Family Law Service

Collaborative Divorce: keeping your integrity intact.

The by products of a divorce settlement mandated by the courts often include diminished self esteem, persistent hostility, reduced productivity and strained relations among spouses and their children.

Collaborative Practice is a relatively new, non‐adversarial, alternative approach to litigation that differs from Mediation in that clients retain individual representation by a lawyer of their own.

The differences between collaborative and conventional divorce include the use of a Collaborative Team, the Collaborative Process, Timing & Costs and applicability for Clients.

Walther Family Law attorneys are committed to providing New Mexicans with this alternative to conventional divorce and are all well versed in Collaborative Law. Gretchen Walther pioneered the use of the collaborative approach in New Mexico, has served as President of the New Mexico Collaborative Practice and frequently writes and trains other professional on collaborative practice. (To view some of Gretchen Walther’s presentations on Collaborative Practice, including her award winning CLE work, read Collaborative Divorce, Limited Representation Contracts and Ethical Issues (124KB PDF) or The Uniform Collaborative Law Act (672KB PPT).

In a Collaborative Divorce, clients and their counsel formally agree not to go to court. The advantages of this approach are multiple:

  • Clients keep control of the process themselves and do not face the possibility of a disadvantageous ruling imposed by the court.
  • Children’s needs are given priority. The problem solving approach employed throughout the Collaborative Process serves as a basis for positive long term post‐divorce interactions critical to the well being of children.
  • Collaborative Divorce typically costs less in dollars and time and often serves particularly well for financially complex situations.
  • Clients typically maintain greater self esteem and dignity and private situations do not pass into the public domain.

The Collaborative Team

Clients can initiate the Collaborative Process through any potential member of a divorce team. Although teams always consist of at least both spouses and their respective lawyers, they may also involve other professionals, including:

A neutral financial specialist to help clients in gathering all necessary financial information and to work with the couple and their lawyers to clearly delineate the present and future financial consequences of various possible settlement options.

A neutral child specialist who talks with the parents and the children to assess the children’s needs and concerns. The child specialist is not a custody evaluator and does not make specific recommendations, but instead works with the parents to help them make informed decisions for their children’s long term well being.

Divorce coaches for each spouse. These members of the team are typically mental health professionals who help spouses to improve their communication and negotiation skills and deal with the anger typically involved in divorce proceedings without rupturing the collaborative process.

Teams are selected by the clients at the beginning of the case from among those professionals who have been trained in and have opted to participate in collaborative divorces. All participating professionals agree to withdraw from the case if it becomes a court process.

Collaborative Divorce Timing & Costs

Individual circumstances determine how quickly any divorce process proceeds, but a Collaborative Divorce is often a more efficient process. Full voluntary disclosure aids in speeding the divorce along, as does the lack of time spent waiting for the multiple court appointments typical in conventional divorce.
Costs are generally lower as well and can run as little as one third the cost of a litigated divorce with the same circumstances.

The Collaborative Process

Clients typically meet separately first with their lawyers and divorce coaches. During these individual meetings, clients learn how to communicate effectively and discuss options for various aspects of the settlement. All assets and other pertinent information are fully disclosed. Throughout, a “trust and verify” approach is used to avoid expensive legal procedures typically required in conventional divorces simply to obtain financial information.

Individual meetings are followed by four (or more)‐way meetings in which spouses and their lawyers work out the basic components of the settlement. Team members may call each other to verify information, make proposals or request additional group meetings. The couple, together with their attorneys, then craft their financial settlement and parenting arrangements.

The next step is for one of the parties’ lawyers to translate the agreements into legal documents, which are then submitted to the Court as an uncontested divorce. There are no Court hearings on Collaborative cases.

If no agreement can be reached and the clients opt for court, collaborative team members withdraw from the case and clients retain new representation. This potential end result acts as a powerful disincentive for all involved and contributes to “getting past the impasse” in many difficult cases.

If you require legal assistance in any of these areas and would like to schedule an appointment, please phone us at 505 889 8240 (Albuquerque) or 505 984 0097 (Santa Fe) or online through our contact form.