Collaborative law has been gaining popularity as an alternative means of ending marriages in Illinois. Those familiar with both collaborative law and traditional divorce methods note that collaborative divorce offers substantial benefits to those who choose to use collaboration for ending their marriages rather than resorting to litigation.

What Is Collaborative Law?

The defining characteristic of collaborative law is that the parties involved and their attorneys are dedicated to the idea that they will avoid litigation, using cooperative dispute resolution methods instead of adversarial methods. The parties and their lawyers sign participation agreements stating that if the parties are unable to reach a negotiated settlement, the attorneys will withdraw from the case and the parties will need to seek new representation for litigation. The agreement also prevents either party from starting litigation while the parties are negotiating.

The participation agreement also sets guidelines for the way the parties will behave during the negotiation process. The agreement usually states that both parties will negotiate in good faith using their resources to solve problems in a peaceful way. Additionally, the agreement usually includes language that the parties are committed to the best interests of their children and will work to ensure that both parents maintain relationships with their children.

The parties and their lawyers meet several times to help identify the issues that the couple needs to resolve before they can finalize a divorce settlement. Those participating in collaborative divorce utilize the services of neutral experts to help resolve problems between the two parties if necessary, such as accountants, therapists or coaches.

How Is Collaboration Different from Mediation?

Collaborative divorce is different from mediation because of the commitment that everyone involved in the process has to resolve issues outside of court. Those who choose mediation may wish to try to resolve matters without litigation, but they are not bound to do so in the same way that those who choose collaborative divorce are.

Another important difference between collaboration and mediation is that in mediation people are approaching issues from positions they hold, and the mediator tries to get them to “meet in the middle” to reach agreements they can both accept. Collaborative divorce requires the couple to identify their interests and negotiate issues with the idea of advancing their interests, not maintaining positions.

Why Choose Collaborative Law?

Experts point out that collaborative divorce can provide many benefits for those who go through the process. Couples who used collaboration to end their marriages report better relationships with their ex-spouses and fewer feelings of hostility or resentment. People often feel more satisfied with the settlements they reach during collaboration, since they had a hand in reaching the agreements rather than having a judge dictate the terms. In many cases, collaboration is less expensive and less time-consuming than litigation, as well.

If you are considering divorce, speak with an Illinois family law attorney trained in collaborative law who can discuss your situation with you and help you decide if collaborative divorce is right for your circumstances.