Weddings are big business. Industries engaged in helping a couple orchestrate a blissful big day to kick off their union generate billions in revenue each year. It’s customary for couples to plan together to create their dream wedding, hopefully followed by a fantastic honeymoon and happily ever after.
What if couples similarly planned how to go their separate ways? It’s not commonplace for quarreling spouses to put painful feelings aside and work as a team. However, collaborative divorce shows that spouses (and their children) can immensely benefit from jointly making decisions impacting the future of the family, even when the future entails separate households.
Though it’s rather quietly been around for a long time without much fanfare, collaborative divorce is currently one of the biggest trends in family law together with other alternative dispute options. This summer, the Pennsylvania Collaborative Law Act was signed into law, creating a uniform standard of practice in Pennsylvania for collaborative divorces for the first time and lending an extra measure of legal clout to a process that has long been well-regarded in the legal community.
How can collaborative divorce help a couple map out an uncertain future? Some key elements addressed in the Pennsylvania Collaborative Law Act include:
- Each spouse is represented by an attorney and enters into a participation agreement with the goal of resolving all issues pertaining to the divorce without going to court.
- Attorneys and other professionals involved in the collaborative process undergo rigorous training, learning to diffuse conflict and foster a respectful environment that promotes open communication. In my firm, we’ve actually encouraged our attorneys to be collaboratively trained irrespective of their intention to handle collaborative cases because the skills learned in collaborative training are incredibly valuable and enhance our work in our cases generally.
- The parties, their attorneys and a collaborative coach meet to address all elements of the divorce, including custody, support and the division of property.
- Frequently the parties engage the assistance of other collaboratively trained professionals such as tax accountants, forensic CPAs, financial planners, parenting coaches and counselors who are jointly retained by the parties to provide them with information that aids in decision-making.
- Aside from filing the divorce complaint and decree, the collaborative process is completely private.
- Collaborative divorce has the additional benefits of being more efficient and less costly than litigated matters. Since a settlement is reached there are no appeals! I also find there are virtually no enforcement issues once an agreement is reached since it is a result of a joint effort rather than one person being strong- armed to settle out of his or her comfort zone. There are minimal filing fees other than a simple Complaint in Divorce. The process is scheduled around the parties’ needs and time frames and realistically can happen in as quickly as four months.
- The parties agree at the outset of the process that, should they fail to negotiate a resolution, they will each be required to retain new counsel at new law firms for any subsequent litigation. This required provision in the participation agreement is designed to help each party and their respective attorneys trust that all participants are fully committed to a satisfactory resolution of the collaborative process. If this withdrawal provision is not contained in a participation agreement, the process is not truly a collaborative one in the technical sense.
Collaborative law is an ideal course if both parties want to avoid the courtroom and maintain family harmony. Many times the process results in creative solutions, which may not be available through the traditional divorce process, benefiting both the divorcing spouses and any children involved.
Collaborative law facilitates a separation that is civil and cultivates healthy communication between the divorcing spouses both now and in the future, which benefits the entire family. A more amicable split can lead to less tension at future milestone events, like graduations, marriages and births.
I truly believe alternative dispute resolution methods such as those outlined in the Collaborative Law Act comprise the future of family law. Pennsylvania has joined 18 states by codifying the constructive and positive process of collaborative law to help spouses resolve differences and move forward on their individual journeys.
Candice L. Komar is a founding partner of the Pittsburgh-based family law firm Pollock Begg Komar Glasser & Vertz. She is a certified mediator also trained in collaborative law. With more than two decades of family law litigation under her belt, Komar is viewed as a strong negotiator outside the courtroom as well.