Maybe you’ve stumbled across this article because your spouse is talking about filing for divorce. You’re in “bunker mode” — feverishly searching the Internet for information about what to expect and, most importantly, how to protect yourself. Or perhaps you’re the one contemplating the divorce. Either way, if you live in Texas, you must educate yourself about collaborative law.
There are three ways to get divorced in Texas. The easiest is the uncontested divorce. Here both spouses sit down and reach an agreement on all issues. Often only one attorney is involved, and that attorney serves to execute the agreements in the form of an agreed upon final decree of divorce. The second and most common way for couples to divorce is the traditional litigation model. One spouse files. The other spouse is served. The parties have a temporary orders hearing and the posturing begins:
- “I want this.”
- “I deserve this.”
- “The kids should live with me.”
- “I’m entitled to [fill in the blank].”
Each side begins conducting discovery, attempting at every turn to devalue property they want, enhance the value of property their spouse wants and uncover bad facts about the other parent. Throughout the process both sides are preparing for war — the final trial. But the final trial rarely occurs. By the time the discovery process is completed, the parties are exhausted, terrified and out of money. The idea of risking a bad result at trial almost always leads the parties to settle, either informally or through mediation. The end result is a hodgepodge of what you think is your best day in court versus what the other side will agree to. You walk away thinking, “could I have done better?”
The third way to divorce in Texas is through the collaborative law model. In collaborative law, all of your energy is focused on the final agreement. Both parties and their attorneys sign a contract promising to resolve every issue outside of court. If an agreement cannot be reached, the parties must get new lawyers and start from scratch. The crux of collaborative law is the team approach to putting the puzzle together. It starts by setting goals. Every step after that is aimed at helping both of you reach those goals. With the help of a neutral mental health professional and a neutral financial professional, you eliminate the posturing. The entire team’s energy is focused on achieving goals that the parties disclose in the first meeting. It’s still a negotiation, but it’s interest-based — e.g., “I want our children to stay in their same school” — rather than positional — e.g., “Well, I’m keeping the house.”
Clients who have been through the process say that the team approach is much more comforting than knowing it’s just you and your attorney suiting up for war. But I caution you — this is not group therapy. It’s a difficult process. The good news is that your team of professionals is organized around only one mission — helping you and your spouse achieve your goals. Divorce is a scary place to be. Choosing from the very beginning to handle the restructuring of your family in a private and dignified manner will ensure you and your former spouse can continue to communicate and cooperate long after the divorce is completed.
The Internet is filled with information about collaborative law. One of the best sources is the Collaborative Law Institute of Texas website at www.collablawtexas.com. This site can answer your questions, let you hear from actual clients who have participated in the process and let you search for an attorney who is trained in collaborative law. Bailey & Galyen also has information about collaborative law on its website. If you’re in that scary place searching for information about a pending or impending divorce, do yourself a favor and educate yourself and your spouse about collaborative law. I know you won’t be sorry you took the time to do this research. Doesn’t your family deserve the very best?