Collaborative divorce offers less pain for many couples

Can you imagine ending marriage not with recrimination and anger, but with hugs and an apology?

Florida divorce law is undergoing a significant transformation, thanks to a new emphasis on collaboration - as opposed to bitter litigation -- between the two parties.

About collaborative divorce

Collaborative divorce is not new - it has been around for years. But thanks to a law that went into effect this summer titled Chapter 61, Part III: Collaborative Law Process Act - the idea of a less hostile way to split up is taking hold.

The law is itself an example of collaboration between the Florida State Bar and The Florida Academy of Collaborative Professionals.

Adversarial divorce - the kind we think of when we hear the word divorce - sees the split-up as a battle in a zero-sum game. It can be enormously upsetting, with both sides assuming, "If I don't win, I lose."

A team process

Instead of pitting the two sides against one another, collaborative divorce brings them together to the negotiating table, accompanied by their lawyers but also by a neutral financial expert and an impartial mental health expert. It is a team process, with everyone doing their honest best to work together.

Collaborative divorce is not the same as uncontested divorce. In an uncontested divorce, there are no significant issues in need of resolution. In collaborative divorce, problems relating to money, assets, child custody and support exist and may even be quite challenging -- but they are resolved in a less adversarial, more "collaborative" way.

Because the process is conducted privately, away from courthouses, the method allows people to come to grips with parting without the drama and glare of publicity. It is usually less expensive than traditional divorce. In many cases, the couple doesn't even need to file a financial affidavit. The best interests of the children are the most important concept governing the process.

Some limitations

Obviously, one side can't force the other side to take the collaborative route. Both must come to the table willingly and ready to tackle tough issues. There must be no hint of coercion, bullying, manipulation or violence in the relationship.

Does collaborative divorce always work? No. If one side digs in its heels, the agreement can slip away. But this process creates an environment in which even the painful business of separating from one another can be seen as a positive step.

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