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Team divorce: why six professionals cost less than two lawyers

In the emerging field of collaborative law, there is an approach known as the Multidisciplinary Model. In essence, this model envisions a collaborative divorce team comprised of two attorneys, two divorce counselors, a children’s specialist, and a financial advisor to assist the couple. Many people may scoff at this idea, especially since one of the goals of collaborative law is to reduce the amount of costs associated with divorce. But a closer look at the multidisciplinary approach helps explain why this team of six can be more cost-effective than the traditional method of divorce.

The first thing to keep in mind is that divorce affects couples on many levels. There are financial, legal and emotional considerations and then there are issues involving the children. In simple terms, a divorce is a multitasking assignment. These tasks include not only reaching a legal divide, but also developing age-appropriate parenting plans, learning communication skills that will successfully lead spouses down the path of co-parenting, moving away from the blame cycle /shame. The financial part of a divorce can be complicated by uncertainty about the future, tax considerations, and different methods of structuring a financial agreement.

In the traditional model, attorneys are called upon to handle all of these tasks, which is impossible considering that attorneys are not accountants, therapists, or child specialists. As a result, the divorce becomes final, but many issues often remain unresolved. In a collaborative divorce, there are no bereavement attorneys or bereavement experts. Instead, the collaborative divorce model uses a collaborative team that provides support to the couple as they transition through the divorce. Within this model, clients are informed of their processing options, which includes the involvement of different professionals, such as attorneys, mental health professionals acting as divorce counselors, mental health professionals acting as neutral specialists in children and neutral financial specialists.

Clients may choose to involve attorneys, coaches, a children’s specialist, and a financial adviser from the outset. It is more common for the parties to team up as they go through the process, depending on their needs. For example, spouses may choose to hire coaches only after going through “bumps” in their work with attorneys.

The divorce team communicates in team meetings about the parties and the issues they are working on. Clients sign agreements with their attorneys, any divorce coach they hire, the children’s specialist, and the financial specialist (if they hire one) confirming that no professional will be summoned by anyone if the case leaves the collaborative process. Contracts also allow professionals to communicate freely with each other to better understand clients’ needs.

Clients often question the cost of this process. Cost is a very important factor for most couples when they get divorced. In a traditional divorce, litigants often have little or no legal bills once the litigation template becomes the engine of their divorce. Litigants are completely unable to control the time their attorneys spend waiting in court to be heard, the volume and length of correspondence exchanged between attorneys, or the extensive pretrial discovery required by the court but often it is not particularly necessary for clients.

It makes not only practical sense, but also fiscal sense to allow clients to retain professionals who will be used only to the extent that the client requires them, and whose specific skills are geared toward the clients’ needs. By the hour, therapists and counselors are less expensive than lawyers and more adept at handling conflict. Even in high-conflict families, both interdisciplinary groups and Collaborative Divorce teams are finding that couples spend less on divorce coaches than litigants in the same community spend on psychologists for custody and access evaluations. The result for couples who use divorce coaches is reduced conflict, unlike custody and access evaluations that do not provide spouses with new skills and often lead to further divisions for the family.

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