Collaborative Law & Divorce

If you and your spouse desire to obtain a divorce without the cost, stress, and hostility of litigation, but still need assistance agreeing upon the division of assets, support, custody, and/or parenting time, then a Collaborative Divorce may be the ideal solution.

After several years of practicing family law via the traditional divorce model whereby the parties looked to the Court to litigate and resolve all impasses to settlement, attorney Bradford L. Bennett became a trained and certified Collaborative Law attorney to provide many of his divorce clients a better option.

Traditional divorces are frequently inefficient, drawn-out, public, and expensive. Resolutions are commonly obtained through some form of Court intervention which are inequitable and vary depending on the Court and even the judge.

A Collaborative Divorce is a revolutionary, cutting-edge form of family law in which the parties, and not the Court, control the process, timeline, and most importantly, the outcome. Parties that are suitable candidates for a Collaborative Divorce agree to resolve all disagreements through the collaborative process rather than go to Court.

Brad is not only a certified Collaborative Law attorney, but he’s also a trained mediator and an experienced litigator who has brought hundreds of cases to successful resolution through negotiation, and the pre-trial process, as well as multi-day evidentiary trials.

Why is this important? Brad not only possesses the skills of an effective negotiator, but he his litigation experience allows him to provide his clients with an accurate idea of what would otherwise be equitable in Court.

A Collaborative Divorce not only gives the parties more control, it weeds out those unscrupulous and non-collaboratively trained attorneys by removing the financial incentive found in the traditional divorce model to charge added legal fees by unnecessarily engaging in overly-burdensome discovery or resolving issues in Court.

If you are familiar with Collaborative Law and Divorce and believe you are a candidate, please do not hesitate to contact Brad at (312) 788-2770. If you want to learn more about a Collaborative Divorce and whether it can benefit you and your family, please continue reading.

What is a Collaborative Divorce and why is it beneficial for many divorcing couples?

In short, a Collaborative Divorce is a method of dispute resolution that utilizes the Collaborative Law process, whereby all issues are resolved through a series of meetings involving both parties, their attorneys, a “Financial Specialist”, a “Child Specialist” (assuming there are children), and a “Divorce Coach”, collectively called the “Team”.

As more fully explained below, by involving specialists in addition to attorneys in a Collaborative Divorce, all participants have a defined, non-overlapping role based on their expertise. This regularly results in a superior outcome as well as happier parties.

Although counterintuitive due to the involvement of these added individuals, Collaborative Divorce is frequently more cost-effective and cheaper than the traditional divorce model.

By design, the privacy of the parties and their children is better protected in a Collaborative Divorce, where all disputes are resolved in-house by the Team rather than in Court. Since there is a transparent, voluntary, and honest exchange of information, formal discovery tools such as depositions, subpoenas, and interrogatories are not needed. The only necessary Court appearance occurs after a global agreement is reached, which then must be approved by the Court in order to finalize the divorce.

The Team

As in a traditional divorce, each party retains an attorney to advocate on their behalf. However, in a Collaborative Divorce, each party’s attorney (ideally) is trained in the area of Collaborative Law in order to effectively participate in the negotiation process while also advocating for their client. Unlike a traditional divorce, the parties then retain a Financial Specialist and if they have minor children, a Child Specialist as well. Rounding out the Team is the Divorce Coach, a mental health professional, who manages the parties, their attorneys, and the specialists. As “neutrals”, the Financial Specialist, the Child Specialist, and the Divorce Coach are not biased, nor do they advocate for either party.

The Role of the Financial Specialist

Since the collaborative process is completely transparent and non-adversarial, the parties’ Financial Specialist is able to gather information freely and speak to both parties openly about their income, expenses, assets, debts, and liabilities, often outside the presence (and added cost) of their attorney. Financial Specialists are not only trained as Collaborative Law professionals, but they must also be a financial expert, such as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Certified Financial Planner (CFP), and/or a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA).

