforts to settle the case without litigation. Both lawyers agree to represent their clients during the collaborative divorce process only. In a true collaborative divorce, the lawyers will withdraw from the case if it doesn't resolve.

Parties will still be expected to exchange financial documents and other information relevant to the case. Parties may meet to discuss settlement or exchange written offers through their attorneys. They may employ mediators, therapists, accountants, and other professionals who might be able to facilitate a settlement agreement which covers things like child custody and any financial matters. Although the goal is to resolve the case out of court, some paperwork must be filed with the court to finalize the divorce and ensure that the settlement is a legally enforceable document.

The Role of Attorneys in a Collaborative Divorce

Each lawyer will represent their client's interests and attempt to negotiate a settlement agreement during a collaborative divorce. Your lawyer will work to protect your rights while trying to reach a settlement agreement. Mediators and other jointly retained professionals are focused on resolving your case but cannot represent the interests of one party or offer reliable legal advice. Hiring a skilled NJ divorce lawyer is the only way to ensure that someone is defending your rights.

Under New Jersey law, no party can completely give up their right to pursue a divorce in court. These laws protect people from being trapped in a marriage or agreeing to unfair settlement terms if one party refuses to enter a reasonable agreement. However, such laws also limit agreements to participate in collaborative divorce since either party can choose to pursue litigation at any time.

To make collaborative divorce more meaningful and incentivize parties to reach an agreement, the participating lawyers must limit their representation to the collaborative process only. An attorney's contract with a collaborative divorce client should specify that the representation will terminate if the client pursues contested litigation or if the case doesn't settle.

While a collaborative divorce can be extremely beneficial for you and your family, hiring new counsel if the collaborative process fails can be expensive and frustrating. Therefore, you should consider whether collaborative divorce is a realistic option for ending your marriage and only agree if both you and your spouse are genuinely committed to a settlement. An experienced NJ collaborative divorce attorney can talk to you about your options.

Deciding Whether Collaborative Divorce Is Right for You

There are many reasons a couple may wish to end their marriage through a collaborative divorce. The process is usually cheaper than contested litigation, which can require extensive time and resources from lawyers and other experts. Parties retain control over what happens to their property and children, rather than leaving these important decisions to an unknown judge. Settling a divorce also tends to help couples maintain a friendlier relationship, which is beneficial for any children involved.

Collaborative divorce is most appropriate in cases where both parties are committed to settling the case without contested court hearings but haven't been able to agree on all aspects of the case. Sometimes, both spouses know they want to end the marriage but don't know where to begin. Parents may know they want to share custody of the children but haven't been able to agree on details.

Remember that you don't need to agree with your spouse on every issue to pursue a collaborative divorce. Most couples don't agree on everything at the beginning of the case, and the collaborative process is designed to help you reach agreements.

However, couples do need to have the ability to compromise and avoid acting out of spite. Collaborative divorce is usually not appropriate for families with a history of child abuse or domestic violence. Being able to reach a compromise is essential, so the process is also less likely to be successful if one spouse tends to be unreasonable or controlling. Finally, if parties are strongly opposed regarding major issues, they may not be able to reach an agreement. For example, if each parent believes they should get sole custody of the children, finding middle ground may be extremely difficult. Every case and family are different, and sometimes it's hard to know whether the collaborative process is right for you. An NJ family law attorney can answer your questions and help you determine the best way to end your marriage.

Qualified Family Law Counsel Is Essential for a Successful Collaborative Divorce

Collaborative divorce offers the opportunity to resolve disputed issues in a way that is cost-effective and lets you retain more control over the end of your marriage. The process also promotes an amicable future relationship between you and your spouse, which can benefit you and your children.

Not all NJ family law attorneys are knowledgeable about collaborative divorce, which is a relatively new process in the state. If you decide to proceed with the collaborative process, you need an experienced lawyer who knows what to expect and how to resolve your divorce effectively. Getting advice from a lawyer who represents your rights and interests is critical even in the most amicable divorce. 

Divorce settlements are binding legal documents that will impact your property, income, and parental rights. Once filed and approved by the courts, these agreements can be difficult or impossible to change. A poorly drafted or misunderstood document can have devastating unintended consequences. Without the advice of seasoned counsel, you may not be aware of problems with an agreement until your children need to pay for college or it's time for you to collect retirement benefits.

The family law attorneys at Villani & DeLuca have many years of experience fighting for the rights of their New Jersey divorce clients. They are familiar with the collaborative divorce process. Contact them now to discuss your options.

About the Author

Carmine R. Villani

Founding partner, Carmine Villani, Esq. is a former municipal prosecutor with over three decades of experience in Criminal and DWI Defense.


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