Frequently Asked Questions

What is collaborative practice?

The key elements of collaborative practice (also sometimes known as collaborative law, collaborative divorce or collaborative process) include the open, honest and voluntary exchange of information by both spouses; the commitment to find solutions that consider the priorities of both spouses for the family, and the pledge not to go to court.

What types of conflicts can be resolved using the collaborative process?

How does collaborative practice differ from mediation?

In mediation, the mediator is an impartial third party who assists parties to negotiate and settle their case. This may be challenging when parties have different levels of information or expertise. It can also be complicated when the parties are experiencing emotions that make communication difficult. If the mediator is an attorney, he or she cannot give either party legal advice or advocate for either side. Parties may have attorneys but in most cases, they consult their attorneys between mediation sessions. With collaborative practice, each party has their own collaborative attorney as an advocate. Collaborative practice was designed to allow clients to have their lawyers with them during the negotiation process. Together, the parties and their collaborative attorneys work together to reach resolutions. During the collaborative process, the parties also have access to the other collaborative team professionals to help them resolve conflict.

How does collaborative divorce differ from traditional divorce?

In traditional divorce, one party sues the other for divorce. This leads to a series of legal steps which result in a negotiated settlement of issues through the parties' lawyers or perhaps in a trial where a judge decides how issues will be resolved. Since the litigation process can turn into a hostile battleground, the spouses often see each other as adversaries and are called "opposing parties." This may promote bitter, long-lasting conflict that takes an emotional toll on the entire family and is particularly devastating to the children. Collaborative practice was designed to be non-adversarial. The parties agree to resolve their disputes in a manner that works for the entire family. Both the parties and their attorneys sign agreements stating their commitment not to go to court. A collaborative divorce requires mutual respect and cooperation in order for parties to develop solutions that fit the needs of their particular family. Collaborative practice emphasizes the needs of the children, stressing the importance of spouses maintaining a working relationship for co-parenting.

Why should we choose collaborative practice?

To learn more about if this is right for you see "Is this Right for Me"

Collaborative divorce may be the right choice if you desire to have a civilized, respectful divorce. When parties are committed to maintaining a positive co-parenting relationship in order to make the best possible decisions for their children, as well as insulate their children from conflict and actively create their own solutions for their families, collaborative divorce may be the best option.

What is a collaborative team (or interdisciplinary model)?

A collaborative team is a carefully chosen group of professionals who assist with different aspects of the divorce process. In addition to collaborative attorneys, parties may have the opportunity to meet with coaches who can help with the difficult emotional issues that accompany divorce, improve communication, and assist with parenting issues including the design of a parenting plan. A child specialist can help parents understand their children's concerns and developmental needs. Financial specialists can help the parties understand their financial situation and develop possible financial settlement options. The collaborative team provides the parties the best possible services from the professional most qualified to address each unique issue of divorce.

What is the difference between divorce coaching and psychotherapy?

While there are similarities, divorce coaching targets the divorce process and is integrally connected to the event of divorce. While psychotherapy is often broader in scope, coaching assists clients to adapt to and cope with the emotions and practical aspects of the present situation. Divorce coaching normalizes the feelings around divorce that might be addressed in therapy, but in divorce coaching they are addressed as situational to divorce. Psychotherapy often closely examines the past and its impact on present functioning while divorce coaching emphasizes the present and the future. It addresses present problem solving and the optimization of strengths and abilities and assists clients to develop effective communication skills and formulate action plans that will lead to a healthy future. Divorce coaches help clients stay clear and focused during the negotiation process in order to be able effectively communicate as well as deal with the technical details of the dissolution of the marriage.

Why should we spend money on coaches?

Although clients are often concerned about spending the "extra money" on using the services of coaches, this investment can often save money because coaches help clients work through the emotional issues that can impede the process. Coaches are highly skilled in conflict resolution and improving communication.

I've heard that the collaborative process achieves the best outcome for children. Why?

One of the many reasons why the collaborative divorce process produces the best outcome for the children is because of the emphasis placed on helping clients to create their own outcomes for their families. Since the professionals in the collaborative process see the divorce process as one of restructuring relationships between spouses rather than ending those relationships, clients begin to understand and work toward developing strong co-parenting relationships. The interdisciplinary model of the collaborative process offers the additional services of coaches and child specialists. These professionals understand and validate the concerns of their children, address the needs of the children through providing parents information on the impact of the divorce on children, understanding the developmental needs of their children, and offering assistance on improving the effectiveness of communication skills between parents in order to create the most effective parenting plans.

Is a collaborative divorce less expensive than a traditional divorce?

