Written by Mollie G. Caplis.
My partner and I were never legally married, but we have children and assets. Can we use Collaborative Practice even though we are not married? How will that work?
The collaborative practice is a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) where participants work with a team of professionals to create their own agreements. The collaborative practice is not limited to collaborative divorce, so even if you are not married, you and your partner can work to resolve issues involving your children and assets in the collaborative process. From the outset, you and your partner need to voluntarily agree to enter into the collaborative practice, which begins by you each retaining a collaboratively trained attorney and entering into a Collaborative Participation Agreement.
From there, you, your partner, and the attorneys will hold informal meetings, during which time, you and your partner will initially decide on whether other collaboratively trained professionals, if any, are needed, such as a coach, child specialist, and perhaps a financial neutral, real estate or personal property appraiser, depending on the assets. A coach is a collaboratively trained mental health professional, whom helps couples manage their emotions and improve ways to communicate about sensitive and difficult issues in a business-like manner. A child specialist is also a collaboratively trained mental health professional, whom serves as a representative for the children to ensure that their preferences and concerns are considered, particularly as parents work with the coach to develop a parenting plan.
Through the course of informal meetings, the collaborative process strives to afford participants the opportunity to work in a respectful, amicable fashion with the goal of reaching an agreement that works best for your family. To that end, the goal will be to achieve a comprehensive, written parenting plan to address the issues of legal custody, i.e., who is responsible to make long range decisions for the children, as well as physical custody and visitation, i.e., the schedule for the children, which can cover a regular access schedule, as well as holidays, summers, vacations, etc. The attorneys will also help you and your partner consider the establishment of child support. Ultimately, upon reaching a global agreement on the issues involving your children and assets, the attorneys will prepare a consent order, which will be submitted to your local court for approval at the conclusion of the collaborative process.