New Jersey family law: the collaborative divorce process

The underlying and fundamental framework of the Collaborative Divorce begins with a paradigm shift, intending to bring civility, compassion, and control of the divorce process to divorcing New Jersey couples seeking an alternative to the knock down drag out battling common in divorce litigation.  The entire framework begins with an agreement known as a Participation Agreement, that sets out mutual goals signed by the parties and their respective attorneys,  including a pledge that they will treat one another with respect, stay out of court (except for approval of their settlement), and be truthful and forthcoming with relevant financial and personal information. In a traditional divorce process, civility often flies out the window fairly quickly and more often than not the parties battle over most everything including the exchange of documents and evidence from each other.

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A significant difference in collaborative divorce is the role of the family law attorneys who undergo many hours of special training in the process. The primary goal of the parties and their counsel is to negotiate a creative and informed divorce settlement agreement that is the result of direct involvement and consideration of all interests and not one of a scorched earth philosophy.  This is accomplished through a series of four-way settlement conferences with each party and their respective lawyers sitting around the table in discussion. In a traditional divorce negotiation, the attorneys would consult with their clients, and then with each other at each step of the negotiation. It would be improper for one of the lawyers to talk directly to the other spouse.  While in collaborative divorce it is expected and promoted.

Additionally, the spouses agree in collaborative divorce that if the collaborative negotiation breaks down, they will each have to hire a new lawyer and start over in the traditional litigation process. This prospect of having to start over from scratch with a new legal professional is incentive for the parties and attorneys alike to work diligently  to reach a collaborative agreement that leaves no one party feeling like they were taken to the cleaners.

The role of the neutral expert

A significant key aspect of collaborative divorce is the use of neutral professionals to consult with the couple on important matters. For example, they may hire a financial professional to help them set budgets and analyze tax implications, or a parenting expert to assess what arrangement might be best for their children. Other experts can include appraisers, mental health professionals, divorce coaches to help them negotiate and any other specialist they need help from.

Not always best

While the Collaborative Divorce approach is not right for every couple, it is a far more emotionally accommodating process which is intended to reach a settlement quicker with less stress and at a lesser cost. Unfortunately, however , where one spouse is domineering or verbally abusive and the other may not feel it possible to negotiate with civility, litigation may be the only alternative.  A marriage with a history of domestic abuse would not be a good prospect for respectful deliberation.  Furthermore, where one spouse has a history of dishonesty, it probably doesn’t make much sense that he or she is going to start being forthcoming in the collaborative process. Finally, if there is doubt that the couple won’t be able to keep negotiations moving, delays and long negotiations while paying both lawyers, as well as paying neutral professionals for multiple sessions, can end up being as expensive as litigation would have been.

Consult with an experienced New Jersey divorce lawyer who has been specially trained in the Collaborative Divorce process to consider whether Collaborative Divorce might be a good choice for you and your soon-to-be ex to make.