Two issues that are usually important to divorcing couples when they own property of considerable worth are the placement of fair values on their assets and the preservation of family privacy. Aspects of collaborative divorce - a creative, modern alternative to traditional divorce litigation - are conducive to positive resolution of these issues for some families.
What Is Collaborative Law?
In collaborative divorce, the spouses each retain their own attorneys who have been specially trained to guide the parties through extensive face-to-face negotiations. The parties execute a comprehensive participation agreement in which they agree to adhere to some key principles:
- They commit to resolving their legal issues through negotiation outside of court in a series of four-way meetings with both lawyers participating. If collaboration fails, both must find new attorneys to represent them going forward using another divorce process.
- The parties commit to conducting themselves with respect and civility.
- They pledge to be completely transparent and bring to the table all information about financial matters, assets, income and anything else of value they own individually or jointly.
- Should they need information or advice from professionals, they agree to hire individuals to participate in the process who are neutral, rather than being hired by one spouse or the other. Such professionals typically include financial planners, accountants, appraisers, parenting consultants, divorce coaches (to help with the emotional challenges that arise in the process), mental health professionals and others as the needs of the parties dictate.
The goal is to reach a comprehensive settlement agreement that resolves all divorce issues like property division, spousal support, child custody and support and others. Collaboration allows creative solutions that may not be available in court and can be cheaper if the parties commit to moving through impasses and staying open to the possibility of compromise. In addition, the parties set the schedule, rather than being at the mercy of the court's calendar.
Neutral Professional Evaluators
Wealthy couples may be attracted to collaboration because of the use of neutral professionals to advise them about financial, tax and asset-valuation matters. In litigation, each of them would hire his or her own expert to provide testimony in court about what assets are worth, leaving the final conclusions up to the Washington state court judge who would divide the community property. By contrast, in collaborative law, the spouses agree on neutral experts to retain jointly to assist them in placing value on assets.
Specialized evaluators and appraisers can be hired if needed. For example, valuation may be more difficult in sophisticated assets like securities, professional practices, business interests, executive perks and benefits, antiques, expensive boats and cars, collectibles and other similar items.
An important pillar of the collaborative process is that the parties promise in their participation agreement to keep the process and everything that happens during collaborative meetings confidential. Some people with considerable assets, who are socially prominent in the community, who own businesses or professional practices, or who hold executive positions at work have understandable interests in keeping the details of their family lives and financial interests private. Privacy is less likely should a divorce end up in court, however.
Seek Legal Counsel
Anyone facing divorce should speak with an experienced family lawyer to thoroughly consider whether collaboration is likely to be a good choice for going forward or whether another divorce process could be better for the particular circumstances the spouse faces. For example, if a spouse has any doubt that the other party will be honest about financial matters in collaboration, formal court processes may make more sense.
Other processes to explore include mediation, traditional negotiation or even a traditional courtroom divorce trial, in some situations.