By Divorce.com staff
Updated Sep 14, 2023
Omar Gastelum Updated Sep 14, 2023
If you’re about to begin the divorce process, you’re probably navigating many emotions. You might be anxious about the upcoming steps you’ll need to take, but not all divorces are stressful or complicated.
Collaborative divorce may be the perfect alternative to stressful arguments and lengthy court battles.
If you’re seeking a simpler way to complete the divorce process, here’s what you should know about pursuing a collaborative divorce in California.
What is a Collaborative Divorce in California?
Collaborative divorce in California is an alternative dispute resolution process that uses collaborative law to resolve family law disputes.
For example, you and your spouse can handle things privately rather than sitting in a courtroom and allowing a judge to make final decisions regarding your divorce settlement.
Each spouse will hire a divorce lawyer with experience in California collaborative law and sign a binding agreement to begin the collaborative divorce process. First, you’ll privately discuss your ideal outcomes with your divorce lawyer.
Then, everyone will come together to make decisions and negotiate compromises until both sides are satisfied with the result.
Some people choose to meet with their lawyer, their spouse, and their spouse’s lawyer.
Others prefer to leave the process to their collaborative divorce attorney, who will always uphold the attorney-client privilege. They won’t divulge private information or make decisions on your behalf without your consent if you aren’t present.
How Does a Collaborative Divorce in California Work?
In a California collaborative divorce, the spouses and their respective collaborative law attorneys work together to negotiate the terms and reach an agreement regarding all aspects of the divorce.
The process typically proceeds without court hearings or trials. Instead, it involves meetings of the parties and their lawyers outside court.
Each spouse can invite other professionals, such as accountants, psychologists, or child custody and support specialists.
If the spouses cannot resolve all disputes through collaboration, they may need to go to court. Couples will also need to hire new lawyers or, if they do not hire a new lawyer, represent their interests independently.
Collaborative Divorce Process in California
Getting a collaborative divorce in California is the same as getting a collaborative divorce in any other state. It consists of several essential steps described below.
The Parties Agree to Collaborative Divorce
You can only proceed with the collaborative divorce in California if you’re both willing to participate.
If you feel that you’d benefit from the assistance of lawyers or if your divorce has a lot of complicated aspects (like large amounts of property) that you aren’t sure how to handle, collaborative divorce may be the best option for you.
Each Spouse Hires an Attorney
Choose a divorce attorney well-versed in California’s collaborative law. For instance, the attorney should favor mediation techniques and be focused on reaching an agreement rather than stirring up conflicts.
Thus, avoid lawyers with an aggressive approach that would be more appropriate for contested cases.
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Assemble a Collaborative Divorce Team
Collaborative divorces often involve a team of professionals. For example, child specialists, financial advisors, and divorce advisors can contribute to your collaborative divorce by advising you and your lawyer.
The first collaborative divorce meeting begins by signing a “no-court” agreement. It states that in case of litigation, both parties will drop their attorneys and go to court with a new team of professionals. All subsequent meetings aim to negotiate the best terms for both parties.
Gather Your Documents
You must disclose your property and assets, including 401k accounts, tax returns, and other financial information. Gather all of these documents and give them to your lawyer. And the other party must do the same.
Sign and File a Settlement Agreement
When everyone feels the divorce settlement is fair, your lawyers will create a legitimate marriage settlement document. Then both spouses sign it if they agree to all terms and file it with other divorce papers with the court.
After a judge reviews your paperwork and grants your divorce, your settlement agreement will become enforceable.
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Pros and Cons of Collaborative Divorce in California
Collaborative divorce can benefit California spouses in certain circumstances. But, at the same time, the process has several disadvantages and does not suit all situations.
So, it is crucial for both parties to carefully consider the pros and cons of collaborative divorce before deciding whether to pursue it or choose another method.
- Collaborative Divorce Offers More Privacy.
If you have complicated issues in your divorce, like questions of paternity or allegations of domestic violence, you may want the fewest people to know the details of your separation.
Fortunately, anything you say to your attorney during collaborative divorce is a matter of attorney-client privilege and will stay private.
- Working Together Can Be Better for Your Overall Wellness.
While there will always be stress associated with a divorce, a collaborative divorce may be less stressful than dragging the process through divorce trials. Keeping your stress levels low is essential for your physical and mental health.
- Collaborative Divorce May Be Less Stressful for Children.
If you’re co-parenting with your spouse, preserving good relationships with your children is a priority. Although you can’t completely hide the reality of a divorce from them, you can minimize the disruption by keeping the process private and out of court.
- High cost for complex divorces.
Collaborative divorce is not always less expensive than traditional litigation. You still need to hire lawyers, financial advisors, psychologists, and other professionals involved in the collaboration process. And the more complex your divorce is, the higher the overall cost.
- It requires honesty and full disclosure.
If you’ve experienced trust issues during your marriage, it will be difficult and sometimes dangerous to trust the other party by disclosing financial or other information. The success of a collaborative practice depends on cooperation and the ability to reach agreements.
If spouses are not willing to work together, collaboration isn’t the best option for them.
- The need to hire new professionals if collaboration fails.
During a collaborative divorce, the parties negotiate a settlement agreement to establish their post-divorce rights and responsibilities. However, the process could get too adversarial, making further collaboration impossible.
In this case, the party’s lawyers must withdraw, and the couple must go to court with new legal representatives.
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Cost of Collaborative Divorce in California
Collaborative divorce in California can sometimes be expensive, depending on the duration of the process and the hourly rates charged by the professionals involved in the collaboration.
Although it tends to be less costly than a traditional litigated divorce, the price tag may vary significantly from around $15,000 to $50,000.
The costs associated with collaborative divorce in California include the following:
- Attorney’s fees. In California, divorce attorneys charge $310 to $395 per hour on average. However, the price can vary based on the attorney's level of expertise and the complexity of the case.
- Other professionals’ hourly rates. Collaborative divorce may involve using real estate appraisers, psychologists, and child experts with various hourly fees.
- Filing fees. Whether it’s a collaborative divorce or another type, a person filing for divorce in California will pay $435.
How Long Does Collaborative Divorce Take in California?
The length of a collaborative divorce in California varies for each case and depends on several factors. However, the shortest time is six months since it’s California’s mandatory waiting period for all divorces.
The rest depends on how quickly the parties will compromise on disputes and the type of those disputes. For instance, cases involving complex issues, such as dividing significant assets, may range from one year to several years.
A few critical factors that can affect the length of a collaborative divorce in California include:
- The number and complexity of disputes (e.g., many assets and debts, minor children, etc.)
- The willingness of spouses to compromise
- Availability of other professionals (such as accountants, real estate appraisers, etc.)
Collaborative Divorce vs. Mediation
Collaborative divorce and mediation represent alternative dispute resolution methods. Both aim to simplify divorce and reduce stress and financial expenses.
However, there are subtle differences between these methods.