Collaborative Divorce vs. Contested Divorce

collaborative divorceBy Julie Garrison

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The term “collaborative divorce” may seem like an oxymoron to many of you divorced dads reading this since the parties in a divorce tend to be uncooperative and incapable of collaborating on anything.

How can two angry, polarized, estranged spouses work together for an equally equitable solution in their divorce when they can’t even cooperate on how to squeeze a tube of toothpaste?

A collaborative divorce may seem impossible, however, it is setting a new positive trend in family law.

Collaborative divorce has been termed by some as a “gentler approach” to the dissolution of a marriage. This new method of alternative resolution is based on a different way of bargaining than the negotiating type that has always been used in family law cases.

Collaborative divorce utilizes interest-based bargaining in resolving the various divorce issues, such as child custody, division of assets, etc.

It is a more holistic approach that focuses on meeting the underlying concerns, interests and needs of both parties.

In a collaborative divorce, the parties are encouraged to communicate what is important about an issue, instead of arguing about a specific position or remedy.

With this type of mutual exchange, the parties are cooperating with each other instead of insisting on a position and not taking into account where an estranged spouse is coming from.

The traditional bargaining method is position-based because it begins early on in the divorce process and only addresses the needs and wants of one party. It pits the parties against each other because it is adversarial in nature.


Example of a Position-Based Divorce:

Mrs. Urban wants the kids, the house, the property, the savings, the retirement, the dog, her attorney’s fees to be paid by her ex and “all other assets that are determined at a later date.”

Oh, and she also wants a restraining order to make it a crime for Mr. Urban to speak to her when picking up the kids for his limited, supervised visitation.

On the husband’s side, Mr. Urban wants the kids, the house, the property, the savings, the retirement, the dog, his attorney’s fees to be paid by his ex and “all other assets that are determined at a later date.”

Oh, and he also wants a restraining order to make it a crime for Mrs. Urban to speak to him when picking up the kids for her limited, supervised visitation.

Couples like the Urbans are why we have courtrooms, judges, court reporters, court clerks, bailiffs, marshals, and all the other people on the court’s payroll who meet several times, hold numerous hearings, and go to trial on every single issue – right down to the family dog.

It will be years, numerous attorneys and countless dollars before all the issues in the Urban dissolution are ruled on.


Example of an Interest-Based Divorce:

Mr. and Mrs. Urban agree to cooperate on bringing their dissolution to a successful resolution for both of them. Neither will be awarded everything, but both will be awarded something.

Each party will have an attorney who specializes in collaborative law, a divorce coach or counselor, a financial planner and a child therapist. Through a series of meetings, the experts assist the divorcing couple in resolving each issue equitably.

If at any time, one of the parties asks for a court hearing, the collaborative process is terminated.

A contested divorce can easily cost tens of thousands of dollars and quickly skyrocket, whereas collaborative cases cost between $5,000 and $20,000 depending on the complexities, according to Cinda Jones, a certified financial planner at Divorce Financial Solutions in San Diego who was quoted in Financial Advisor Magazine.

“People will say, ‘Yikes, that’s a big investment,’ but it could involve the biggest financial decisions they make in their whole lives,” Jones said.

Stu Webb, a family law attorney in Minneapolis who launched the collaborative law movement in 1990, told Financial Advisor Magazine that a collaborative divorce costs roughly one-third of the typical contested divorce. Court and attorney fees alone build up quickly during a contested divorce.

So for the financial benefit of both parties, the collaborative divorce method is worth looking into and pursuing.


Julie Garrison has been writing articles and short stories for the past 10 years and has appeared in several magazines and e-zines.

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2 comments on “Collaborative Divorce vs. Contested Divorce

    Collaborative divorce is a best choice for you if some or all of these statements are true for you:

    1. You and your partner will be co-parenting children together and you want the best co-parenting relationship possible.
    2. If you want to protect your children from the litigated dispute resolution between parents.
    3. You and your partner will commit your intelligence and energy toward creative problem solving rather than toward revenge fixing the problem rather than fixing the blame.

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