What's In This Article
Collaborative divorce attorneys work on a specific type of divorce that emphasizes agreement, negotiations, and settlement.
While total agreement on every divorce detail is not required, you should be on the same page as your soon-to-be-ex on at least the significant issues regarding your life as a couple.
If you are in that situation with your divorce, a collaborative divorce attorney might be your best option and is certainly worth exploring.
What Is a Collaborative Divorce Attorney?
A collaborative divorce attorney is a lawyer that specializes in collaborative divorce, which is a legal concept for divorce where both parties agree on issues like the splitting of assets and post-divorce payments. Complete agreement is not necessary, but the willingness to negotiate and compromise is vital to the success of a collaborative divorce process.
When two people accept that their marriage is over and agree on most of the particulars in a divorce, especially the big things that are often contentious, a traditional approach to divorce accomplishes three things:
- It enriches the divorce attorneys (divorces routinely exceed $10,000 for each party for competent legal representation.
- It ensures that a process that could be quick will end up taking much longer.
- It sets up an adversarial environment because that is what the standard divorce attorney is used to working in.
A collaborative divorce allows both spouses to hire a collaborative divorce attorney and enter into a formal agreement to work any issues out while avoiding court.
The collaborative divorce attorney specializes in:
- Negotiations and consensus building
- General counsel regarding divorce, the divorce process, and what to expect
- Drafting agreements that outline each area of agreement between the two parties
- Assessing a divorce and the situation the two parties are in
- Creating solutions to address any areas of disagreement or where their client might not be comfortable
Are Collaborative Divorce Attorneys Different Than Traditional Divorce Attorneys?
The educational and organizational credentials of a collaborative divorce attorney and a regular divorce attorney are the same. The attorney is licensed to practice law in your state, is in good standing with the state and national bar association, graduated from law school, and passed the bar exam.
In addition, a collaborative divorce attorney is an expert in divorce law. They have advised and represented clients in court and negotiations. They have handled settlement negotiations and agreement development. In addition, they have advocated for their clients, both in negotiation and in court. They are fully versed in all applicable divorce laws, including:
- General divorce laws
- Alimony laws and formulas
- Child custody laws
- Asset splitting laws
- Child support laws and formulas
- Contract law (for settlements)
- Legal requirements and regulations for settlement compliance and modification, noncompliance, and any associated penalties
A collaborative divorce attorney might also have a few extra credentials that they developed from specialized instruction:
- Training in Negotiation
- Training in Conflict Resolution
- Training and instruction building constructive divorce agreements
That is about it as far as the tangible credentials go. A competent collaborative divorce attorney has some intangible qualities that set them apart from a traditional divorce attorney.
Experience Keeping Parties Unified
If your collaborative divorce attorney is first and foremost a fighter, it is unlikely that they would be able to foster agreement throughout the divorce process. It would also be challenging for them to remain impartial.
A collaborative divorce attorney has experience working with both parties and keeping them on the same page. They are experts at working out points of disagreement to the satisfaction of their clients.
Your collaborative divorce attorney is also an expert at keeping their thoughts to themselves and maintaining a positive attitude with both parties in the divorce. This includes when there is a disagreement between the two parties.
They can listen to both sides and suggest positive solutions that benefit their client, but not in a provocative way. If a disagreement is so significant a resolution is unlikely, an excellent collaborative divorce attorney will objectively recommend you to abandon the collaborative divorce process.
How Much Does a Collaborative Divorce Attorney Cost?
The first thing to understand regarding the cost of a collaborative divorce is to keep in mind that lawyers are expensive, no matter what type of divorce you pursue. The only way to get a very inexpensive divorce is to represent yourself, which is only a good idea if you are doing an uncontested divorce. That said, a collaborative divorce is less expensive than a traditional divorce.
That said, pinning down a specific dollar amount for a collaborative divorce is extremely difficult. There are a few reasons for this:
- Geographic cost and rate differences (lawyers in rural Georgia, for example, are less expensive than lawyers in New York City)
- Case complexity (every divorce is different, and the cost reflects that)
- Case exceptions (some cases have exceptional circumstances that influence the amount of time required to build a case)
- Variable expenses (if you need to hire professionals, pay for additional research, etc.)
