The word “collaborative” is frequently misunderstood, as evidenced by a recent conversation that I had with a prospective client. Sue (not her real name) very much wanted to avoid the expense and combativeness of the traditional, adversarial court system. She was concerned, however, that the collaborative divorce process meant that she and her husband needed to be on good terms and basically in agreement about the issues to be negotiated before beginning the process. Sue and her husband do not agree about many of the key issues, including whether to sell the marital home and how best to share time with their children. By the time Sue consulted me, her relationship with her husband had become strained and volatile, and she was still reeling from the news that her husband wanted to separate.
Sue’s assumption that spouses have to be in general agreement or even on relatively friendly terms in order for the collaborative process to be effective is a common misconception. I told Sue that I have had many successful cases (i.e., ones in which the spouses successfully negotiate the relevant issues and sign a separation agreement) that initially presented a high degree of conflict and mistrust between the parties. In fact, cases with a high degree of conflict often benefit the most from the collaborative model, with its emphasis on problem-solving rather than taking extreme positions and refusing to compromise. In addition, the extensive training that full-time collaborative professionals undergo enhances the likelihood of a successful resolution.
I tried to reassure Sue that the word “collaborative” applies to a tested and successful method rather than to a description of the parties’ relationship at the time, and that embracing the process would hopefully lead to a series of sound financial decisions for her and her husband, and a parenting plan that is in the best interests of their children. As I did with Sue, I encourage any person confronting a separation to consider the collaborative divorce process as a means to a mutually-beneficial resolution.