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Divorce has always been painful. Even in the most amicable of situations, the dissolution of a marriage – especially when children are involved – is difficult and often heart-wrenching. To most individuals, divorce is an indication that you failed at something for which you had the highest hopes, and getting through it is even more difficult when things become mean and contentious. If you have already attempted Couples Therapy to no success, then Collaborative Divorce may be the next step.

However, there’s a way that you can handle divorce in a more civil, respectful manner if you are willing to agree to some parameters from the start. It’s called Collaborative Divorce and more and more couples in British Columbia who are facing a split are taking a serious look at this option.

What is collaborative divorce?

A Collaborative Divorce seeks to reduce the pain and anger that often accompanies a traditional divorce by promoting respect, honesty, and cordiality. Specifically, in a Collaborative Divorce, the parties agree to the following:

  • To NOT go to court, or even threaten to go to court
  • To communicate with honesty and respect
  • To make a sincere effort to understand each other’s needs and concerns
  • To promptly disclose all relevant information
  • To work together towards an agreement that’s in everyone’s best interests

Those who are experts in Collaborative Divorce proceedings note that they provide a positive way forward, allowing couples to by-pass conflict and make their way more easily to resolution. Conversely, traditional divorces are adversarial, with the couple’s individual lawyers fighting against each other until their client emerges as “the winner”. However, we all know that no one really wins in a divorce, especially when it gets ugly.

Instead, with Collaborative Divorce, each partner has his/her own family lawyer and they pledge to work together with the couple to come up with a solution that’s right for all parties.

So what’s different?

You might be thinking that a cordial outcome is the goal of every divorce. You’re right, but that outcome is rare in a traditional divorce. With Collaborative Divorce, the difference is that a team of other professionals skilled in the emotional and financial aspects of divorce are also called in to lend a hand.

Specifically, so-called “Divorce Coaches” are brought in to teach skills for effective communication and stress reduction. These are certified, licensed mental health professionals that can help you:

  • Explore and learn to handle your emotions
  • Learn how to go from hurtful communication to helpful interaction
  • Learn what your children need now and what they’ll require in the future
  • Set up a co-parenting plan that puts the needs of your children at the forefront
  • Create a plan for your family’s future that is fair to all parties involved

In addition, financial specialists are available to all couples who agree to a Collaborative Divorce. They will help both partners get a better overall look at the family’s current financial situation. This is important because, often, one partner is more involved in family finances than the other and, as such, could have an unfair advantage where money is concerned. However, with the specialist involved, the end result should be a fair distribution of assets without conflict and mistrust.

How children benefit from Collaborative Divorce

Advocates for children stress that Collaborative Divorce can truly help protect children from the long-term effects of a bitter, contentious divorce, where a child is often caught in the middle.

Most parents choosing this type of divorce will include a child specialist on their team of professionals. This follows the recommendations of the Family Law Act of British Columbia, which encourages separating parents to prioritize the health and welfare of their children. As such, the child specialist meets with the child(ren) and gives each child a chance to talk and tell their own story, to express their fears and concerns.

As a result, along with the Divorce Coach, the child specialist can help couples create a co-parenting plan that focuses on the well-being of the child(ren) and can directly provide your children with the tools they need to cope with the changes that come about as a result of divorce.

Each child specialist is a certified, licensed mental health professional who has trained not only in child development but has also received special training in the particulars of Collaborative Divorce. They understand the strain that separation and divorce causes a family as well as the stress and anxiety it can cause children, no matter their age.

How do I know if Collaborative Divorce is right for me/us?

Collaborative Divorce can work for any couple, even if you believe that the conflict present is too great for you to come to a workable agreement about things like finances and parenting. The only thing you must be willing to do is believe it can work and commit to the process and its tenets in good faith.

Couples that are especially attracted to Collaborative Divorce are those that recognize the importance of having an amicable relationship with their ex in the future and those who are willing to be open and creative in negotiating an amicable separation, especially where children are involved.

For those who succeed using this process, it’s a win-win proposition.