1. Orientation Session
In the Collaborative Divorce Process, every family is considered unique and deserving of a process and solution uniquely tailored to their needs. The Collaborative Process keeps the focus on best outcomes for all family members during and after the process. The orientation session is an opportunity for the clients to learn about the Collaborative Process from a participating professional attorney. However, clients will not receive specific legal, emotional, or financial advice at this meeting. The length of this meeting is typically 30 minutes.
- Explanation of the Collaborative Process options and how each supports families facing separation or divorce.
- Explain the roles of professional team members.
- Instruct the clients on how to start the Collaborative Process, if appropriate.
- What the clients will need to bring: Questions.
Starting the Collaborative Process: The first step in starting the Collaborative Process is to identify and formally engage the professionals who will work with each partner. The clients will be provided with information about the attorneys participating in Collaborative Law. Each spouse will engage their own attorney while completing the Collaborative Process. That attorney will only represent them and be their advocate. At the same time, the clients will be given a list of financial documents to gather. After the team has been retained, the clients will meet with their attorneys to sign the Collaborative Commitment Agreement and to share financial information.
2. 1st 4-way: Collaborative Commitment Agreement Signing Meeting with Attorneys
In this two-hour meeting with the attorneys, the Collaborative Commitment Agreement(also known as the Pledge) will be reviewed and signed. The clients and their attorneys will commit to adhering to the principles stated in the agreement which includes:
- Full disclosure of all information relevant to decisions which need to be made.
- Problem-solving without misrepresentations, bluffs, threats, or coercive negotiations tactics.
- The use of neutral experts.
- Making their best effort to keep their children out of any conflicts the clients may have.
- Keeping the process confidential, which means not to use statements made in the process in any legal proceeding.
- Limiting the representation of the attorneys to the Collaborative Divorce Process. This means the attorneys agree never to litigate against either partner in any family dispute in the future.
- Disqualifying the attorneys, Coaches, Child Specialist, and any neutral consultants as witnesses and that any written materials generated during the process will be inadmissible as evidence in future litigation Next a joint Mission Statement for the process will be created. This Mission Statement will begin each subsequent meeting and will help to keep the purpose both clients have agreed to the forefront in everyone’s mind. Questions will continue to be collected here and some will be answered in this forum. Once the Mission Statement is established, three information gathering paths begin in parallel – Parenting Plan, Financial Plan, and Relationship Plan. The next primary task of the first joint meeting with the attorneys is to review the initial financial information. The clients will have been given instructions on the documents they need to collect and provide to the attorneys prior to this meeting. Four complete sets of financial documents will be assembled into four identical notebooks, one for each spouse and one for each attorney. The documents will be reviewed and typically an inventory of marital property will be created at the meeting. Also at this meeting, instructions are given for beginning the process of projecting monthly expenses and income to clarify the financial needs of each household.
*** After joint meetings, Coaches or attorneys (as applicable) will contact their respective clients to debrief the meeting. This is an opportunity to hone the process and make sure all participants are continuing along the same path. The professionals involved will engage in brief debrief meetings to assure the team is collaborating at its best.
3. Initial Meetings with Coaches (if applicable)
Each client will meet with their respective Coach to accomplish the following tasks:
- Clarify goals and objectives the client wishes to meet in the process.
- Capture questions and issues the client wants to cover in future meetings.
- Assess communication skills and style.
- Teach a basic communication technique for use in future joint sessions when communication becomes difficult.
- Teach brainstorming skills as needed in preparation for the decision making sessions later in the process.
- Prepare for the first 4-way meeting with both clients and both Coaches. Depending on the case, this may take more than one meeting to accomplish. The Coach and client will determine what is needed to be ready for the first joint meeting including the Coaches.
4. Parenting Plan Information Gathering In the Collaborative Divorce Process, the parents decide upon their Parenting Plan, not a judge or a custody evaluator.
In this meeting, the clients will brainstorm ideas for how to share parenting time into the future. The clients will decide a plan with which to move forward. This plan will include, but is not limited to:
- Assignment to one or both parents of decision-making responsibility.
- An on-duty/off-duty parenting schedule; concerning the health and education of the children.
- An agreed set of standards of conduct for the parenting relationship.
- A plan for work or education-related childcare if needed.
- A plan for holidays and school vacations.
- A plan for future dispute resolution outside of court. Depending on the case, this may take more than one meeting to accomplish.
**The parents may also have the benefit of hearing from the children and having the children participate in their conversations through the neutral Child Specialist. If engaged, the Child Specialist provides a voice for the children in the conversations about how best to parent the children from two households. The Child Specialist does not prepare a custody evaluation or provide a custody opinion as happens in litigation. Rather, the Child Specialist will meet with both parents individually to gather their perceptions of each child involved in the process. Social-Emotional and Behavioral inventories may be used to gather more objective data. Each child will be seen individually generally in one to two meetings. If necessary, information from school systems may be requested to round out the picture of each child. When the Child Specialist has completed their information gathering, he or she will call a 5-way conference with the clients and their respective attorneys. This 5-way conference will be where clients inform the clients of the feedback about how their children are doing and what needs the children have that could influence the Parenting Plan.
5. Asset Division and Financial Support Once the clients have established their Parenting Plan
The clients will work with their attorneys and Financial Specialist(if involved), to complete their Financial Plan. This will generally involve one to two joint meetings with the clients and their attorneys, as well as separate meetings with one spouse and his or her respective attorney as needed between the four-way meetings. In some cases where conflict is significant, it may be advisable to have the Coaches attend these meetings. Prior to these meetings, the clients and the professionals will discuss what is needed. The tasks for these meetings include:
- Asset and debt distribution plan.
- A Cash Flow plan (for meeting financial needs of both spouses and the children).
- Plan for meeting children’s financial needs.
- Medical care coverage plan.
6. Relational Planning along the way
Each plan will include ideas about how the clients will interact post separation or divorce, about each aspect.
7. Final Steps
Once the clients have agreed upon a Parenting Plan, Financial Plan, and Relational Plan, the attorneys jointly prepare the legal documents necessary to capture these agreements pursuant to North Carolina law. Drafts of the legal documents will be distributed to the clients and the team members for review. Once comments and corrections have been received, a final meeting with the attorneys will be held to review and sign the legal documents, completing the process. If the clients have been separated for a year, as required by North Carolina law in order to divorce, the clients may ask the attorneys to institute the necessary divorce proceeding to have a divorce decree issued.
**A Note about Reconciliation; Clients sometimes use Collaborative Team Process to help correct financial or relational dysfunction before the marriage is irreparably harmed. In these cases, both marriage partners approach Collaborative Process with the express desire to renew the marriage. When this purpose is expressed by both marriage partners, the Team assists the family in much the same way as any other collaborative case. A plan is designed for the renewal of the marriage and the family life, through an improved Financial Plan, Parenting Plan, and Relational Plan with appropriate referrals made for therapeutic intervention. Finally, tasks are assigned and deadline dates are established as part of the reconciliation plan. However, it is not necessary to file any written agreements or documentation with the Court.