In a traditional divorce, the parties’ attorneys and their staff are likely not trained in a financial or tax specialty. Yet, each party in a traditional divorce is nonetheless paying their respective attorney to do exactly that: obtain, review, and assess financial information. Not only is this a duplication of effort, but many attorneys are not qualified to give financial or tax advice. By hiring one Financial Specialist, the parties are often able to save money by alleviating the need to pay two attorneys to each do the same task.

The Role of the Child Specialist

Likewise, most attorneys are not mental health professionals qualified to determine what’s in the best interest of their client’s children. In a Collaborative Divorce, all Child Specialists are mental health professionals such as psychiatrists, psychologists, or licensed clinical social workers (LCSW) who have also been trained in the Collaborative Law process.

A divorce can be a very traumatic experience for a child and parents often need guidance on how to navigate such matters as the physical break-up of the family, parenting time (f/k/a visitation), and making decisions with an ex-spouse (f/k/a legal custody). In a Collaborative Divorce, a Child Specialist is utilized to provide expertise in such matters through discussions with the parties and their children. These specialists also assist each parent in the formation of their “Allocation Judgment and Parenting Plan” which is necessary in all divorces involving minor children.

Due to the involvement of the Child Specialist, parents and their children are often highly satisfied with the outcome and more likely to follow their Allocation Judgment and Parenting Plan post-divorce.

The Role of the Divorce Coach

Managing it all is the Divorce Coach. Just like their name suggests, the Divorce Coach coordinates with the parties, their attorneys, and the specialists. They resolve conflicts that frequently threaten to stall the process. The Divorce Coach also coordinates when and which members of the Team should meet in order to streamline the process and keep fees reasonable. For example, if the parties are meeting with the Financial Specialist, the presence of the attorneys or Child Specialist will likely not be necessary. Similarly, if the purpose of a meeting is to determine parenting time of the children, the presence of the Financial Specialist is not needed.

Just like the Child Specialist, the Divorce Coach is also a mental health professional uniquely trained to handle the displeasure, anger, frustration, anxiety, and sadness that is all too common in divorce. Although all family law attorneys become de facto therapists at times due to the nature of their work, they are not qualified mental health professionals who are trained to emotionally counsel their clients through a divorce.

The Role of the Attorney

By utilizing experts to 1) determine the financial wherewithal of the parties, 2) clarify what’s in the best interests of their children, and 3) manage the emotional aspect of a divorce, the parties’ attorneys are free to focus on what they are trained to do.

For example, as a Collaborative Law attorney, Bradford L. Bennett’s duties for his clients in a Collaborative Divorce are as follows:

  • To negotiate, collaborate, and communicate with the other Collaborative Law professionals;
  • To skillfully advocate on behalf of his clients;
  • To not only understand the law, but know how the recent overhaul of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act could affect his clients;
  • To knowledgeably advise his clients in order to obtain an equitable outcome;
  • To draft all legal documents; and
  • Once a global settlement is reached, to accompany his clients to Court to finalize their divorces.

What happens if my spouse and I cannot come to an agreement in a Collaborative Divorce?

As indicated initially, not all divorcing couples are suitable candidates for a Collaborative Divorce. If you or your spouse has little to no interest in a commitment to work out all the issues in the Collaborative Law process outside of Court, then you are not a candidate.

Additionally, once the parties have committed themselves to a Collaborative Divorce, they cannot simply instruct their attorney to go to Court upon reaching the first impasse with their spouse. In order to formally engage in a Collaborative Divorce, both parties and their attorneys must sign what’s known as a “Participation Agreement”.

This Agreement, in part, requires each attorney and the rest of the Team to immediately discontinue representation of the parties should the process fail. The parties are then free to go to Court, but they must hire new counsel to do so. The condition of the Team’s disqualification is an absolute requirement for a Collaborative Divorce which aims to incentivize the parties to commit to the process should disagreements later arise.

If you are interested in learning more about Collaborative Law and whether you are a candidate for a Collaborative Divorce, please do not hesitate to contact Brad at (312) 788-2770.