Does Collaborative Divorce Cost More than Litigation?

Can you afford to get divorced the way that's best for your family? When reality and your emotions are pushing you and your spouse apart, you may wonder if you can afford the more holistic process offered in collaborative practice, or if it would just be cheaper to go to court. Find out whether collaborative divorce costs more than litigation, and whether you can afford to choose the "cheaper" option.

In this blog post, I will discuss whether collaborative divorce costs more than litigation of family law issues. I will address concerns that the inclusion of professionals can affect up-front costs, and explain how prolonged litigation can increase attorney fees even further.

Does Collaborative Divorce Cost More than Litigation?

If you just learned about divorce options online, you probably came across someone who said collaborative divorce costs more than litigation. You probably also saw that collaborative divorce is less expensive than going to court. Which one is correct depends on how you measure it.

Going to court is never cheap. Hiring an attorney and filing for a Dissolution of Marriage in your local Minnesota family court costs over $10,000 on average. If you have children or need spousal maintenance, that number climbs even higher. Yes, some cases resolve quickly and result in fewer attorney fees, but you often cannot know if your divorce litigation will be simple going into the process.

The exact cost of a collaborative divorce depends on the circumstances surrounding you and your family as well. Just like in litigation, the higher tensions are between the spouses, the more time and expense it will take to find resolution. There is also a perception that collaborative divorce costs more because the expenses tend to be front-loaded. At the start of the collaborative process, you and your spouse may need to employ some or all of the following professionals:

  • Two collaborative divorce attorneys (one to counsel each spouse)
  • A divorce coach (who facilitates the process)
  • A neutral financial adviser (who helps the couple consider property distribution and spousal support options)
  • A family specialist (who helps the party create child custody, support, and parenting time solutions)
  • Other valuation professionals (such as a business valuator or home appraiser, depending on the specific needs)

Despite the apparent cost of hiring a team, collaborative divorce often ends up costing less, financially, than litigation. When you factor in the emotional and relational cost, the difference is even more profound.

Litigation Costs More than Simply Attorney Fees

When considering whether to hire a collaborative team or a litigation attorney, you should remember that there is more to the cost of litigation than simply attorney fees. If you decide to file a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage in court, you should also be prepared to pay:

  • Court costs and filing fees
  • Subpoena fees related to the production of financial records
  • Mediation fees for court-ordered dispute resolution efforts
  • Expert witness fees for psychologists, forensic accountants, school evaluators and other subject matter experts

And don't forget, a fair comparison also needs to count the costs of therapists or other mental health professionals for yourself and your children. While this is not legally required for litigation, short-term psychological assistance is a good idea in almost every divorce.

The Emotional and Relational Cost of Adversarial Divorce

One thing that sets collaborative divorce apart from any other marriage dissolution process is its emphasis on the emotional and relational needs of the parties. Collaborative professionals know that, especially where there are children involved, you and your spouse will need to work together and resolve issues long after the Dissolution of Marriage has been signed and the divorce litigation is over. You will need to resolve scheduling conflicts for parenting time, work together to address school challenges or medical conditions, and help your children make some of the biggest decisions of their lives. The ability to address differences calmly and respectfully is the key to successful coparenting.

Adversarial divorce works directly against this goal. By its very nature, litigation puts parents at odds, imposing an "us vs. them" framework that increases conflict and pushes couples further apart. Add aggressive attorneys to the mix and you could walk away from your divorce hating every single parenting exchange. When friends and family are called on to testify, the adversarial process can burn bridges with your children's grandparents, babysitters, and even your own friends and family, leaving you feeling isolated and bitter.

It is almost impossible to put a price tag on these emotional and relational costs to adversarial divorce. Through the collaborative process you will learn how to maintain, and even strengthen, your existing relationships with your child's support structure, so that you come out of the marriage feeling their needs are met, as well as your own.

The Long-Term Costs of Going to Court

Litigation also increases the chances that your divorce resolution will fail. The adversarial process teaches you to see your spouse as an opponent, and the judge as the decision maker. That means when conflict arises, and it often does, you are more likely to head back to the courthouse, rather than working out the dispute directly with your former spouse. The Hennepin County Family Court is full of couples coming back to the judge, three, four, even ten times over the course of their children's lives, to resolve custody disputes and child support issues. Ongoing conflict between parents keeps divorce attorneys in business and the courthouses full. It also drives up the long-term cost of divorce.

But the collaborative process isn't designed to take advantage of return customers. Instead it trains couples to resolve disputes themselves, respectfully, honoring each person's feelings and needs, while moving toward resolution. When a couple find themselves at an impasse, they have a team of professionals familiar with their circumstances to help them gain objectivity and make a well-considered decision.

The collaborative divorce process doesn't work for everyone. When the collaborative process fails, the resulting litigation can be particularly expensive. But for couples committed to a peaceful resolution to their domestic affairs, collaborative divorce can cost less than litigation and leave them in a better place than going to court.

Kimberly Miller is a Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist and certified collaborative law practitioner. She can use these techniques to help you and your spouse resolve your marriage with dignity and keep you out of court. If you would like to learn more about the collaborative process, please contact Kimberly.

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