Many people still don’t understand exactly how collaborative divorce works – here is a brief rundown of the process.
- Both parties start by selecting a collaborative lawyer to assist them in their case. This is probably the most important step, and one that many people fail to get past. The key here is that both parties must hire collaborative lawyers. If either party hires someone that says they do collaborative, but is prone to litigation instead, then the whole process will derail. How do you know whether you have a collaborative lawyer? You can start by asking them whether they will sign the Collaborative Pledge. Ask them if they have a copy that you can look at. If they balk at signing this document, or don’t have a copy for you, then they probably aren’t a collaborative lawyer.
- The second step is for the attorneys to talk and schedule the first four way meeting. Prior to this meeting, your attorney will give you a list of documents to give them prior to the first meeting. This is important so that your attorney or their paralegal can make copies of all the documents to hand out at the first meeting.
- Next, you will go to your first four-way meeting. Generally, you will meet in a safe location, usually a conference room at the offices of one of the attorneys. Each meeting lasts approximately 2 hours. At the first meeting, the first order of business is for everyone to read and sign the collaborative pledge. Next, all the participants will be given a binder with tabs that correspond to the documents you provided to your lawyer. Everyone will be given a copy of every document so that each attorney and spouse has access to the same information. This is one of the huge differences between collaborative divorce and “old school” divorce where attorneys try to “hide” documents during discovery and make it difficult for everyone to have access to the same information. At the end of the session, the parties will schedule the next meeting.
- At the second meeting, the parties will jointly go through their assets and debts. The information for this will come from the documents provided previously by the parties. Next, the parties will review their income and expenses for cash flow purposes. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but doing all this can easily eclipse the 2 hour time frame for a four-way meeting.
- At the third and fourth meeting, the parties will begin to throw out ideas as to how they will settle the case and begin to draft a separation agreement. This is usually where things can start to break down, and it takes a skilled collaborative team to remind the parties why they chose collaborative law in the first place and stay on track.
- There are times where a fifth meeting or more are necessary, especially where children are involved and a co-parenting agreement must be drafted. We may sometimes refer people to specialists to assist in coming up with a workable agreement.
- At the last meeting, the parties will review the separation agreement and conduct a signing.
The attorneys will correspond between meetings to discuss language in the separation agreement and other issues that may come up throughout the process. If there is a need for a QDRO or drafting of other legal documents to effectuate the terms of the separation agreement (such as a Quit Claim Deed), the attorneys will handle that as well.
In North Carolina, the parties must wait for a year to finalize the divorce. This is the final step of the process and will occur after the parties have remained separated for one year.