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What is collaborative divorce?

When a married couple decides to end their marriage, the experience can be painful and emotional. Unfortunately, the legal process of divorce can sometimes make that worse, by encouraging an adversarial relationship. The traditional litigation model of divorce often pits one party against the other, with each side trying to get the better end of a deal. In many cases, this drags out the process longer, and leaves both sides unhappy. The result isn't great for anyone's mental health, but it is especially dangerous if the couple has children.

Most Washington divorces today are settled out of court through negotiation. This is typically faster and less expensive than going to court, and gives the parties greater control over their outcomes. However, negotiation doesn't always avoid the adversarial nature of a trial.

Many people try to avoid some of that adversarial aspect of divorce by settling their issues through mediation. Mediation is a kind of guided negotiation in which a neutral third party facilitates the discussion and helps the parties work toward an agreement on the division of property and child custody.

The term "collaborative divorce" refers to an approach to the process that encourages the parties to resolve their issues outside of court as much as possible, whether through negotiation or mediation. The core idea behind the approach is to reduce the adversarial nature and negative feelings of divorce, but it also can have the effect of streamlining the process and making it less expensive. Developed by a group of lawyers in the Midwest, it quickly spread around the country among family law attorneys who were looking for better ways to serve the clients.

Collaborative divorce isn't for everyone. But when the parties can get along well enough to have a productive discussion, it can lead to better outcomes than the traditional, adversarial model of divorce.

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