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Try a collaborative divorce when settling child custody issues

Massachusetts couples who are ready to split should consider a collaborative divorce that allows attorneys with special training to help their clients negotiate the decisions of the divorce without involving the court system. When child custody issues arise, neutral support professionals can offer guidance and suggestions that can lead to positive outcomes.

The difference between mediation and collaborative divorce is that mediation uses a single party to sort out the couple's muddled issues, whereas in the collaborative procedure, each spouse has an attorney to represent his or her best interests from a legal standpoint. Rather than hashing things out in a courtroom, parties sit at a table, discussing and negotiating stumbling blocks.

Each case is unique, so there is no hard and fast rule on cost of services. Generally speaking, attorneys' fees go up when they step into a courtroom to litigate a case, so it is typical that collaborative divorces can be less expensive than their traditional counterparts.

Much depends, however, on the complexity of the family's issues. A marriage of a couple with no children and minimal community property to be divided would be far easier to conclude than a family with multiple children and combined business interests.

Children of the couple can participate in the negotiations as well, giving them a voice in matters as to where they will live after the divorce. Some children may have strong feelings about remaining in the same school system, while others could be ready for a clean slate elsewhere. By allowing them to share their feelings in a non-contentious manner, there is less likely a chance that the divorce will leave them feeling alienated.

According to the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, there are four key elements to the collaborative practice that make it successful:

-- Making a pledge not to turn to the court for litigation, with the agreement that it's mandatory for both attorneys and all team professionals to withdraw if a party initiates litigation.

-- Maintaining a free and voluntary open information exchange between the parties.

-- A commitment to respect the shared goals of the parties.

-- A commitment from all professionals involved to utilize all of their skills to help reach a positive agreement accepted by all parties.

If you are interested in this type of divorce, you may wish to speak with your attorney about the possibility of collaborative divorce versus litigation.

Source: CNBC, "Collaborative divorce can ease emotional, economic stress" Deborah Nason, May. 02, 2014

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