Collaborative law offers a new, amicable way to divorce in Texas

Collaborative divorce is conducted in a series of four-way meetings involving the lawyers and their clients.

The ways Americans can get divorced have increased nowadays. No longer is the norm a knock-down court battle, which in contentious divorces can leave the ex-spouses and their children distressed. An option now available is the collaborative law model.

What is traditional divorce?

Traditionally, each party retains an attorney and the two lawyers negotiate with each other on behalf of and with input from their respective clients. The attorneys attempt to come to agreement about all or some of the legal issues. Neither one of the lawyers has direct contact with the other party, only with his or her counsel.

Any unresolved matters will be decided by the judge in the divorce after the parties' lawyers submit evidence and make arguments. These proceedings can become very adversary; reveal personal information to other people; and may be expensive.

While the lawyers present their clients' best cases to the judge, ultimately the court decides the issues. The judge's decisions may or may not be what the parties had hoped.

How is collaboration different?

The collaborative divorce process is, in essence, an effort to all sit down around a table and respectfully, but meaningfully, hammer out a settlement agreement. Here are some of the differences from traditional divorce:

  • The attorneys and clients engage in a four-way conversation in a series of meetings.
  • The parties agree not to go to court, but rather to use the collaborative process to come to agreement. If collaboration fails, they must each hire new counsel and start over in a traditional negotiation or perhaps using mediation.
  • A hallmark of collaboration is the commitment to treat one another with dignity and respect.
  • The parties agree to keep everything confidential.
  • Instead of the discovery process used in court in which the lawyers make formal requests for necessary information from the other party, in collaboration each party agrees to openly and honestly share all relevant information.
  • Collaboration often is cheaper than litigation.
  • Instead of each presenting expert testimony in court, the parties jointly hire neutral professionals. Common collaborative neutrals include accountants, financial planners, parenting consultants, child psychologists, real estate brokers, appraisers and divorce coaches. A divorce coach is a mental health professional who helps the parties through negotiation impasses, including emotional barriers.
  • Both spouses have input into how issues are decided, even if compromise is involved. Therefore, they have more control over the outcome than they would if the judge as a third party made the decisions.
  • Collaboration allows creative problem solving that might involve solutions a judge would not consider.
  • The spirit of cooperation may allow divorcing parents who have minor children to build a more positive relationship for co-parenting.
  • Children are likely to feel or see less adversity between their parents.

Is collaboration better?

The answer is: it depends. In very bitter breakups or when alcohol or drug use, or mental or physical abuse is involved, collaboration is probably not a good idea. Even short of abuse, if a spouse is particularly controlling or has a history of dishonesty, another process may be better. Finally, if compromise is unlikely, collaborative divorce can become expensive as two attorneys must be paid, plus any invited professionals, for each four-way meeting.

An experienced lawyer can answer questions about collaborative law and help a divorce client choose a divorce method.

Attorney Mysti Murphy of the San Antonio Law Firm of Mysti Murphy represents clients in divorce in San Antonio and the surrounding areas of Texas, using collaborative law, mediation or traditional litigation.