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The end of a marriage is often stressful for everyone involved, and many people wish there was an easier, less contentious way to resolve legal issues like the distribution of assets, alimony and child support, and child custody. Some couples attempt to work things out on their own, but unfortunately, this doesn’t always lead to a successful conclusion. It’s easy to get sidetracked into the same arguments and lose sight of what both parties are trying to accomplish – a peaceful resolution that satisfies everyone. However, there is another way to avoid a lengthy court battle and come to an agreement with as little stress as possible.

How Can a Northeast Albuquerque Collaborative Divorce Attorney Help?

Often when we talk to clients seeking to end their marriage, they tell us that they don’t want to have the same kind of divorce as their parents, neighbors, friends, or another couple they know whose divorce was particularly acrimonious. We’ve all seen this kind of marriage dissolution, where both parties are engaged in a bitter, mud-slinging fight that causes even more pain and disagreement. Worse, these divorces frequently conclude in a way that neither party is pleased with – you probably know a few people who constantly complain that their ex got to keep the house or that the judge made them pay too much alimony.

Others may worry that a litigated divorce will take a long time, negatively impact their mental health, or upset their children. They might also have concerns about airing their personal concerns in court. For all these reasons, many divorcing couples look for alternatives to a typical divorce process.

What is a Collaborative Divorce?

A couple collaborates on their divorce paperwork with a lawyer.

A collaborative divorce allows the divorcing couple to negotiate the divorce terms and control the process. The idea is to avoid the drama of many divorce cases while arriving at a faster resolution. Both parties and their attorneys will work together to settle issues like how marital assets will be divided, if either spouse will pay alimony or spousal support to the other, and how child custody, child support, and parenting decisions will work. Your Northeast Albuquerque collaborative divorce attorney will help by representing your interests and keeping the negotiation on track.

What are the First Steps of a Northeast Albuquerque Collaborative Divorce?

Both Spouses Hire a Collaborative Divorce Lawyer

You and your spouse will each hire a collaborative divorce lawyer, then sign a “no court” agreement that you will work to resolve your own differences and make every effort to avoid a court case. This does not mean that you absolutely can’t change your mind and resolve the divorce in court – it’s still an option. However, if you and your spouse come to the conclusion that you’re unable to resolve things peacefully, you will both have to fire your attorneys and hire new divorce lawyers to continue with your litigated divorce. For some people, this feels like beginning the process again and may cost them additional time and money. As a result, both parties have an “incentive” to make every effort to stick with the collaborative agreement.

Meet with Your Attorney to Discuss Goals

Next, you will have a private discussion with your lawyer about what you want from the divorce. You can prepare for this meeting by thinking about what’s most important to you. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • If you have children, do you want roughly equal shared custody of your kids, or should they spend more time with you? Who should primarily make decisions about the kids’ healthcare and education? How do you want to split costs for the children’s needs, like health insurance, school fees, college tuition, and more?
  • Which marital assets are you most determined to keep, and which are you willing to let go of? What would you like to do about investment accounts, real estate, vehicles, furniture and appliances, and other expensive belongings you shared?
  • How do you plan to handle your finances once you’re single again, and do you expect your spouse to contribute?
  • If you make significantly more money than your spouse or have provided most financial support in the marriage, you will likely need to pay some alimony in addition to child support if you have minor children. What do you believe is a fair amount of alimony/child support? What is the most/least amount you would want to pay?

Remember that getting everything you want in the divorce may not be achievable, but your lawyer will work to achieve as many of your goals as possible. They will also fight to get the best resolution in situations where reaching your objective isn’t an option.

Meet with Your Spouse and Both Your Attorneys

The four of you will have an initial meeting to discuss moving forward and choosing a collaborative divorce support team, which may include the following:

A Divorce Coach

This person is usually a mental health professional who works to help the divorcing couple communicate and deal with the emotional roller coaster many people experience during a divorce. They will show you ways to cooperate and achieve common goals now that you are no longer together.  If you have children, your divorce coach will also help you and your spouse develop skills to co-parent effectively after the marriage ends.

A Neutral Financial Specialist

Usually, a financial professional assists you and your spouse with gathering relevant financial documents – pay stubs, tax records, investments, debts, and documents relevant to any assets. Your financial specialist will review these records and make a list of decisions for you and your spouse to agree on, which should include distributing all assets and making a plan to pay all debts They can also answer questions to clarify how various financial decisions will affect both parties.

For instance, many couples have concerns about splitting retirement accounts. You and your partner might want to know what would happen if you divided your or their 401K evenly into two separate accounts. Would there be penalties? Would you both lose money? Is there a better way to divide your investments for the future? Your financial specialist could answer these questions and explain all the options for dividing your 401K and other investments.

