If you and your spouse have committed to avoiding hostility as you end your marriage, you may be looking at collaborative divorce as an alternative to traditional divorce litigation. But before you decide whether collaborative divorce is right for you, you should know how long a collaborative divorce takes, and what you can expect to happen along the way.
This blog post will discuss the common timeline for collaborative divorce. It will explain how the process is designed to give spouses or parents the time they need to work through mental, emotional, and practical issues themselves, and what you can do to make the process move more smoothly.
One of the benefits to the collaborative divorce model is that it doesn’t hold you and your spouse to strict time tables. Under a traditional divorce model, the timetable for your case is set based on the judge’s docket and limits placed by laws and court rules. Sometimes that doesn’t leave much room for careful consideration, mindful grieving of the marriage, or flexibility in resolving complicated issues.
While some couples will be able to resolve their property division and custody concerns rather quickly, others will need more time. And that’s okay. Collaborative divorce is designed to be flexible to your needs as a family and as individuals. The time to complete the process will depend on the people involved (including the children), and the issues to be ironed out.
Even in the most straight-forward collaborative divorce, it will take time for you and your spouse to reach a resolution on all issues. Collaborative divorce is often resolved faster than a fully drawn out divorce trial, but that doesn’t mean you will be done tomorrow. Instead, you should expect your collaborative divorce to take at least a couple months.
The collaborative process is designed to give spouses and co-parents the time and space to respectfully and collaboratively negotiate a settlement to their custody, support, and property concerns. This process looks like a number of meetings individually and all together, to work through disputes and identify solutions:
The collaborative divorce process starts with an informational meeting. This could take the form of an initial consultation with an attorney, a discussion with a financial expert, or a meeting with a divorce coach. This informational meeting helps you understand the process, answers your questions, and identifies your first steps.
Once you and your spouse or co-parent have decided that the collaborative process is right for you, you will need to work with your divorce coach or attorney to identify other professionals certified in the collaborative process. At minimum, this will include a divorce coach to facilitate the process and two attorneys -- one for each party. Depending on what issues you will be working on in your case you may also need to identify and hire a:
The meetings with each professional will establish their role in your divorce, and help you move closer to the information and emotional state you need to come to resolution. Other professionals may need to be added as the process continues, but by hiring some of these professionals at the start, you can avoid delays while you wait for the experts to do their jobs.
Once you have identified all the professionals that will be involved at the start, you and your attorneys will schedule a joint meeting. This is where you formally commit to the collaborative divorce process. You will also sign a retainer agreement with your attorney which will explain that, should the collaborative process fail, your work with that lawyer will be over. You will need to hire a different lawyer to take your case to court. The first joint meeting will also be an opportunity to clarify the main issues of dispute, plan goals for the couple, and lay out a tentative timeline for meetings and work to be done.
Once both spouses have a list of tasks and goals, you will each meet with the various professionals you have hired to do the work of resolving your case. That could include attending parenting classes or individual therapy. It could also mean meeting with your collaborative divorce attorney to craft a legal plan or lay out a parenting time schedule, or sitting down with a financial neutral to discuss options for dividing the family’s assets.
In most cases, you and your spouse will need to repeat the Joint Meetings and Separate Meetings several times as you narrow your issues and work toward your shared goals. This is where the flexibility of the collaborative process comes to its fullest advantage. Different individuals will need more or less time to work through the emotional strains and financial complications connected with untangling two adults’ lives. Unlike in a traditional divorce model, the collaborative process allows you to pause the joint meetings while you work out your own emotional concerns, and then carry on once you can give your ex-partner respect and dignity.
Once you have worked through all the issues, you will need to meet with your attorney to sign the paperwork documenting your agreement. These documents could include a:
Depending on the terms of your agreement, you could also need to complete documents for your financial institutions, sign quit claim deeds, mortgage documents, or vehicle titles, or complete forms for your retirement account manager or bank. Much of this work happens after the divorce is finalized by the Court.
Once all the necessary legal documents are signed by both spouses, your collaborative divorce attorneys take over. In Minnesota, as long as both parties are represented by attorneys, you won’t need to go to court. Instead, your attorneys will submit the necessary orders for entry by the court. Once that is done, you will be legally divorced and able to move forward as a single person.
The question of how long collaborative divorce takes doesn’t have one single answer. Instead, the collaborative divorce process is designed to adapt to the emotional, financial, and relational needs of the parties. If you want to avoid being held to a judge’s timetable, the collaborative divorce process might be right for you. Kimberly Miller has training and certification in the collaborative process. She is happy to explain the process to you and help you assess which strategy will work for you and your spouse. Contact KM Family Law today to schedule a free consultation to learn more.