Who Can Use the Collaborative Process
Separation and divorce can be challenging and emotionally painful. Still, couples who choose the Collaborative Process often find it to be a less painful and more cost-effective alternative to traditional divorce.
It's important to note that being amicable is not required for the Collaborative Process.
However, there are situations where the Collaborative Process may not be a suitable choice, such as:
A history of violence, an existing restraining order, a non-removal order, or other court-ordered restrictions.
A spouse who doesn't believe it's possible to negotiate fairly and safely with their partner, even with collaborative lawyers, divorce coaches, and other professionals involved.
A suspicion that a spouse may be hiding assets or a history of financial asset concealment.
When one or both spouses expect their lawyers to advocate aggressively for them, as in an adversarial process.
If one spouse refuses to use the Collaborative Process or believes their partner will terminate the process and take the matter to court before it's completed.
If any of these concerns apply to your situation, the Collaborative Process may not be the most suitable option for your divorce.
How Does One Start a Collaborative Process?
In BC, the Collaborative Process follows the following steps:
1. Consult with a Collaborative Professional
One of the most challenging aspects of separation often involves determining the right approach. Typically, in the separation process, one spouse is ready to proceed while the other is still coming to terms with the end of the relationship.
Where do you begin in such a situation?
A good starting point is to consult with a Collaborative Professional. They can assess your current stage in the separation process and offer guidance on the next steps to keep the process moving forward, all while avoiding the common conflicts that can arise when one spouse suddenly hires a lawyer without informing the other. A Collaborative professional can suggest how to introduce your spouse to the Collaborative Process and may recommend that one or both of you consult with a Collaborative Lawyer, Coach, or Financial Specialist based on your unique circumstances.
2. Building a Collaborative Team and Signing a Participation Agreement
Once both spouses are prepared to proceed with a Collaborative Process, the next step involves assembling a Collaborative Team. Some spouses opt to initiate their Collaborative Process by engaging Divorce Coaches, while others prefer to begin with Collaborative Lawyers. In British Columbia, most Collaborative professionals operate independently, allowing potential clients to choose the professionals they wish to work with.
When each spouse has retained either a Collaborative lawyer or divorce coach of their choice, the subsequent step is to formalize the process by signing a participation agreement. This agreement officially initiates the Collaborative Process. At this point, the coaches or lawyers may suggest involving other crucial professionals as part of the team, such as financial and child specialists.
Considering that financial matters are invariably a component of the separation process, including a financial neutral in the Collaborative Team is advisable. Additionally, a child specialist should be part of the team when children are involved in the separation. While it might seem costly, enlisting the right team members to address the intricacies of financial separation and the establishment of two separate households is a more cost-effective approach. Sometimes, a particular professional may not be required, and they can easily withdraw from the team. Adding an essential team member when issues have become stuck is far more challenging. All team members are expected to sign the participation agreement.
3. Team Meetings, Pre-Briefs and Debriefs, and Homework
At the core of the Collaborative Process are a series of meetings involving spouses, their lawyers, coaches, the financial neutral, and, if necessary, the child specialist. In many cases, spouses have four-way meetings with their Collaborative Lawyers and Divorce Coaches, while they may meet with their financial neutral separately. Alternatively, the Collaborative Process may commence with one comprehensive meeting involving all professionals, followed by subsequent meetings to guide the spouses and family forward.
These professional team members collaborate with the spouses to negotiate the desired outcomes based on the family members' needs, hopes, and concerns. Typically, spouses meet with their Collaborative lawyers twice to four times, more frequently with their divorce coaches, especially if children are involved, and twice to three times with a financial neutral. The financial neutral meets with the spouses to gather financial information, reviews it with them, and assesses any post-separation financial plans that may be developed.
Agendas are prepared for all team meetings, and meeting minutes are kept that detail the progress made in each meeting and homework that each team member is tasked with completing by the next meeting.
In between meetings, the collaborative team shares information amongst the team to help the spouses continue to make progress with their separation.
4. Creating a Separation Agreement
Between each meeting, the parties collect necessary documents, consult with non-core team professionals, work on parenting plans, address parenting conflicts, explore various options, and implement suggestions from team meetings. Sometimes, these meetings continue until a separation agreement is reached, while in other cases, ongoing communication through email or over the phone is sufficient to complete the remaining work.
Typically, one of the Collaborative lawyers prepares an initial separation agreement draft, which is shared with all team members, akin to having a team of skilled editors. Everyone involved can provide input, identify errors, and make suggestions to ensure the spouses have the best possible separation agreement.
The final separation agreement can encompass parenting terms, child support, spousal support, division of assets, and debt allocation. The separation agreement achieved through the Collaborative Process is a legally binding contract that can be enforced in a court of law.