Not all marriages end in flames. For some couples, the relationship reaches a finish, and yet they continue to get along well enough for the separation and divorce to be resolved without going through a messy divorce trial in Family Court. In Maryland, collaborative divorce is an excellent option to consider for parties who believe they can work productively with their spouse to come to an agreement about the dissolution of the marriage.
What is Collaborative Divorce?
While the name seems to say it all, the term actually refers to a specific process that is available with the help of professionals trained in collaborative divorce. Each party hires an attorney, and together, they agree to a third, neutral attorney to help facilitate the process. Unlike a trial that has a judge who makes the decisions, collaborative divorce is an alternative dispute resolution process where the parties have complete control over the terms of their divorce agreement. With guidance from the collaborative divorce attorneys, the parties reach decisions and compromises about the many details that go into a divorce, including child support, spousal support, division of assets, and child visitation.
Who is on the Collaborative Divorce team?
In addition to attorneys trained in collaborative divorce, the parties also work together to hire professionals to help with some of the more complex aspects of the divorce. These professionals include collaboratively trained financial experts to help with support and asset division. Mental health professionals also can participate, providing individual and couples’ counseling, as well as assessing the emotional needs of any children that might impact custody and visitation. It may seem like a lot of cooks in the kitchen, but in a divorce trial, these same types of professionals would be retained as experts.
How does it work?
Couples who agree to do a collaborative divorce first retain their respective attorneys, and then they work together to find the neutral attorney. Although much of the work of the divorce can be done through email and letter exchanges, there are generally several in-person meetings with the needed professionals to iron out specific terms. Once the parties have reached an agreement on the terms, the attorneys take care of filing the legal request for a divorce. The parties can proceed under the Mutual Consent Divorce provision in the Maryland Family Law Code. The agreement is reviewed by a judge, who generally approves of the terms since the experienced attorneys will have included and addressed the necessary issues.
Seems expensive …
Multiple lawyers and other professionals, a series of meetings … it sounds like a lot of money. The reality is that there are a lot of complexities in a divorce, and the professionals help get the parties to a fair decision using their experience and expertise. The process usually takes months, where a family court divorce trial can last for years. The expense of a trial is multiple times the cost of a collaborative process, and often adds to the anger, hurt, and distrust. On the other hand, a collaborative process helps the parties remain cordial and able to continue to work together, which is particularly important when there are children.
Is it binding?
Until the Maryland Family Court judge approves of the agreement, the parties are not legally bound to any of the terms reached in a collaborative process. Sometimes, collaborative does not work because the parties find compromise too difficult. If this is the case, they simply call a stop to the process and proceed with an ordinary divorce case in court.
For couples who believe that they can work together to reach the terms of their divorce, collaborative divorce in Maryland is an excellent way to make sure that both parties have guidance from a team of professionals who are motivated to help them reach an amicable resolution.