So, more and more people are coming around to the fact that collaborative divorce is a more sensible approach to resolving private family issues than the traditional courtroom divorce. However, a comment that I frequently hear when discussing collaborative divorce with those not familiar with the process is that it is only for the very wealthy. Not only attorneys, but also a collaborative facilitator and financial professional are retained, so only the very rich can utilize the collaborative model, right?
According to a four year study conducted by the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, 87% of female participants and 47% of male participants of collaborative cases make less than $100,000.
Though the collaborative model will not be the cheapest model in all cases, it has a substantial opportunity to cost less than traditional trial practice for several reasons.
First, one of the most emotional and costliest issues in family law matters is child custody. Attorneys in traditional litigated cases tend to draft questions to be answered under oath, set depositions, conduct research to not only put their client in the best possible light but to put the opposing party in the worst possible light, and prepare for trial. The attorneys’ fees for each of these actions add up quite quickly. On the other hand, all of these costs can be greatly reduced in a collaborative case with the inclusion of facilitators, who are generally trained mental health professionals, as they are able to cut through the clutter of emotionally-charged issues and bring the parties (and attorneys) to focus on the future and best interests of the children.
Similarly, the inclusion of a financial professional creates tremendous cost-savers. For example, in traditional litigation cases, attorneys often draft requests that the opposing party provide reams of financial documents which could conceivably be relevant, and, once provided, the attorney can spend countless billable hours meticulously combing through the documents. In contrast, in collaborative divorces, financial professionals will request documents that are tailor-made for this matter, and their familiarity and understanding of finances enable them to review and assess the documents and develop settlement options more quickly than attorneys.
Further, the fact is that the vast majority of litigation cases eventually settle. However, because trial remains an option, in litigation practice lawyers always must have cases run on two tracks: (i) reach out and attempt to come to settlement with the opposing party while (ii) always preparing to fight it out in court in the event that settlement is not reached. In collaborative divorce, attorneys are retained solely for the purpose of settlement, and so they are not expending the extra time and resources planning for a court battle.
So, is collaborative divorce only for rich people? The answer is a resounding “no,” and you should speak with a trained collaborative professional to find out how this process can help you and your family.
Adam B. Cordover is a family law attorney and 2014 President of the Next Generation Divorce.