Michigan Collaborative Divorce Process
March 26th, 2012
Negotiations between the divorce couple occur in 4-way, 6-way, 7-way and 8-way meetings depending on the complexity of the case, the needs of the clients, and the professional team in place. Meetings are conducted like business meetings with agendas and minutes, to build trust and avoid surprises to either party.
Michigan collaborative attorneys representing clients act differently than their colleague counterparts who act in the traditional adversarial role. The specially trained attorneys, mental health professionals ("MHPs") who act as divorce coaches, and child specialists, along with the neutral financial professionals, make up the inter-disciplinary team and work closely with their clients advising them throughout the process and guiding them in a non-adversarial manner.
The attorneys and coaches help each client express his or her needs and interests and model and assist in communication and negotiation techniques, as well as creative problem-solving. Divorce coaches assist parties with communication skills and address emotional aspects and concerns of each individual, help clients to discuss the divorce with the children, and work with the child specialist and the parents to craft child parenting plans for the couple. Child specialists bring the children's voice into the process and assist the parents with addressing each child's specific concerns and needs. The neutral financial professional assists the clients with budgeting, gathering the necessary documentation and financial information, tax concerns, and income, asset and debt disposition. Trust is re-built and the traumatic aspects of divorce are addressed so that each party is mentally ready and capable of making well-informed decisions about important issues without the interference from or influence of the emotional characteristics of divorce, so commonly present and exacerbated in the traditional adversarial court process. Most people are simply unable to make these important life decisions when they are under the severe stress and trauma of divorce.
The Michigan collaborative law process generally involves the following steps:
- Informational Meeting with a Divorce Coach or Collaborative Attorney to answer questions, gather and provide information, clarify each party's interests and concerns, and plan the first steps.
- Inclusion of Team Professionals such as a child specialist, and/or neutral financial professional.
- Sign Participation Agreement which provides that each spouse is represented by his or her own attorney and divorce coach and requires full disclosure of all relevant information, transparency and open communication between the professional team. The participation agreement also requires both attorneys and the entire team to withdraw from representing their clients if the case cannot be settled outside of court. This is a 4-way meeting with both spouses and their respective attorneys.
- Joint Meeting with Attorneys and/or Other Professionals to address specific needs and interests of the clients and emotional roadblocks, gather necessary information, plan goals, and make initial agreements.
- Meet with professionals separately to complete divorce tasks such as with coaches to address emotional issues or craft a parenting plan; with the financial neutral to work on budgets, tax consequences, asset and income distribution; or with a child specialist to address needs and concerns of the children.
- Follow-up joint meetings with attorneys and multidisciplinary team to review, tweak where necessary, and solidify agreements, draft paperwork, and review and weigh alternatives as the case proceeds.
- Sign Paperwork and Complete the Process by signing the final settlement documents, including a confidential settlement agreement and/or the final document necessary for court, the judgment of divorce.
- Attorneys File Paperwork to start the case through the court, without relying on the court for any decisions or intervention other than what is necessary to legally finalize the divorce.
The Collaborative Divorce Process is flexible and often more cost effective than the traditional adversarial divorce case in court. This process is governed by the needs and interests of the parties rather than a court docket and is tailored to meet each individual family's particular aspirations. The focus is on future success of the family rather than mired in the present conflict of the divorce itself. Parties walk away more satisfied because they control the process and pace, have the time and ability to consider alternatives, and exercise their own self-determination resulting in more durable agreements.
For important life transitions such as divorce and future parenting issues, Attorney Danielle Smith believes the Collaborative Process can bring about the most effective, satisfying and enduring results for clients by helping them to appropriately resolve conflicts and preserve important relationships, not only with the restructuring of the nuclear family, but with other relatives and friends. At Michigan Divorce Options, we encourage and nurture a close relationship with our clients by providing honest communication, information on all available alternatives and the consideration of the future rather than enflaming the inherent turmoil and pain of divorce. Contact us today to discuss these options.