Collaborative Law

A Kinder, Gentler Approach To Ending A Marriage

When most people think about divorce, they think about hostility, bitterness and resentment. Conventional divorce does nothing to alleviate these feelings. In fact, it exacerbates them. Fortunately, there is a way for you and your spouse to work together toward a mutually agreeable settlement.


Collaborative divorce gives you control over your own future and allows you and your spouse to find constructive ways to dissolve the marriage. We believe strongly that collaborative divorce is superior to traditional litigation as it fosters an atmosphere of respect and problem solving that is simply not possible when engaged in a court battle. This atmosphere is healthier for you and it minimizes the impact on your children.

In the collaborative process, you work with a team of professionals who are all dedicated to finding constructive solutions to divorce-related issues. With the help of your attorney, financial specialists, divorce coaches and child specialists, you can use the collaborative process to decide all the issues that arise in divorce, including:

  • Child custody and visitation
  • Child support and spousal maintenance/alimony
  • Property division

Collaborative Law is Really a Mind Set
When spouses, attorneys and the other team members are committed to finding workable solutions, the process is powerful. The commitment to negotiate respectfully is the cornerstone of collaborative divorce. In fact, at the beginning of the process you, your spouse and your attorneys all sign an agreement pledging to stay out of court. This gives everyone an incentive to communicate openly and work toward long-term solutions.

It is possible to end your marriage the way it started: with both of you reaching an agreement. The collaborative divorce process can help get you there.

Because collaborative divorce is a more recent development, many people are unaware of what is involved in the process. You should think of it as a four-stage event. In the end, the ultimate goal of the process is to reach a settlement that tries to meet the needs of all concerned.

Stage 1 – Taking the Initial Steps:

Collaborative divorce uses a team approach designed to let you work with professionals who are specifically trained to handle the issues that must be resolved in your divorce (child custody, support and property division). The initial phase of the collaborative process therefore involves:

  • Identifying the team, which includes each spouse’s collaborative attorney, a financial planner, a child specialist (if needed), and one or two divorce coaches (mental health professionals).
  • Arranging a meeting with the divorcing couple and their attorneys.
  • Signing a collaborative law participation agreement, in which everyone pledges to resolve the divorce out of court. If a settlement cannot be reached, the lawyers must withdraw and you will have to find new attorneys to represent you. This can provide an incentive to work hard to reach a settlement.

Stage 2 – Gathering Information:

The goal is for everyone involved to understand the emotional, financial and behavioral circumstances that make your family unique. It involves:

  • Understanding the marital estate, including assets, debts, income and the needs of your children, if you have children.
  • Learning to listen – to each other and the collaborative professionals
  • Open discussions about the needs and desires of the other person.

Stage 3 – Creating Options:

The collaborative process is about respecting and understanding the interests of both yourself and your spouse. With the help of the divorce coach and the other members of the team, you are empowered to:

  • Discuss possible resolutions to child custody, property division and financial packages.
  • Evaluate the benefits and drawbacks of each proposal in a safe, respectful environment.

Stage 4 – Reaching a Resolution:

Without going to court, and without the stress and emotional harm cause by a long battle, it is often possible to reach a satisfying resolution more quickly and much more peaceably. This final stage is about:

  • Detailing a settlement that meets as many of the needs and desires of each person as possible.
  • Finalizing the agreement.

At Ostertag O’Leary Barrett & Faulkner, we believe in the collaborative divorce process and we believe it can work for the vast majority of couples. By fostering cooperation instead of an adversarial atmosphere, we have found that collaborative divorce allows clients and their children to move forward in life more quickly and in a healthier manner.


Collaborative divorce is a relatively new development in family law. We want to highlight some of the ways in which the collaborative process differs from traditional litigation so you can understand why we believe the collaborative process is a better way.

  • Control: Traditional divorce litigation gives a judge the power to decide your future, from child custody to property division to support. With the collaborative process, you and your spouse have control over your own outcome.
  • Client focus: Simply put, the collaborative process is about you and your family. The process is tailored to truly help you and meet your needs. It is not about “winning” a case.
  • Communication: One unique feature of the collaborative process is that it teaches the couple how to communicate effectively and openly in order to resolve issues. This is completely the opposite of most litigation, in which communication is cut off in favor of secrecy, which can lead to more hostility.
  • Cooperation: The essence of litigation is an adversarial, confrontational approach. The collaborative process, in contract, encourages couples to cooperate in a respectful, useful way, preserving their emotional and mental health as well as their financial resources.
  • A team of professionals: In a collaborative divorce, an entire team is working to help the couple reach a positive outcome. The typical team includes financial experts, mental health professionals and child specialists as necessary. Experts in litigation are hired separately, typically at great cost.

These are just a few of the reasons why we are convinced that collaborative divorce is the right choice for the vast majority of couples who are facing the end of their marriage. By confronting negative feelings in a nurturing environment, your divorce does not have to end with ill will and bitterness.


The collaborative process is about asking questions and gaining a real understanding of not only your own position, but also the positions of your spouse and your children. You and your spouse will work with one or more specialists who will help you approach custody in a productive, cooperative way, keeping your children’s best interests in mind. The specialist will help you consider many things, such as:

  • Parenting plans – Would our family be better served by a primary parent or a shared parenting arrangement?
  • The child’s schooling – Whether the children will be brought up in a certain religious faith.


Life goes on after divorce, and sometimes major changes happen. When they do, you may want to change your parenting plan. If you used the collaborative divorce method, you may wish to return to the collaborative process to decide how to modify the arrangements. We will sit down with you, gain an understanding of what has changed and work toward a solution that fits your new needs.

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