In New Jersey, there are four ways to divorce: litigation, arbitration, mediation and collaboration. On Sept 10, 2014, Governor Christie signed the New Jersey Family Collaborative Act, to legitimize the practice of collaborative divorce. It is a type of alternative dispute resolution in which an attorney is retained to assist his/her client in resolving family disputes in a voluntary, non-adversarial manner, without going to court.
Collaborative divorce identifies the goals and interests of both parties to arrive at a happy medium through open communication and a pledge not to go to court. Both parties sign a Participation Agreement, stating that they are committed to resolving the dispute through the collaborative process. The Agreement also stipulates that the attorneys will not represent them if the dispute is submitted to court, other than for the settlement agreement.
The New Jersey Family Collaborative Law Act extends the privilege of confidentiality to all members of the collaborative team: the confidentiality of the collaborative divorce proceedings cannot be breached with the permission of the clients.
In addition to the attorneys, the collaborative team may consist of a mental health practitioner and a financial expert, such as an accountant or financial planner. The attorneys function as colleagues rather than adversaries, while providing individualized legal counsel to and advocating for their clients.
A mental health professional, as coach, helps manage emotional obstacles to arriving at a respectful dissolution of the marriage.. Strong emotions, so often present during divorce, can interfere with the ability to think logically and clearly. This is not therapy. A mental health practitioner, as the child specialist, may also be involved to assist with issues and concerns regarding the children.
The financial expert is an essential member of the collaborative team. He/she advises and assists the parties in understanding and preparing the following:
- Income analysis
- Budgets, current and prospective
- Business evaluations
- Equitable and tax-friendly property distribution options
- Calculations of the tax impact of alimony and support
- Projections based on settlement options, which help spouses understand what their future financial worlds will look like
Collaborative divorce allows the parties the flexibility to work out their own solutions in a more creative way as opposed to being at the mercy of the court with judges who select options from statutes and case law. Couples maintain more control of their divorce.
Collaborative divorce offers the possibility of minimizing costs when couples are able to work together, establishing options. Others savings include time, emotional and personal investments by helping the parties develop a fair, sustainable agreement that meets both their approval.
Couples often enter divorce proceedings feeling like two separate entities with opposing missions. Collaborative divorce can bring them to a point of unification, being satisfied with the separation agreement and confident that it represents the best interest of all members of their family.
Megan A. Sartor, CPA, ABV, CFF