Divorce can be one of the most emotional and financially taxing events in a person’s life. Not only must you make sense of a failed intimate relationship, but you may also be doing so under diminished capacity.
You’re simply not yourself during a divorce.
Before, you were confident, reasonable, fair-minded, and thoughtful. Now it may take everything you have just to get out of bed. In addition, you may be experiencing shame, confusion, uncertainty about the future, and anger.
Unfortunately, the legal system and expectations of others frequently spur us to act in ways that are not in our long-term best interests. From the moment you place your first call to a divorce attorney, you are conditioned to think of divorce as a zero-sum game in which only one party can emerge victorious.
As a result, divorcing parties frequently make shortsighted decisions based on emotions rather than reason. Consequently, contested divorces often serve no one, including your children.
In sum, divorces are expensive. They cause emotional scarring. And they frequently fail to provide for the future.
As a solution, Illinois divorce law recognizes collaborative divorce as a viable alternative to going to war.
What Is a Collaborative Divorce in Illinois?
The Illinois Collaborative Process Act (ICPA) defines “collaborative process” as a “procedure intended to resolve a collaborative process matter without intervention by a court.” While the parties may have a serious conflict with each other, a collaborative divorce removes the matter from the traditional adversary system.
There is no invasive discovery. There are no antagonistic depositions. More importantly, there is no unpredictable trial. In general, collaborative divorces have two distinguishing characteristics:
- Both parties agree to resolve all issues in a manner that is both respectful and amicable outside of the courtroom.
- The parties are each represented by a collaborative divorce attorney.
Do I Need an Attorney to Get a Collaborative Divorce?
No law prohibits you from representing yourself in a collaborative divorce. However, it is not advised. Unlike you, a collaborative attorney does not have a personal stake in your divorce. This means that their judgment will not be influenced by emotions. Furthermore, collaborative attorneys go through special training to become collaborative divorce lawyers.
This is in addition to the general training required to become a lawyer. Collaborative divorce attorneys are well-versed in turning win-lose divorces into win-win settlements. Should you be uncomfortable with a certain term of your divorce, collaborative divorce lawyers will zealously advocate to change it for your benefit.
How Does the Collaborative Process Work?
In general, the collaborative process consists of a series of meetings during which the parties’ attorneys cooperate to provide a structured, non-adversarial environment. This can help the parties see eye-to-eye on issues such as property division and parenting time.
Once the parties agree to attempt a collaborative divorce, they, along with their lawyers, sign a participation agreement. This agreement commits the parties to try to resolve all marital issues in accordance with collaborative principles.
Rather than focus on each party’s respective rights and entitlements, the collaborative process focuses on each party’s specific needs and interests as well as the needs and interests of any children of the marriage.
Once you reach an agreement, the collaborative lawyers draft the necessary paperwork and submit the written agreement to the court for approval and entry of judgment.
In addition to lawyers, parties going through a collaborative divorce frequently employ a team of professionals who are experts in a specific aspect of the divorce. These specialists often include divorce coaches, family specialists, and financial planners.
Divorce coaches help collaborating parties deal with the emotional aspects of divorce. They advise clients on how to set and achieve goals for the divorce. While neither a therapist nor social worker, a divorce coach instructs the parties on effective communication skills during negotiations as well as coping strategies. In addition, divorce coaches serve as go-betweens if communication breaks down during settlement negotiations.
Family specialists are common in collaborative divorces where the parties have minor children. They help the parties reach a fair agreement concerning issues like parenting time and the allocation of decision-making authority. In addition, family specialists work with the parties to develop the communication skills necessary for effective co-parenting.
Parties to a collaborative divorce commonly use financial specialists to assist with the identification, valuation, and division of marital property. The financial specialist takes into consideration the parties’ specific needs and interests to determine alternative ways to divide the assets. In addition, financial specialists assist in completing relevant court-mandated documentation, such as financial disclosure forms.
What Happens If the Parties Still Disagree on One or More Issues?
In a collaborative divorce, the parties’ lawyers have an incentive to facilitate a compromise. In the event the parties and their attorneys fail to reach a settlement, the collaborative divorce process terminates, and the parties will have to go to court. In this event, the Illinois Collaborative Process Act requires both attorneys, and their respective law firms, to cease representation. Collaborative divorce attorneys are prohibited from representing the parties if the case goes to litigation.
Is a Collaborative Divorce Right for Me?
Collaborative divorce is not for everyone. Collaborative divorce may not be possible where the parties refuse to work together. In addition, the upfront costs are generally more than for a traditional divorce. This is because the parties must pay for the time of the various collaborative divorce experts. This typically includes retaining a divorce coach, financial specialist, and family specialist.
In collaborative divorces involving significant assets, parties commonly pay even more to hire business valuation experts and estate planning attorneys. However, the cost of a collaborative divorce pales in comparison to the costs of litigation.
Contact an Experienced Collaborative Divorce Attorney Who Can Help You Understand Your Options
Collaborative divorce helps you make good decisions during a bad time. If you can work together with your spouse, then a collaborative divorce can save you a lot of stress and heartache. Finding an effective attorney experienced in Illinois divorce law and trained in collaborative divorce is crucial. Contact Vantage Group Legal for a consultation. We are responsive to you and will provide personal attention to your case.