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Texas Collaborative Divorce Offers Private, Creative Path To Settlement

This divorce process offers the possibility of retaining respect and dignity while ending a marriage.

Many people approaching divorce, especially those with children, dread the devastating impact the adversarial courtroom divorce process can have on family members and on the family’s financial health. Collaborative divorce is nontraditional way to negotiate a divorce settlement that can be advantageous for some couples.

The collaborative process was conceived by an attorney disillusioned with the experience of the traditional courtroom divorce trial. In collaboration, the parties agree to settle all the issues in their divorce outside of the courtroom through a unique kind of negotiation conducted through a series of confidential four-way meetings.

Each party retains a lawyer with special training in collaborative divorce. The couple plus each of their legal counsel sit down in these meetings to hammer out their differences with a commitment to conduct themselves with respect and candor. The goal is to create a complete settlement agreement of all issues related to the divorce, including property division, alimony, child custody, child support and any other related matters.

If necessary, neutral professionals can be hired by the couple to participate in the process. Examples of such professionals include financial planners, accountants, realtors, appraisers, mental health professionals and divorce coaches, trained to assist the parties through difficult emotional reactions during the process.

Collaborative negotiation encourages creative resolution of problems with the goals and well being of each party in mind. In particular, matters concerning children can be handled with careful and loving consideration. This process may help to preserve a working, cordial relationship between the two parents as they move into post-divorce parenting.

It is important that a Texan considering the collaborative process have a frank discussion with his or her attorney about the pros and cons of collaboration before deciding if it is a smart choice. In fact, Texas law requires such an exchange of information between lawyer and client when collaboration is considered.

There may be reasons a person chooses not to go the collaborative route. For example, there may be a history of abuse, dishonesty or controlling behavior on the part of the other spouse that would make an arms-length negotiation between their two lawyers or even a trial a better choice.

Being able to trust that the other party will be honest and open about financial and other important and relevant matters is crucial because in collaborative divorce there is no court-ordered discovery in which parties are ordered to disclose financial and other facts in the trial-preparation and negotiation process. Instead, as part of the collaborative agreement, the parties promise to be open, honest and forthcoming with information.

In many cases, collaboration may be cheaper than a trial. However, some thought must be given to the likelihood that the negotiations will make reasonable progress. If the collaborative negotiation drags on, it may become more expensive. For example, both lawyers must be paid for each meeting as well as for any drafting, document review and private advice either performs. Neutral professionals are also paid at their billing rate for their time preparing for meetings, participating and reviewing information.

Should the process fail, the parties must hire new lawyers for representation in traditional divorce or mediation.

Many people are very happy with the collaborative experience. It keeps private matters out of court and gives control over the process, decisions and schedule to the parties.

From her office in Georgetown, Texas, attorney Lori Watson of the Law Office of Lori Watson represents clients in collaborative divorce as well as in divorce through mediation or traditional litigation throughout central Texas.