Collaborative divorce—sometimes referred to as “friendly divorce”—has been an option for Texans since 2001. The goal of collaborative divorce is to help couples work out their problems together, in good faith and outside of the courtroom. The collaborative process does work well for some couples, but it isn’t the best option for everyone.
Wondering if the collaborative route is right for you? Read on to learn more about the collaborative process and the pros and cons of collaborative divorce in Texas.
Where did collaborative law originate?
Frustrated with the litigious nature of the traditional divorce, Minnesota divorce attorney Stuart Webb founded the collaborative law process in 1990, and other family law attorneys soon followed suit. Their philosophy was pretty straightforward: Both spouses and their individual attorneys would sign a contract committing to negotiate sensibly and in good faith, and if the case ended up in court, both attorneys would pull out of the case.
How does collaborative divorce work in Texas?
For the most part, Texas collaborative divorce follows the same basic philosophy established by the Minnesota attorneys. Each spouse comes to the table, in a neutral setting, with his or her attorney. During these sessions, the parties identify their goals and concerns, then work together to come to an agreement on a financial settlement, division of assets, spousal support, child custody and other concerns.
In order to determine a fair and equitable division of property and spousal support, some couples invite specialists to help analyze the financial side of things. A family counselor may also enter the mix, especially when children are involved.
Collaborative divorce in Texas usually involves less paperwork than a litigated divorce. Ultimately, three pleadings must be filed with the court, including the original petition, the collaborative law participation agreement and the final divorce decree. This can be a plus for couples that want to keep the details of their divorce as private as possible.
When is collaborative divorce a good option in Texas?
At our Fort Worth family law firm, we’re very cautious about recommending collaborative divorce. In order for the process to work well, both sides really need to be committed to working things out fairly. In most cases, it’s also best if both sides are on an equal playing field financially and emotionally.
For example, collaborative divorce may be a good option for two high-earning breadwinners who agree they each want to keep their own money and their private matters out of the courts. The two parties should also have a clear, fundamental idea regarding how to divide their assets fairly. They just need help negotiating the legal details of the settlement, so they can move on.
When isn’t collaborative divorce a good option in Texas?
During the collaborative process, the couple and their attorneys keep meeting and negotiating until they agree on a resolution. If there are any sticking points, a judge can’t come in to rule one way or the other. This can be problematic from both a time and cost perspective. The case could continue to drag out and legal fees could skyrocket, especially if the couple decides to scrap the collaborative process and head to court with new divorce attorneys.
If you’re on the short end of the stick financially—say your husband is a high wage earner and you’re a stay-at-home mom—the collaborative approach may be risky for you financially. Spousal support is very limited in the state of Texas, so if you’re looking for a big payout and he says no, you’d be stuck because there’s no judge to “break the tie.” Again, the case could end up dragging out, and you could end up in litigation anyway.
When domestic violence has been an issue, collaborative divorce usually isn’t a good idea either. Not only would you have to sit across the table from a person who has abused and intimidated you, but it’s also unlikely that the abuser would want to work things out fairly or peacefully.
We also don’t recommend the collaborative route when substance abuse is an issue. For one thing, you need to be able to rely on the other person to show up so you can finalize decisions about your divorce and any child custody issues. You also won’t have a judge who can order the other party to take steps to get into treatment or risk losing custody or access to certain assets or property.
Hire a divorce attorney who is committed to working cooperatively
At the Sisemore Law Firm in Tarrant County, we believe—and most ethical divorce attorneys agree—that it’s best to take a cooperative approach to divorce, regardless of whether it’s a litigated or collaborative divorce. That means we work proactively with opposing counsel to negotiate deals that are as fair as possible for both sides. In Texas, mediation is also mandated in most divorce cases, so many collaborative components are built-in anyway.
If you live in Tarrant County and want to find out which approach may be best for you, contact us at (817) 336-4444 or schedule a consultation online. Our founder Justin Sisemore would be happy to take a close look at your case and provide recommendations for next steps.