No two romantic partnerships are identical, so why should the separation process be the same for every couple? Marital relationships are incredibly layered and complex; the decision to seek a divorce may be one-sided, mutual, or anything in between. Although the media tends to depict the divorce process as a contentious, dramatic courtroom battle, the reality is that many divorcing couples are able to navigate this process with respect and civility. While no one expects you and your ex to be on the best of terms as you part ways, moving through the separation process with grace and equanimity is possible. Of course, tense disagreements will likely arise from time to time, but you and your spouse (with the help of your legal counsel) can use negotiation tools and strategies to work through your differences to arrive at a workable solution.
Washington State offers those looking to end their marriage the option to pursue a collaborative divorce, in which the spouses and their respective attorneys commit to working through the divorce process while managing conflict and paving the way for a smooth transition to their post-divorce lives. Collaborative divorce has several benefits, such as a reduction in cost, a shorter timeline, and a more harmonious approach to resolving disagreements as they arise. This post will explore how collaborative (also known as cooperative) divorce works in Seattle and what advantages you may enjoy when you select this option.
The ultimate goal of the divorce or legal separation process is to ensure that each party walks away from the partnership with the foundation they need to support the transition to life’s next chapter. Washington courts strive to achieve a division of property that is “just and equitable,” but this does not mean that all of the assets will be split an even fifty-fifty. Instead, the parties, attorneys, and the court will work to establish a divorce agreement that enables both spouses to move forward on relatively even ground. In marriages where one spouse earned the majority of the household income while the other raised children or devoted time to maintaining the home or performing volunteer work, the court may determine that the higher-earning spouse should pay spousal maintenance to ensure that the lower-earning spouse continues to receive the financial support they need while they transition to their independent lifestyle. These types of discussions and negotiations are a critical part of the divorce process, and a cooperative approach can help to facilitate these difficult conversations and steer the parties toward a satisfying resolution.
As you explore your options for legal separation or divorce in the Seattle area, it’s helpful to understand what collaborative divorce typically entails. Let’s take a look at some of the key steps you can expect to take as you move through the cooperative divorce process in Washington State.
First, each spouse should seek out their own attorneys. As you explore your options, look for someone who is trained and experienced in collaborative divorce. This type of approach requires a particular set of skills that differs from the aggressive negotiation tactics that are needed to litigate family law matters. Instead, your attorney should understand how to minimize disputes and foster open, honest, and productive communication between the parties.
Further, no matter how amicable the parties are – one attorney cannot ethically represent both spouses. It is an inherent conflict of interest, and you should be very dubious of any office that promises you dual representation.
Once you and your spouse have hired legal counsel, you will sign a participation agreement to indicate your commitment to the collaborative divorce process. Essentially, you are agreeing to work through your disagreements to obtain a divorce settlement outside of court. Your attorneys may also recommend that you and your spouse hire additional professionals to guide you through this process, such as an impartial financial planner, parenting coach, or communications specialist.
The parties and their attorneys will meet together to work through the details of the divorce. It’s helpful to identify and articulate your goals for the settlement at the start of the discussions, returning to the big picture from time to time to make sure you are moving toward your desired outcome. You will address several aspects of your separation, including how to divide community property and debts, whether spousal maintenance should be considered, and other topics relevant to your divorce. Parents will also need to discuss the details of a parenting plan for any minor children they have. You may find it helpful to develop a few potential settlement scenarios before you decide which option works best for both parties.
Even though the bulk of the decisions you will need to make during this process are logistical in nature, emotions can run high, and disagreements can arise at any time. If you and your spouse arrive at an impasse at a certain point, your attorneys will assess the situation and provide collaborative communication strategies to help move the discussion forward. It’s natural to become frustrated or upset when discussing sensitive issues like your child’s best interests, so relying on your caring and understanding attorney to offer you the reassurance you need can bring much-needed relief during these intense moments. Remember, your attorney is there to support and empower you to establish a divorce agreement that works for both parties.
Once the parties reach a final agreement, the attorneys will file the legal documents with the family court that has jurisdiction over your case. The court will review the paperwork and finalize the divorce, officially ending your marriage. It’s important to recognize that while the collaborative divorce process keeps the matter out of court, this does not mean that it will be stress-free. It’s common for disagreements to arise during the cooperative divorce process, but your commitment to working through any differences with the guidance of your attorneys can encourage you and your spouse to listen to each other and arrive at a workable solution.
In general, those who participate in the cooperative divorce process find it to be an empowering and constructive experience. The parties are able to have more of a direct say over the terms of the divorce, which means that they tend to feel more satisfied with the outcome than those who participate in litigation. Below are a few advantages of using a collaborative approach to obtain a divorce in Washington State.
Family law courts oversee a considerable volume of cases every month. Those seeking a divorce that requires litigation must work with the court’s schedule, meaning that it could take several months (and sometimes over a year or more) for their divorce to be finalized. Since collaborative divorce takes place outside the courtroom, the process tends to move forward much more quickly. Depending on how many disagreements arise, you may be able to reach an agreement in a matter of weeks.
Generally, the longer your divorce takes to resolve, the more expensive it tends to be. You will need to retain your attorney for a more extended period of time, which drives up the cost of the divorce. Those who pursue a cooperative divorce usually save considerable time and money compared to couples who take the matter to litigation.
Many couples who use a collaborative approach say they appreciate the tone the process sets with their ex-spouse. Working through their differences with respect and honesty tends to cultivate an ongoing sense of collaboration and openness with one another, which lasts long after the divorce is finalized. While some couples that endure a heated, contested divorce experience walk away feeling drained and upset with their exes, those who have preserved a culture of mutual respect may feel more empowered and equipped to handle future negotiations and communications with their former spouse.
Although many people find success using a collaborative approach to divorce, it is not a one-size-fits-all model. If you attempt to pursue this option, give yourself compassion if it doesn’t work out. Collaborative divorce may not work for particularly acrimonious separations, especially if one spouse is not committed to open and honest communication. Marriages with a history of physical, verbal, or emotional abuse often require litigation, as one spouse may need strong protection and support along the way. It’s important to understand that you may start the divorce process using a collaborative model and later determine that litigation is necessary to obtain a resolution. No matter what path your divorce takes, you can trust that you will eventually achieve your goals and secure the foundation you need to move forward.
The caring and knowledgeable legal team at the Hemmat Law Group is ready to support you through every step of the divorce process, answering your questions as soon as they arise. Call our Seattle office today at (206) 682-5200 to speak with a trusted divorce attorney today.
The Hemmat Law Group (HLG) was founded in 1994 by Steven Amir Hemmat, a former DOJ Trial Attorney. We specialize in family law, supporting victims of the legal system.
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