- The agreement level between the two parties
In addition, hourly and per-case costs vary from law firm to law firm.
When you consider all that, it becomes apparent why coming up with a specific number is not easy. Here are a few constants that will not vary, no matter where you are.
The cost range will be between $5,000 and $50,000. That is widespread because of the variables in the list above. A straightforward divorce with minimal meeting and research requirements will cost about $5,000. Added complexities add to that cost.
Some law firms will charge a flat rate, and some charge by the hour. Some law firms will offer both and give you a choice. In cases where you have a choice, you must factor in the complexity of the case, which is why many law firms will only offer an hourly rate.
In almost all cases, the flat rate is the better option over being charged by the hour because the cost of legal action rarely goes down from an initial estimate. The only situation where that is not the case is if your divorce requires minimal legal action (you two agree on everything, and there is no animosity).
You will receive an initial consultation before you retain an attorney. In many cases, this consultation can be free with a lot of firms. They will gather the basic facts of your divorce and living situation, then provide you with a more accurate estimate of projected costs.
Can I Save Money Using a Collaborative Divorce Attorney?
The answer to this question also depends on the complexity of the case and your payment agreement.
The Complexity of the Case
If your case is open and shut, very basic with very minimal assets, and if you are in total agreement with your spouse on everything, you can save money over a traditional divorce case.
An extremely complex case, though, is another story. Suppose your case is extremely complex, with significant asset splitting or a complicated custody arrangement. In that situation, it is unlikely you will see much of a difference in your divorce cost over a traditional divorce.
Flat Rate Cases
If you can secure a flat rate for your legal representation, you are more than likely going to save money over both a collaborative divorce hourly rate-driven divorce and traditional divorce.
How Can I Find a Good Collaborative Divorce Attorney?
Finding an excellent collaborative divorce attorney requires research on your part. You can look up recommendations online and compare them to find the best collaborative divorce attorney out there. Ultimately, it is up to you to determine what attorney can best suit your needs.
Here is a little help.
Check out the credentials of the attorney you are talking to and verify that everything they claim is true. Verify their schooling and the status of their law license. Also, verify if they have ever had ethics complaints filed against them and the outcome of those complaints.
Ask them to provide a synopsis of how many collaborative divorce cases they have handled and the majority of the outcomes.
You do not have to be friends with your collaborative divorce attorney, but you want to have a decent relationship with them. You do not want to hate talking to them or avoid them at all costs. Any uncomfortableness can impede communications and prompt you not to share vital information that could help your case.
Another critical factor in building a good relationship is whether the attorney you are evaluating is a good listener. Listening is often under-valued by clients and attorneys alike. You want an attorney actively listening to your account and asking questions when clarification is required.
A lawyer’s reputation revolves around their win-loss record in court and the outcome for their clients. Their success rate, however, only tells part of the story. If they have a reputation of being difficult to get along with or dishonest, that could negatively influence the outcome of your case.
Research the reputation of your attorney and ask them for references. Keep in mind that is an odd request, so give them time to build a reference list. If they balk or refuse, however, consider it a red flag.
Also, research their history with the state bar. If they push the legal envelope or have made controversial choices, it does not rule them out, but you want to know that going in.
Pay attention to them as you are telling them about your case. Are they listening? Are they asking questions? Are they taking you seriously? The answer to each of those questions is vital to selecting a competent attorney.
Likewise, pay attention to any red flags or negatives. Are they taking other calls or seemingly working on other cases as you are speaking? Are they rude or dismissive? Do they get defensive when you ask them about any failures? Can they handle your case and do the research necessary to be successful?
Your assessment of the attorney you are meeting is as critical as their assessment of you. If more than a few red flags start flying, look for another attorney. There are many different attorneys out there, including those who specialize in collaborative divorces, so not going with one does not mean you will lose your case.
You want to be completely comfortable with your choice of legal representation. To that end, how you evaluate the attorney in your consultation is as important as how they assess your case and whether they think they can help you.
Lauren Cook-McKay is the Vice President of Marketing at DivorceAnswers.com. She holds a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) from the University of San Diego and applies her training in private practice to helping couples struggling in their marriage. She believes there is hope in all marriages and strives to provide therapy to couples that will lead them back towards a loving marriage, or an amicable divorce that brings peace and closure.