A collaborative divorce is one that is more of a negotiation than other divorce proceedings. Since the former spouses are working together to resolve the marriable amicably, several professionals are often needed to assist with the decision-making process. This post outlines the roles of the individuals who are often called in to assist.
Each spouse will need to have their own attorney, who should be specifically trained in Collaborative Divorce. In fact, all of the professionals involved in the process should have Collaborative training. The role of the attorneys is primarily to support their clients through the Collaborative process, answer legal questions, offer advice on possible legal implications of proposed decisions, and to prepare the legal documents needed to complete the divorce. Often but not always the spouses come into the Collaborative process through the attorneys, who then help them assemble the full team.
The Financial Specialist is a neutral professional who works with the couple to collect information on their assets, debts, incomes, and expenses. They may work with the couple to get values established for assets, and to analyze complex assets such as investments or stock options. Often they will work with the couple to prepare this information for presentation to the rest of the group in the form of spreadsheets and budgets. This is much more efficient than having the attorneys work together to gather this information and can save a great deal of group meeting time. The Financial Specialist can also assist with looking at child support and spousal support issues and how they might impact the budget of each person. They can even run financial projections scenarios to help a couple look at how a specific proposal might work out over the long term. The Financial Specialist can be a particular boon to a spouse who has tended to be less involved in the family finances and therefore has farther to go to catch up in understanding the various issues involved.
The Coach is generally from a family therapy background and works to keep the process moving forward smoothly and efficiently. Very often a divorcing couple has significant communication issues baggage that can cause conflict and get in the way of making progress. The Coach can work with the couple to learn more about how they communicate and what their individual triggers might be. The Coach can then both let other team members know what to look out for, and to help intervene when things begin to go sideways, to help things get back on track and resume moving forward. Keeping the process progressing this way can save a good deal of meeting time, thereby significantly reducing needless expense. When a couple has children, the Coach will often also assist them with the development of a Parenting Plan, incorporating any information from the Parenting Specialist’s report if one has been done, and help them focus on what kind of plan would best serve the children’s needs and interests.
Parenting Specialists typically have backgrounds in both family counseling and child development. When a couple has children, it is often helpful to know how their children are coping with the divorce (children often try to hide how they are doing from their parents in times of crisis), as well as to uncover any individual needs or concerns that the children may have. In those cases the couple may choose to have a Parenting Specialist interview the children and other adults such as teachers to gather information about the children’s individual needs as well as any issues they may be experiencing. The Parenting Specialist generally then issues a report back to the parents with their findings to help them better build a parenting plan built around their children’s best interests.
Why do we need to have so many professionals involved, doesn’t that just increase the cost?
Actually, the various professionals involved in the Collaborative process help off load many tasks from the attorneys. The attorneys are often the most expensive professionals in the group, so when tasks can be done by a single neutral professional rather than by the two attorneys, there can be significant savings. To some degree this is offset by the various professionals need to attend at least some group meetings, but it allows more work to be done outside of the group meetings, and to be done by people with more expertise in those specific areas.
If you are considering a collaborative divorce, the best first step is to meet with an attorney who can evaluate the terms of your divorce and provide you with an outline of what to expect from the process.