It’s beneficial to know that there is no financial discovery in a collaborative divorce, the way there would be in a traditional divorce. In other words, you don’t have to open up all your financial documents to the court, but you and your spouse have to take each other’s word that you’re being open about your finances. However, if it comes to light that one of you was dishonest or hid assets, the partner may have grounds to ask the court to reopen the divorce settlement later on. If you do not trust your spouse to be honest in this process, you should tell your lawyer at your first meeting – a collaborative divorce may not be the best choice for this situation.

Although there is no formal discovery, the financial neutral will have an extensive list of documents that will be needed, and each party must be completely transparent and cooperative with the financial neutral’s document requests.

A Neutral Child Specialist

Your child specialist is usually a mental health specialist with a background in child development or welfare. They will work with you and your spouse to create a parenting plan that explains how the two of you will make decisions for your kids moving forward. It will also include an agreement about physical custody, visitation, child support, education, and who will pay what expenses for the children. The child specialist will also assist with any emotional concerns your kids have involving the divorce and help you and your partner address your children’s emotional needs.

Do You Need All Three Collaborative Team Members?

The answer varies depending on the couple’s situation. Not every couple needs all three specialists, but if you have minor children, you should at least select a child specialist to make the transition as easy for them as possible.

Unlike your attorneys, your collaborative team is composed of neutral third parties who work for both you and your spouse. Their goal is to help everyone stay on track and arrive at a resolution that satisfies all parties. Your attorney’s job is to help further your goals for the divorce, and to that end, they will also work to keep meetings on topic and productive. In some cases, if the divorcing couple is struggling to agree on anything, one of your lawyers or team members may suggest choosing one decision to focus on for the day’s meeting and leaving other issues for another time. This can help reduce the number of topics you could potentially disagree on and allow both parties to leave feeling that they’ve settled one issue.

Finalize Your Divorce Agreement

At subsequent meetings, you and your spouse will try to resolve more questions until everything has been addressed. Once you agree, your respective attorneys will draft a divorce agreement that you should review and discuss with your lawyers. Ask your attorney about any remaining questions or concerns, and if you’re satisfied, you can go ahead and sign the agreement. At this stage, one or both parties sometimes request changes, and the final agreement may have several alterations before both parties are ready to sign.

Is a Collaborative Divorce the Right Option for Everyone?

No. It’s a good idea to consider collaborative divorce as a first option, but it isn’t right for every situation. Collaborative divorce requires that both parties make a good-faith effort to communicate effectively and work toward meeting the needs of everyone involved (including minor children). Unfortunately, some couples have difficulty communicating or cannot compromise on any points of contention. In these cases, a collaborative divorce may not be the best choice. Situations where domestic violence has occurred, or the spouses can’t communicate at all, are also not good candidates for collaborative divorce.

Consult a Northeast Albuquerque Collaborative Divorce Lawyer

If you’re unsure whether collaborative divorce is right for your case, we recommend scheduling a consultation with a collaborative divorce attorney. We’ll ask you questions about your current situation, and if we think there might be difficulties in a collaborative divorce, we’ll explain the potential pitfalls so you can make an informed decision. As attorneys, we’re dedicated to looking out for our clients’ best interests, which sometimes means letting you know if a particular option may not be the best fit for your situation. We can discuss other options if collaboration is not ideal.

Will a Northeast Albuquerque Collaborative Divorce Attorney Help Me Reduce Legal Costs for My Divorce?

Many factors affect the financial costs of a divorce. In general, the more decisions that need to be made, the more time your team will need to work on your case, and the higher your costs will be. For example, a couple with only a few assets and debts and no children will probably have a less expensive divorce than a couple with many assets and minor children.

One thing to know is that litigated divorces don’t always end with a contentious trial like you might have seen on TV. These divorces can also be settled through negotiation out of court, so a collaborative divorce won’t necessarily save you a lot of money on court fees. Hiring specialists to work on your collaborative team can also increase costs. In many situations, the expenses for both options are similar, but this can vary depending on your specific circumstances. If you have questions or concerns about reducing costs for your divorce, your attorney can review the estimated costs for both options.

However, a collaborative divorce is always significantly less expensive than if the case were to actually go to trial.

How Can You Learn More About Collaborative Divorce and Your Options?

Please contact the New Mexico Financial & Family Law Firm for a consultation. We know how difficult divorce can be, and we want to help make the process easier. We’ll answer your questions, and we can represent you if you want to move forward with a collaborative divorce. If you decide collaborative divorce isn’t the right option for your case, we can assist you with a litigated divorce. Our friendly staff is always available to put you in touch with an experienced family law attorney, so please contact us today for your consultation.

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