After more than 20 years of litigating divorces, I recently discovered a better way to help families through this process. It is called Collaborative Divorce and it is both less stressful and less costly than traditional litigation. Most important, it allows parents to reduce the negative impact of the divorce on their children and to make the transition to the future a smoother one for the entire family.

Collaborative Divorce gives the clients more control over the process and the outcome. They do not face each other as adversaries in court. Instead, collaboratively trained attorneys help the family resolve financial and custodial issues to meet each party’s individual needs and goals. Parties and their attorneys can create solutions tailored to fit the specific needs of each family.

In a Collaborative Divorce, each party retains a collaboratively trained attorney to provide them with individual advice and to advocate for their needs. The parties also agree to share information openly, to keep communication respectful, and to work toward a joint solution to their issues. Each party confers with his or her attorney, and joint sessions with both parties and their attorneys are also scheduled to discuss the issues in depth. All pertinent financial documents and information are exchanged, but in a less formal way. The parties and their counsel commit in writing not to file anything with the court until all issues are resolved in a written agreement, so there are no court deadlines to meet.

There are no winners or losers since the collaborative process is not adversarial. The goal is to meet each party’s needs, as much as possible, while always making the children’s needs paramount. When financial or child custody experts are needed to assist in resolving issues, they are retained jointly by the parties — saving both time and money.

If communication breaks down, a Divorce Coach or mediator can also be brought into the process to facilitate a resolution. Clients, experts and attorneys all have a vested interest in bringing a collaborative divorce to a successful conclusion because, if the process breaks down, the parties must seek litigation counsel and re-start their divorce.

Collaborative divorce started a little more than 10 years ago but is still relatively new in New Jersey. Clients who have utilized this process praise it for being considerate, fair, and far less stressful than going to court. Clients and their attorneys also like it because they, not the court, can control the timing, pace, and agenda for the joint meetings and can bring their case to a conclusion sooner and at a lower cost. Only after an agreement has been reached will one party’s attorney file a Complaint for Divorce. Shortly thereafter, a court date can be set for the final divorce.

There is no divorce too small or too complex for the Collaborative Process. The solutions to family problems are not restricted by court rules or statutes, but can be molded to fit individual needs of each family. Collaborative divorce participants are more satisfied with their agreements and have fewer post-divorce conflicts, thus reducing stress and saving them from expensive litigation costs in the future.

Further information on Collaborative Divorce is available on my website, www.rkleinerlaw.-com, as well as on www.collaborativepractice.com and on www.mjcla.org, the website for the Middlesex and Mercer County collaborative practitioners.

Risa A. Kleiner, Esq., has been Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Attorney and accredited by the New Jersey Association of Professional Mediators as a mediator. She has practiced family law exclusively for 22 years and has operated her own collaborative family law and mediation practice at 116 Village Boulevard, Suite 200, Princeton, since 2009. She can be reached at 609-951-2222.

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