It is hard to determine whether a collaborative divorce will cost more or less than a traditional divorce. In many cases a collaborative divorce can cost less than a traditional divorce because of the strong emphasis on problem solving and effective communication. In addition, since collaborative divorce enables the parties to restructure their relationship into one that will assist the parties with communication and problem solving in the future. It also focuses the parties on developing solutions that respect the needs of the entire family. So, the strengths of the process may also enable the parties to avoid future disputes after the divorce process is completed. However, please remember that cost varies due to the unique circumstances of each situation.

Is a collaborative divorce quicker than a traditional divorce?

The unique circumstances of each divorce determine how quickly the process can proceed. However, there are some possible reasons why a divorce using the collaborative process may be resolved in a timelier manner. These include its focus on problem solving and emphasis on the parties' strengths rather than weaknesses. Open communication and full disclosure can lead to resolving matters more quickly. Since the collaborative process does not involve court settings, parties and their attorneys may proceed at a pace that is comfortable and accommodates their own unique situation.

How can complicated financial issues be addressed using the collaborative process?

Discussion and resolution of difficult financial issues requires that the parties have a clear understanding of their financial information, are able to express and develop options that would resolve the issues, and then evaluate and choose the option that will serve the needs of each party individually and of the family as a whole. One of the advantages of collaborative practice is the potential for parties to work together with a financial specialist. Financial specialists, who have a background in accounting or finance, can assist the parties in gathering and understanding information concerning their assets and debts. They can also help the parties develop financial options for one or more of their financial concerns and then help the parties analyze the consequences of each option. This may include analyzing the tax consequences of certain choices and projected income and resources for each party in the future. When necessary, other experts may also be engaged to provide appraisal services, business valuations, or other special services that will help the parties, their financial specialist and collaborative attorneys understand and value their assets. Once the parties have enough information concerning their financial situation and the options available, their collaborative attorneys will assist them in negotiating a resolution.

How does a collaborative divorce actually work?

To learn more about how collaborative divorce works see "How It Works"

One of the things that sets collaborative practice apart from traditional divorce is the face-to-face meetings involving both spouses and both of their attorneys or coaches. These meetings offer a safe forum in which to exchange information and create a collaborative agreement that is acceptable to both spouses. Link-A more detailed description of the process can be found in "How Collaborative Practice Works."

How can I get my spouse to consider a collaborative divorce?

Talk with your spouse and, if possible, try to identify common goals such as agreeing to interact with the least negative impact on your children or a desire to co-parent as smoothly and effectively as possible. You may find that sharing the materials given to you by your collaborative lawyer explaining collaborative divorce is also helpful. Also, suggest that your spouse review the website material on the Collaborative Family Law Association or the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals; both offer information and articles for the public. We have additional links to information and books on this website. You can also encourage your spouse to meet with one (or more) of the collaborative attorneys or collaborative coaches in our area.

What happens when disputes cannot be resolved in a collaborative divorce?

First, it is important to remember that most couples really are able to make good choices to manage their divorce in a better way. We know that many issues may be difficult to discuss but collaborative professionals can assist you and your spouse in working through these matters and help you make good choices. Because collaborative professionals are committed to the collaborative process and agree not to go to court, they will explore all options to overcome any obstacle that would prevent a successful resolution and the necessity to terminate the process. There are many options to resolve an impasse, such as seeking consultation with other collaborative professionals or even engaging the services of a mediator to assist with a four-way meeting. However, because of the commitment made by collaborative professionals, in the event that parties cannot arrive at a settlement through the collaborative process, the collaborative attorneys and other collaborative professionals withdraw and the parties will then retain trial attorneys to pursue their matter in court. All discussions and information exchanged between the parties in individual or four-way collaborative meetings with any collaborative professional remain confidential and are not shared with new attorneys.

What training does a collaborative professional receive?

All Collaborate Professionals must be members of the Collaborative Family Law Association, St. Louis' only collaborative practice group. Attorneys must be trained in mediation, have training in collaborative practice and the interdisciplinary process, and must have certain experience and training in Family Law as well. Divorce coaches and child specialists are licensed mental health professionals and have the same requirements for mediation and collaborative practice training, but must also receive training in family law, and have training and expertise in divorce as a life transition, family systems theory and child development. Financial specialists must meet the training requirements for mediation, collaborative practice, the interdisciplinary process, and family law in addition to being certified in their own field. There are also ongoing continuing education requirements for all collaborative professionals. Although the requirements for our practice group are demanding and strict, we feel that our requirements will give you confidence that each professional offers the experience and training to really help you and your family.

Are there ethical considerations for Collaborative Professionals?

The International Academy of Collaborative Professionals provides a common set of values, principles and standards to guide decisions and conduct for collaborative professionals. Each of us must maintain licensure or certifications required by our profession and we are committed to adhering to the ethical standards governing our professions. In addition, collaborative professionals must fully inform their clients about the confidentiality requirements and practices in the collaborative process which call for full and open disclosure among the professionals. Members of the Collaborative Family Law Association must also adhere to the bylaws of our practice group.