Since 2001, Texas couples have had the option to pursue divorce through collaborative law as an alternative to a traditional litigated divorce. Collaborative divorce is a great option for some couples, especially when the split is amicable and the two parties believe they can trust and communicate well with one another. However, opting for a collaborative divorce isn’t the best choice for everyone, so you should weigh your options and get educated before opting in.
When Kids and Privacy Matter, Collaborative Divorce May Be Best
Connatser Family Law Attorney Aubrey Connatser finds collaborative divorce can be very beneficial to couples with children. “For parents, the collaborative divorce process can foster an environment of communicating and co-parenting better post-divorce.
Parents are afforded the opportunity to discuss their differences with the assistance of their collaborative divorce attorneys, as well as neutral experts (mental health and financial professionals) and become accustomed to sitting down together and working things out. It’s a good environment for parents to hash out the ‘hard stuff,’ which can be better for the children in the long run,” Aubrey says.
Clients Drive the Collaborative Process, Not a Judge
“Unlike a litigated divorce, there is no judge presiding over a collaborative divorce, and there are typically only three pleadings filed with the court (the original petition, the collaborative law participation agreement and the final decree of divorce). Consequently, fewer details of the divorce negotiations are part of the public record,” Aubrey says.
During the collaborative process, the parties identify their goals and interests, and work toward a resolution of the case. In order for the process to work successfully, the two parties must continue to talk about options until they come to a resolution that meets as many of their goals as possible.
In addition, family courts in most Texas counties will sign an order to seal divorce matters based on a very low standard in collaborative divorces. This is especially important when children are involved or reputation management is a high priority.
Aubrey may also recommend collaborative law in some cases where a client hopes to reconcile with his or her spouse. “If you want to reconcile, you’ll have a much better chance to do so if you go the collaborative route. Not only will you get more face time with your spouse, you’re more likely to treat each other with dignity, respect and honesty and communicate well during the collaborative process vs. litigation,” she explains.
You Should Pass On Collaborative Divorce in These 3 Instances
While every case is different, there are three scenarios in which Aubrey typically encourages her clients NOT to opt for the collaborative process. These scenarios include:
1. Domestic abuse.
Aubrey finds that when “domestic abuse is present in a relationship, a collaborative divorce isn’t the best option. It’s nearly impossible to trust anyone who has been physically harmful to you, much less sit in the same room with that person. If you have been abused by your spouse, you will likely feel intimidated, powerless and forced to agree to anything the abuser asks you to do.”
If you find yourself in an abusive relationship, this earlier post offers some great guidance and resources:
2. Mental health and addiction issues.
If you’re dealing with someone who suffers from a personality disorder or who is abusing drugs or alcohol, this can complicate the collaborative process. “Frequently, these parties can have difficulty honoring and abiding by agreements, thinking rationally and communicating respectfully,” Aubrey explains.
Also, during the collaborative process, you can only move as quickly as the slowest mover. People with mental health and/or addiction issues often fall into the slow mover category.
According to Aubrey, “If you have a slow mover, and their mood, decisions and conscience change with the wind, it’s going to be more difficult to get through the process. On the other hand, if you litigate the divorce and a judge is in control, he or she can say ‘You will get a drug test, and if you fail it, you’re not going to see your kids and face other serious consequences.’ This typically keeps the divorce process moving along.”
3. Financial disequilibrium.
According to Aubrey, “ When one spouse has most or all of the financial power and the other has very little, a sense of unequal bargaining power may exist. When there is such a financial disequilibrium, where one party has limited awareness of assets or business sense, a real feeling of insecurity in the collaborative process can arise.
On the other hand, when both spouses are professionals, and/or there has been transparency with the finances during the marriage, and both understand where the money is, there’s a lot more trust there. Lack of knowledge equates to fear and it’s a lot harder to trust someone under those circumstances.”
Look for a Texas Family Law Attorney Who Understands All the Options
As a Board Certified family law attorney, Aubrey understands that it is important to listen closely to the goals and emotional needs of each individual client. No two cases are the same. “As a divorce lawyer I need to wear very different hats depending on if I’m handling a collaborative or litigation divorce. You will also find me putting on my human hat and my mom hat in order to best represent my client’s interests,” Aubrey says.
Photo Source: iStock for Getty Images