Collaborative Divorce

Collaborative Law is a non-adversarial way to divorce that does not involve using the Court system. Instead, the parties agree to work together, with a team of professionals assisting them, to reach agreements on all issues relevant to their divorce, including parenting plans, financial divisions, as well as alimony and child support issues.


The process begins by both parties hiring attorneys trained in the Collaborative Divorce process and signing an agreement with their attorneys that they will not represent them in Court. This sounds odd to most people when they first hear it. Who would hire an attorney and agree that they will never represent you in court?! This is actually the keystone to the Collaborative Practice. As an attorney, I am trained and experienced in all aspects of the courtroom performance (also called litigation). Due to our training, we have been ingrained with the idea that if you can’t reach an easy settlement, then go to Court and let the Judge decide. Once my clients sign a Collaborative Participation Agreement, the option of Court is off the table. It dramatically changes my job as the attorney. I can no longer rely on the Judge as a final option, nor can I use the threat of a trial as a way to pressure someone to settle the case the way I want it settled. Instead, we are now forced to sit down together, talk about the issues in frank and honest discussions, actually talk about the each parties’ concerns and reasons for what they want and work towards an agreement that everyone can get on board with. I have found that the agreements reached through the Collaborative Process do a far better job of meeting both parties’ actual concerns and needs than the results gained through Court or litigation based negotiations.

The next question I usually hear from clients learning about the process is, “once we can no longer rely on the Judge to make our decisions for us, how do we come up with these agreements?” In the Collaborative Process we use what is referred to as a “Team Approach.” As a divorce attorney, I am constantly called upon in my cases to wear many hats from financial expert, to business consultant, from therapist to child advocate. I divide multi-million dollar estates, create (or destroy) corporate organizations, split complex retirement accounts and executive compensation packages and yet, there are experts far better trained to handle each of these specific areas. In Collaborative, we recognize the need for specialized knowledge and the benefits that can come from enlisting these skilled professionals to help divorcing couples learn and reach intelligent solutions.


In relation to the financial aspects of a divorce, we routinely employ the use of a Financial Neutral, who is usually a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA), Certified Financial Planner (CFP) or has a similar financial background and training. The parties meet and work with the Financial Neutral together and separately, with and without their attorneys. The Financial Neutral’s primary duties are (1) to gather all of the information needed to create a complete balance sheet which includes all assets, debts, income and property of the parties, (2) insure that each party understands all aspects of their financial situation and provide education to either party when needed, (3) work with each party to create a realistic budget so that they can identify and understand what their needs will be after the divorce and (4) work with the parties and their attorneys to reach a collaboratively negotiated settlement that addresses all issues of asset and property division, as well as support.


As to the child related issues, again we bring in the expertise of highly trained professionals to join the team. Instead of one expert in this area, each party will generally have their own Divorce Coach. A Divorce Coach is a therapist, typically a licensed Psychologist, or other certified mental health professional such as a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) or a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). The parties begin by first meeting with their Coach individually to discuss their own needs, desires and the emotional challenges they are facing as they begin to navigate through the process of divorce. There is also a strong focus in these initial meetings on the needs of the family and each child’s unique challenges as they also face the reality of these major changes in their families. Once both parties are ready to move forward after gaining a better understanding of their own thoughts and feelings surrounding the divorce, the Coaches and the parties will advance to more structured “4 Way Meetings” where the focus shifts to solutions. The Divorce Coaches’ primary duties are (1) to help each party gain a better understanding of the how their own emotions and needs affect their decision making in the Divorce, (2) to work with the parties on their communication and co-parenting techniques as we create a better environment for parents to work together for the benefit of their children, and (3) to guide the parties as they create a Parenting Plan that not only works for the parents, but takes into account the specific needs of the children and the family as a whole with details relating to living arrangements, parenting schedules and decision making.


