When people think of divorce, the option that most often comes to mind is the traditional route. It is also the most common. In the State of Wisconsin, a traditional divorce typically looks like this: One of the parties’ files to initiate the action. A temporary hearing can be requested to resolve temporary and immediate issues regarding matters such as child placement and finances. Often parties work out a stipulation or agreement on temporary issues and a hearing is not required, however it is an option the parties can exercise in the event it is needed. The parties, through their attorneys, then exchange information. The process of exchanging information can be formal or informal depending on what information needs to be obtained, and the level of cooperation of the parties. The attorneys then engage in negotiation, a process of exchanging settlement proposals. This process may include settlement conferences where the parties and their attorneys meet to discuss and resolve the issues in their case. Sometimes parties will engage in mediation to find common ground. If the parties cannot reach a resolution on all the relevant issues in their case, then it will proceed to trial where a judge will listen to the testimony of the parties and issue final orders. It is important to note that not all traditional divorces are adversarial in nature. Many begin and end amicably with roughly 98% of these divorces ending in settlement. For many couples, this approach is the most reasonable and appropriate process for their particular situation.
A collaborative divorce is an approach in which a team of professionals (including attorneys, therapists and consultants) works together to help a couple end their marriage as peacefully and amicably as possible. This method involves each party signing a formal agreement in which they agree to make a good faith attempt to reach a settlement without going to court (except to present the final agreement) and without having a judge or commissioner render a decision on the issues at any time throughout the divorce process. From the outset, the parties agree that all pertinent financial information will be voluntarily shared. A collaborative divorce may also involve other neutral professionals. One such professional is a divorce financial planner, he or she will help the team resolve financial issues and create a plan for financial stability in the future. Another professional utilized in the collaborative divorce is a child specialist. A specialist will work with parents to create a plan detailing how decisions will be made and how time with children will be shared. The collaborative divorce approach can be beneficial, especially in case where the special needs of a child require creative solutions. The tools of the collaborative process can and are frequently used in traditional cases as well. One significant difference is that in a collaborative process the parties agree that in the event either or both parties opt out of the collaborative process they are required under the terms of their collaborative agreement to obtain new legal counsel.