The benefits of collaborative divorce appeal to many divorcing couples. Those benefits include: private negotiations; in general, shorter period of time to reach a settlement; and, consequently, smaller legal fees. Those benefits, however, come with a commitment: you have to participate.
A participation agreement is something I make every collaborative client sign and participation goes far beyond his/her physical presence. The participation agreement means you agree to:
- Provide full and honest disclosure of all financial information.
- Share information freely and work towards an agreement.
- Preserve the status quo (e.g. no selling off marital assets during the course of the proceeding) unless there is an agreement otherwise.
- Negotiate in good faith, take reasonable positions and accept that compromise is inevitable.
- Work with neutral experts should that be deemed necessary
Ultimately, the participation agreement is about respect. Respect for yourself, your spouse and, mostly, respect for the process.
It’s not lost on collaborative divorce attorneys that the prospect of not going to court and potentially reducing the time it takes to get divorced and legal is what draws a lot of people to collaborative divorce. The participation agreement makes it clear to couples that you will have to work and put forth an effort to reap the rewards of those benefits.
Sometimes, the “I don’t have to go to court for my divorce” mentality comes with a winner-takes-all attitude towards the divorce. In collaborative divorce, we like to say everybody wins, largely because nobody loses.
In collaborative divorce, you need to understand you will not get everything you want. In a certain sense, you should not want to “win” because that will mean your ex “lost.” That can lead to some bitterness that will permeate your relationship going forward. If you have children that can lead to potentially ugly situations, even a return trip to court—the very thing you were trying to avoid.
You should enter into a collaborative divorce hoping for the best but expecting to have to compromise. You should also have an idea of what you want, what you will accept and what you can and can’t live with. That’s why people with winner-take-all approaches to collaborative divorce can sometimes end up in litigation because they are not willing to accept less than what they want.
In all the years I have been practicing collaborative divorce, there has been only one instance where we could not reach a resolution and the case went to litigation. That’s a pretty high percentage and one I take a lot of pride in. I like to think it’s largely because of the work done in the initial meetings and explaining how the proceedings will go and, of course, the participation agreement.
To request a sample copy of a typical participation agreement, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.