Children are not just victims of divorce, they are a vital part of the family too. The Collaborative Process honors a child's unique situation in a divorce. Multiple studies have shown that the two biggest factors in determining how children develop after the divorce is (1) what kind of behaviors did the two most important people in their lives model as they went through their divorce (did they work together or did they enter into war?) and (2) did they feel like they had some input in the process. Both of these concerns are addressed in the Collaborative Process through the use of a Child Specialist. The Child Specialist is typically a child psychologist or other mental health professional with extensive training in addressing the unique needs of children facing their parents’ divorce. While a child certainly is not given the right to make life decisions in the Collaborative Process, the Child Specialist insures that they feel that their voice has been heard. Through our experiences of seeing literally hundreds of children involved in their parents’ divorces, we have found that while their worlds may be torn apart around them, allowing them to feel that their input matters can make a world of difference.


So, how does this all end? The end result of the Collaborative Process is much the same as when a final settlement can be reached in a litigated divorce (not including the emotional damage and financial damage often suffered by litigants). The team creates a formal Settlement Agreement which on its face appears to be the exact same kind of document that you receive when you settle your litigated divorce. The biggest difference we have found is that the decisions and agreements reached by our clients through the Collaborative Process are far more tailored to fit their specific needs and the unique situations of their families and their finances. With attention to every detail, a true roadmap for moving forward as a family after the divorce is created within the Settlement Agreement for our clients. This document is ultimately made a part of the Court’s Order, just as it is in a typical divorce, and it is fully enforceable by the Courts in exactly the same way as any other Court Order. Through working together and coming up with agreements that actually do meet both parties’ needs, we find that families of divorce are typically more willing to abide by their agreements. With that result and a willingness to put aside their differences and work together for their children, the need to resort to the Courts for enforceability is dramatically reduced.

Whereas a typical divorce begins by the filing of a Petition for Divorce with the Court, in Collaborative, this is the last thing we do. Once the parties have entered into a full and final Settlement Agreement, we then file the Petition for Divorce along with the Settlement Agreement and the other documents required by the Court. This means that we do not have to deal with Court deadlines and appearances while we are working on reaching our settlement. Fortunately, Georgia has one of the shortest waiting periods in the country for a divorce, 31 days. Approximately one month after the documents have been filed with the Court, the parties are granted their Final Judgment and Decree of Divorce and the case is brought to a close. In the majority of cases, because of the respect that the Courts have for the Collaborative Process, we are granted special permission to submit all of our paperwork to the Court by mail and our clients never actually have to step foot in the courtroom.


The benefits of the Collaborative Process are obvious. Lower stress, better agreements, less fighting, and hopefully the parties leave the process better prepared to face the challenges ahead. In addition, our experiences have shown us that that Collaborative divorces tend to be less expensive and take less time. While we can never know at the start of a case what the total cost will be, the average Collaborative Divorce tends to cost approximately one third that of a similar litigated divorce. Along those same lines, the average length of a litigated divorce in Georgia tends to be between 12 and 18 months, while we have found that the average time from start to completion of a Collaborative Divorce falls between 8 and 12 months.

No system is without its issues and Collaborative Divorce has one particular challenge that is never faced in litigation; it takes two willing participants to enter into the process. While it only takes on party to file a Complaint for Divorce, the Collaborative Process by its very nature requires both spouses to agree to forego Court and work together instead of against each other. Fortunately, we have found through our years of working with couples through Collaborative Divorce that most people can immediately understand and recognize the benefits of the Collaborative Process. Generally, once people learn that they have an alternative to the pain and bitterness they have seen their friends and family go through as they stumbled through their own divorces, Collaborative just makes sense.


If the Collaborative Process seems like the right choice for your family, please feel free to contact one of the attorneys at HWS. We are always willing to take the time to discuss your options and the specifics of your situation to help you determine if a Collaborative Divorce can work for you. Also, please take the time to check our Blog posts and our Resources page for more information on the Collaborative Process and how it works in Georgia.