When we think about divorce, we tend to think of a contentious process in which the parties argue over every detail, leaving all involved with hard feelings — and substantial legal bills. But divorce doesn’t need to be an emotionally and financially draining fight. In fact, many separating couples are able to pursue a process known as collaborative divorce, which is a more cooperative and constructive process. 

Is a collaborative divorce right for you? Read on to learn what you need to know about collaborative divorce and when it might be the right solution. 

What Is Collaborative Divorce?

A collaborative divorce process starts with the divorcing spouses’ agreement to pursue a cooperative process instead of a traditional one. Both spouses must agree that they will attempt to resolve all issues raised by their divorce amicably, with the court’s only involvement being to formalize the terms of the parties’ agreement.

In Illinois, collaborative divorce is governed by the terms of the Illinois Collaborative Process Act (ICPA). The ICPA defines “collaborative process” as a “procedure intended to resolve a collaborative process matter without intervention by a court.” A collaborative process is more informal than a traditional court process, allowing the parties to skip the intrusive process of discovery and trial in favor of resolving financial, child support, spousal maintenance, and child custody arrangements among themselves. 

How Does Collaborative Divorce Work?

In a collaborative divorce, each spouse begins by hiring an attorney experienced in the collaborative divorce process. Once each spouse has secured representation, both spouses and their attorneys sign a “Collaborative Process Participation Agreement.” This agreement is a written contract among both spouses and attorneys in which each spouse gives their informed consent to participate in a collaborative process and, importantly, agrees to discharge their collaborative process attorney and law firm if the process fails.

The agreement to discharge counsel if the collaborative process does not work out means that the parties’ attorneys have an incentive to help the parties work through any issues or disagreements. If the parties are unable to resolve their differences, they are required to retain new attorneys for a traditional divorce proceeding and trial

During the collaborative process, the parties can agree to bring in experts regarding distribution of assets, support issues, or child custody arrangements. They can also agree to mediation to help work through any particularly thorny disputes. The hallmark of the collaborative process, though, is that the parties must ultimately be able to come to a consensus regarding any points of contention, and they always retain the right to withdraw from the process, retain new counsel, and proceed with a contested divorce if they are unable to agree.

If the parties are able to reach a settlement, they can open an uncontested divorce proceeding, and present the terms of their settlement to a judge. If the settlement meets the standards for fairness, the judge will agree to enforce its terms.

What Are The Benefits Of Collaborative Divorce?

Collaborative divorce has a number of benefits for both parties. Most obviously, it offers a significant financial savings over traditional litigation. Because it does not involve discovery, depositions, and legal motions, collaborative divorce allows the parties to save money as they separate, a benefit to both parties. 

The collaborative process can also be customized to meet the needs of a particular divorcing couple. Instead of the one-size-fits-all, contentious approach of litigation, collaborative divorce can focus on the areas where the parties truly disagree, and can take an informal, personalized approach to resolving those disputes. The parties can bring in experts to help them reach resolution, making them feel more comfortable with the process and the result, thus reducing the likelihood of future argument over the terms of the divorce settlement.

Most critically, a successful collaborative divorce can spare the parties the stress and emotional pain of a traditional divorce. Litigation is always stressful and it can incentivize each party to take a hard line with respect to any disputes. Particularly in cases in which children are involved, a collaborative divorce can set the tone for an ongoing low-conflict co-parenting relationship that is more amicable and cooperative than in a traditional divorce, resulting in better outcomes for all involved. 

Facing a Divorce in Illinois? We’re Here for You

Wondering whether a collaborative process might work for your family? Interested in discussing your unique situation with an experienced Chicago family law attorney? 

Navigating a divorce can be confusing and exhausting, even under the best of circumstances. Here in Illinois, there are many details and conditions in family law that can be difficult to fully understand. At the Law Offices of J. Jeltes, Ltd., we make it our mission to ensure that our clients understand the divorce process at each and every step of the way.

Our attorneys and staff are skilled in handling legal matters in some of life’s most challenging family transitions, including divorce and the many considerations that go along with it — such as issues of property division, maintenance (formerly spousal support or alimony), child support, allocation of marital debt, and parenting time. 

Our legal professionals are driven, attentive, and dedicated to achieving the best results possible. We truly understand that every situation is unique, and before hiring our firm our attorneys will provide you with a comprehensive one-on-one consultation to discuss your legal concerns and goals.

If you have any more questions about any aspect of divorce in Illinois, we are here for you. Don’t hesitate to reach out to our team of experienced and compassionate advocates to continue the conversation.