Collaborative Divorce's “Three Legged Stool” Approach

August 14, 2013

When I talk to potential clients about which divorce process makes the most sense for them and their family, when I discuss the option of collaborative divorce, I typically talk about how that approach uses a “three legged stool” model to help families through the divorce process.  What I mean is that when families are divorcing, there are almost always significant issues to work through that fall into three general categories:  Legal, Emotional and Financial.

What tends to happen in many divorce cases, particularly using the litigation process, is that one or more (usually the emotional piece) is essentially ignored by the process.  The problem with ignoring, for example, the emotional dynamics at work in a case, is that when the parties are negotiating about something legally substantive (e.g. parenting plan, spousal support, what to do about the house)  they will often reach an impasse in the negotiations that is connected to some underlying emotional concern or issue that needs to be addressed, but is not.  So the parties end up spinning their wheels, wasting time and money because they are arguing about the wrong thing.

In future posts I will break down more specifically how the collaborative divorce process is effective in each of the three areas mentioned above, but I thought it might be helpful to offer a general overview first.

Legal Issues – The two collaboratively-trained divorce attorneys are, of course, the professionals on the team who help the parties understand and work through the various legal issues.  The legal work includes a number of components:  Gathering the necessary information to draft the various legal documents that are required in the divorce process; helping the parties make decisions that comport with the law and that a judge will approve at the final hearing; and serving as the drivers for the substantive negotiations generally.  Because they are the only members of the team who are not neutral, they serve an important role for the parties in terms of having someone to discuss the case with privately and confidentially.

Financial Issues – The single financial neutral’s role breaks down into essentially two components.  First, they work with the parties to gather the various documents and information the parties and attorneys will need in order to understand and make good decisions around the  financial issues.  Second, during the collaborative team meetings themselves, when the team is considering various settlement possibilities, the financial neutral can help the parties understand which options make the most sense for them financially, taking into account concerns such as investment value over time and tax consequences of different scenarios.

Emotional Issues – The neutral mental health coach also serves a number of functions on the team.  First, they are the “keeper of the process,” making sure  the case is managed smoothly and efficiently.  Second, they work with the parties early on to understand the emotional dynamics at play in the family so that the coach (and other professionals) can support the parties through the negotiations when things become emotionally charged.  Third, the coach is a resource for the parties around how best to structure a parenting plan that takes seriously their children’s developmental and emotional needs post-divorce.

In sum, collaborative divorce is intended to be a holistic approach to divorce that takes into account more than just the legal divorce in a vacuum.  Clients end up feeling much more supported through the process and that they have a richer settlement on the back end then would be true if they had not opted for the “three legged stool” approach of collaborative divorce.

To learn more about collaborative divorce, please visit our website or contact us to schedule an initial consultation.

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