In the collaborative process, each party has their own attorney. The lawyers and clients meet together in 4-way meetings. The lawyers are not neutral. They each represent their individual client and their primary responsibility is to their client. Like an attorney representing a client in any other matter, collaborative attorneys act as a resource, a guide, an educator, and an advocate for his or her client. However, unlike an attorney representing a client in any other matter, each collaborative divorce lawyer has been trained in techniques which fosters collaborative problem solving and consensus building. By working together in an honest, civil and professional manner, they display behavior to each other they hope their clients will mirror when interacting with their own spouse or partner. By showing respect and patience with the other attorney, they hope their clients will behave in the same manner and such behavior will aid in reaching an agreement. At the same time, the attorneys can and will provide their particular clients legal advice and direction – most all of it in meetings attended by both parties and both attorneys – for a full, real-time discussion of all legal issues raised. Sometimes the lawyers agree with one another. Sometimes they disagree. But the parties can see and hear this discussion and ask questions of their attorneys right there in the room to help them make the best decision for themselves and their family.
The financial neutral in a collaborative divorce is in a unique position. Unlike the attorneys who each represent one of the parties, the financial neutral works for both parties. Working with both parties may reduce the tension that is present in a divorce since each party views the financial neutral as their representative. The primary purpose of the financial neutral is to help a divorcing couple incorporate their individual financial priorities into a plausible and realistic financial solution that they can live with. This is accomplished by first gathering all of the financial data from both parties. This alone may reduce mistrust by the party that has not been directly involved in the financial aspects of the marriage, a common arrangement in many marriages.
Once the data is gathered, both parties are in a position to assess their future paths. They are also in a better position to assess the consequences of their decisions. The computer software provides an invaluable visual aid at this point. In some divorces there is a large gap of financial knowledge between the parties. The financial neutral, with the permission of the entire team, may provide important and useful supplemental financial planning advice for one or both parties so that the next phase of their lives will be better understood by them.
Throughout the divorce process the financial neutral will be able to show, in real time, the impact of various asset division proposals and expected budgets. This is accomplished through the use of sophisticated computer software which integrates current interest rate levels, expected equity market returns, inflation trends, and tax policy.
Finally as the divorce approaches the final settlement phase, the financial neutral provides valuable and important checklists of financial changes that need to be undertaken before or shortly after the financial decree is signed. This includes review of beneficiary designations on insurance policies, pensions, investment accounts, as well as estate and medical directives.
Last, where needed, the financial neutral helps to recommend future financial specialists for one or both parties.
When the divorcing couple has children, there may be another coach added to the team, in the role of child specialist. The child specialist is trained to meet directly with kids, so as to be in a position to voice their needs, and concerns, to the team. The input of the child specialist is then used to help parents create a parenting plan.
Adult children that may be struggling with parental separation and divorce may also meet with a coach that can help them through the process.
The collaborative coach is a trained therapist, but in this process does not do therapy. Here are the multiple roles a collaborative coach often plays:
- Coaches help clients set goals for the process, break goals down into the concrete steps needed to achieve them, and keep clients focused on their goals for the process, if they get sidetracked.
- Because divorce is an emotional event as much as it is a legal or financial event, the coach helps clients navigate the feelings that may interfere with negotiating and problem solving.
- The coach also teaches communications skills that help couples work respectfully with each other in the process, as well as co-parent effectively after the divorce, if there are children.
- If there are children under the age of 18, the coaches help parents craft a Parenting Plan, that includes agreements as to the custody schedule. Coaches specifically work to create a child-focused, durable, flexible parenting plan that is mutually acceptable to both parents, to reduce the potential for future conflict.
- If the process is contentious, the coaches are often asked to help facilitate the financial/ legal meetings to help couples get past the areas where they may be stuck.