On behalf of Peter Russo

Collaborative law offers a more civil and dignified option for divorce than a contentious court fight.

Collaborative divorce is a modern alternative to traditional divorce litigation in court. The hallmark of the collaborative process is to avoid litigation and to navigate with the guidance of your counsel with mutual respect through the difficult stages of divorce negotiation to achieve the goal of reaching a comprehensive marital settlement agreement of all legal issues that make up part of your divorce process, which may include property and debt division, interim support, alimony, child custody and visitation, and child support.

Before the process begins, the parties sign a participation agreement explaining all the terms of the process and in which they pledge to be respectful to each other and to voluntarily and transparently provide all relevant information such as financial and income records. The open exchange of information saves the money that would be spent in discovery if the matter were in court and insures that everyone is on the same page as far as the assets and debts at issue.

The process turns traditional divorce on its head in several ways. Significantly, the lawyer (or another attorney in their firm) each spouse hires to represent him or her in the collaborative process is not allowed to continue representation in traditional litigation if the collaborative process breaks down. Each much hire new legal counsel for the court process.

Collaborative negotiation takes place around the table in a series of four-way meetings that include both spouses and their respective attorneys, who must be specially trained in the collaborative process and must also have mediation training. Neutral experts who are also collaboratively trained may be hired and invited to participate in the process when the parties are in need of advice and information to make informed decisions.

Neutral experts may include financial advisors, appraisers, realtors and others with expertise related to money and property. Child specialists are sometimes retained to interview children and advise the parents and lawyers about important issues related to the kids’ best interests and concerns. Parental experts can help parents create co-parenting provisions, includingcustody and visitation schedules, division of decision-making responsibilities as well as dispute resolution methods should they later disagree over the children. A divorce coach may participate by helping the divorcing spouses through communication roadblocks should the ability to negotiate face to face break down.

Some of the other advantages of collaborative divorce, depending on the circumstances, may include:

  • Less stress for the parties and their children
  • Creation of a new relationship that will exist after divorce, especially if the parties will co-parent
  • Control over the process and schedule
  • Opportunity to creatively craft an agreement with provisions a judge may not be able to order or is unlikely to include
  • Preserve privacy by keeping family information out of court, where it may become public
  • Less time and money, although this may not be true if the parties are not well suited to collaboratively communicating; paying two attorneys plus experts for their time through a process that stretches out may not be cheaper in the long run

Any Pennsylvanian considering whether collaborative divorce may be right for his or her situation should speak with a divorce attorney who is trained in collaborative law to weigh the pros and cons of proceeding collaboratively. While it can be a great alternative for some families, it may not be right for everyone, particularly if there are issues of one spouse being dishonest, controlling, abusive or otherwise dysfunctional.

From offices in Mechanicsburg, the family lawyers of The Law Offices of Peter J. Russo, P.C., practice collaborative law as well as representing clients in traditional divorce and other family matters.