There are two commonly used forums for divorce: collaborative law, and civil law. Collaborative law allows each party to hire a lawyer and meet peacefully with the other party to make decisions about joint assets, while the other turns all decision making over to the court. A simple comparison of the two models should make it easy for every couple to decide which method of divorce resolution is right for their particular situation.
Divorces resolved through collaborative law are significantly less expensive than those that go to court. The only costs associated with a collaborative law choice are the lawyer retainer fees and the cost of finalizing the divorce, or filing the collaborative contract, and divorce agreement, with the court. Divorce court, on the other hand, requires both parties to pay retainer fees, multiple filing fees, courier fees, and more. A study of 200 divorces found that collaborative law divorces had an average cost of $19,000, while those litigated generally cost in excess of $26,000.
Couples who use collaborative law to negotiate their divorce maintain more control over their assets, and their custody issues, than those who go through the court system. In the collaborative method, how much child support is paid, how real estate is divided, how parenting issues are handled and other very personal issues are a matter of contractual agreement. They are divided according to the desires and creative terms reached by the two parties. In contrast, those who use a civil court to determine the terms of their divorce have no such control over their assets. Child support is determined by a set mathematical equation, designed by the state. Assets are divided equally, regardless of the couple’s desires, in short how everything is divided is determined by the judge’s rule rather than the involved parties’ desires.
Kathleen Mills, expert on collaborative law, reminds those considering collaborative divorce that “it isn’t right for everyone.” She warns that “if there is any volatility, it [collaborative divorce] won’t be the best vehicle” for divorce. While collaborative divorces are less stressful and more convenient than a court-ordered division of assets, some people simply cannot go through the process. Mills recommends collaborative divorce for those who have “nothing left to fight over, per se.” Couples who are still combative, relationships in which one party is over-controlling, abusive or intimidating, couples with complex financial issues, spouses who are not communicating well, or at all, and situations where one spouse is missing, will need to divorce using the traditional court setting.
The time involved in working through the divorce process is considerably slower when it has to go through the courts. Statistics show that collaborative law can resolve a divorce in 24 weeks or less, while traditional divorces may take over a year to complete. This reduces the number of days each party has to take off work, by limiting a couple to four to six formal meetings to negotiate the terms of the divorce contract. It also allows a couple to schedule the meetings at a convenient time, rather than relying on the court to schedule hearings.
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