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A closer look at collaborative divorce in Arizona

Divorce does not have to be a fight to the finish.

Many people approach divorce with dread because of the common perception that it will be a major public battle in court that will be adversarial and leave everyone emotionally drained. While that can happen in some families, it certainly does not have to be that way. People can negotiate to settlement through their respective lawyers, use a mediator or choose to use the collaborative law approach.

What is collaboration?

Collaborative divorce is a very different approach to ending a marriage. It is based on a commitment to mutual respect, behaving with dignity, keeping the process confidential and being open and honest. Beyond that, the parties must sign an agreement that they will not go to court, but instead will resolve their legal issues through collaborative negotiation outside of court.

If collaboration falls apart, the parties must get new counsel to represent each of them in another process like mediation, traditional negotiation or litigation. This helps create real effort to make collaboration successful.

Another unique aspect of collaboration is that most negotiation happens during a series of four-way conferences involving both parties and each of their family lawyers. Normally, a lawyer is not allowed for ethical reasons to discuss the case with the other party, but in collaboration there is a free four-way discussion.

Collaborative neutrals

Use of neutral professional experts is another feature of collaborative negotiation. For example, if the parties need professional input to make smart decisions, an expert can be hired jointly to assist. Examples of neutral professionals who may be brought in are financial planners, appraisers, real estate brokers, parenting experts, child psychologists and so forth. Another neutral expert is the divorce coach, usually a mental health professional who helps the parties deal with the emotions that come up in collaboration and facilitate communication when the parties are at an impasse.

Collaborative divorce also allows the parties to create solutions that suit their situation, but that might not have been something a judge would normally order. All terms of the final agreement are described in a document that is signed and submitted to the judge in the divorce for incorporation into a final decree.

Collaboration is often praised as a way for parents to avoid negative emotion when children are involved, allowing them to start to create a new kind of relationship that may be helpful if they need to continue to co-parent after the divorce. If it goes as planned, it may be faster and cheaper than the court process.

It is important that anyone facing divorce talk to an experienced family attorney about the different divorce processes available. Collaboration may not be appropriate in all cases. For example, it would not be a good idea to sit face to face and negotiate if there is a history of abuse or if the emotional state of either party would be too difficult in such a setting. Similarly, a history of dishonesty would indicate that that party might not be forthcoming in disclosing assets and telling the truth at negotiations, in which case a formal court setting might be better for the other party.

Tucson attorney Michael Johnson of the Law Office of Michael A. Johnson, P.C., represents clients in the greater Tucson area in collaborative divorce, mediation or traditional divorce.