Collaborative Divorce: Divorce with less discord

Working together to cross the finish line.

Working together Collaborative Divorce

There is no one way to divorce. Once you’ve decided to end your marriage, you do have options.

Most people will think first of “traditional” divorce: one spouse versus the other, going to battle in court. This is often seen as a zero-sum process, each side fighting for a victory over the other. Traditional divorce is a tug of war.

By contrast, Collaborative Divorce is a three-legged race. Couples opting for this approach acknowledge the simple truth that they share the common goal of reaching a mutually beneficial arrangement and moving on with their lives. Achieving a common goal is much easier when both parties work together, coordinate efforts, and agree that the problem, and not the other person, is the enemy. In fact, in a successful Collaborative Divorce, there are no enemies.

How does it work?

Collaborative Divorce is a legal process codified in North Carolina to help families resolve their divorce issues outside of a courtroom in the most peaceful way possible. It involves an interest-based negotiation instead of tactics that pit you against your spouse. It requires full disclosure of relevant information to help you make the best possible decisions about your finances and your children. And the attorneys agree to limit their work to settlement. The point of Collaborative Divorce is to avoid the time, expense, and destruction of the typical divorce process.

    Collaborative Divorce benefits

    Chances are you know someone who’s been through a traditional divorce. While both parties may agree they no longer wish to be married, the common ground often ends there. Traditional tug-of-war divorces tend to be more emotionally draining, take longer to resolve, and cost both spouses a significant amount of money. Agreeing to a Collaborative Divorce can minimize all these issues.

    Benefits of choosing Collaborative Divorce over a traditional divorce can include:

    • Less emotional pain for both parties—and children
    • More control over the process and the decisions
    • No courtrooms or judges
    • Quicker resolutions
    • Protects co-parenting relationships
    • More productive communication, less useless arguing
    • Privacy: your personal and financial information does not become public record
    • Less expensive

    Download Tre Morgan’s academic article, “Interdisciplinary Collaborative Divorce: A Process for Effective Dispute Resolution”

      Your initial questions, answered

      What are some other advantages of Collaborative Divorce?

      Custom Tailored Resolutions: The process allows the parties to agree to solutions that are not available in court. Judges are strictly limited by the laws of their state when making decisions. These laws are frequently “one size fits all” solutions. However, the parties are free to adopt solutions in the Collaborative Divorce process that a judge is not allowed to order. These solutions are tailor made for you and your family’s particular needs and situation.

      Protection of Children: Perhaps the most important benefit of Collaborative Divorce is the preservation of the co-parenting relationship. For parties that have children together, becoming enemies is not an option. Once parents become enemies, they lose the ability to effectively parent their children. And tremendous damage is inflicted on their kids. Collaborative Divorce preserves and even strengthens the co-parenting relationship by teaching the parties to communicate in a respectful, effective manner. Litigation and lawsuits simply encourage yelling at each other while standing behind a lawyer.

      Is Collaborative Divorce encouraged by North Carolina Courts?

      Collaborative Divorce is established, regulated and protected by North Carolina law (it is a “statutory process,” in legalese). Sections 70 through 82 of Chapter 50 of North Carolina’s statutes provide the legal requirements for lawyers, judges, and parties involved in the Collaborative Process. North Carolina’s judges will put a case on hold for people who want to resolve their dispute collaboratively.

      What do the steps look like?

      The Collaborative Divorce process involves the parties and their family law attorneys working together to resolve their divorce or family law conflict outside of court. Collaborative Divorce involves the following steps:

      1. Information gathering: This involves assembling and reviewing financial information and information about children’s’ needs.
      2. Identifying the parties’ interests and needs: This involves identifying what each party truly needs in order to move forward, including financial, parenting and scheduling needs.
      3. Brainstorming potential resolutions: Both parties and attorneys discuss possible solutions together.
      4. Selecting resolutions: Possible solutions are evaluated and eliminated until the best solutions are identified.
      5. Executing a legal agreement: This can take the form of a binding Separation Agreement, parenting plan or other agreement that formalizes the agreed resolution.

      Do I have to go to court?

      No. Collaborative Divorce takes place outside of court. In fact, the attorneys must agree that they will not represent their client in court. This ensures that everybody is invested in making the process work. And the attorneys cannot gain financially by pushing their clients to file a lawsuit.

      Do I need a family law attorney?

      Yes. Collaborative Divorce involves the use of an attorney by each party. That attorney represents and advises their client in the process. Attorneys should have advanced specific training to participate in a Collaborative Divorce case.

      How is it different than mediation or going to court?

      The heart of the process is the Collaborative Law Agreement. This is a written agreement that the clients and the attorneys sign. The agreement requires each party and attorney to be honest, to play fair, to not hide information, to be respectful towards the other party and to earnestly cooperate in good faith in resolving the legal issues at hand. Mediation and litigation do not offer these assurances. The process itself involves a series of face-to-face conferences with both parties and their attorneys. The sessions typically last a couple of hours. The early sessions are used to gather necessary financial, scheduling, or other information needed to identify issues. They are also used to identify the needs and interests of the parties so that everyone knows what issues must be addressed. In essence we’ll be attacking the issues, not each other.

      Why is it a different kind of negotiation?

      A unique aspect of Collaborative Divorce is that it is based on addressing the interests of the parties, instead of the demands of the parties. This is called “interest based” negotiation, as opposed to position based negotiation. You may have read about interest based negotiation in the book GETTING TO YES. Interest based negotiation allows the parties to identify the reasons behind a party’s demands. Addressing and satisfying these interests leads to better, faster, more enduring and more effective resolutions.

      What is interest-based negotiation?

      The best example of interest-based negotiation is the Orange Auction game. In this game, the players are buyers at an auction of oranges. Unbeknownst to each other, each player only needs one part of the orange; one needs the peel, one needs the juice, and one needs the seeds. So, no one needs the whole orange. However, everybody thinks that they need all the oranges. As the game plays out, the players bid higher and higher amounts to secure what they think they need. Then, eventually, one of the players thinks to ask why the other players need the oranges. Only then do the players realize that they can split the oranges and each get what they need, while paying less and spending less time at the auction.


      In terms of Collaborative Divorce, the lesson is that you can only really get everybody what they want if you find out what they really need. Instead of focusing on everybody’s threats and positions (e.g. “I want the house,” “I want sole custody”), the parties and attorneys focus on the parties’ needs (e.g. “I need somewhere to live,” “I want to protect my relationship with the kids”).

      Do I still get a Separation Agreement?

      The end result of a Collaborative Divorce is the same as any other domestic case that is settled outside of court; the parties reach and sign a Separation Agreement, Co-Parenting Agreement or other written agreement that resolves the issues.

      What’s the bottom line on Collaborative Divorce?

      The bottom line is that Collaborative Divorce is generally faster, cheaper, more dignified and more effective than going to court. If you want to effectively resolve your family law issues in less time, for less cost and with less emotional trauma to everyone involved, then you owe it to yourself to contact a Collaborative Divorce attorney.

      If the idea of Collaborative Divorce sounds preferable to an ugly drawn-out court battle, contact Tré Morgan to learn more.