Collaborative v. Contested Divorce: What’s the Difference? Which is Right for Me?

While contested divorces are sometime unavoidable, they are also significantly more expensive and lengthy than collaborative divorces.

There is no one way to get divorced. There’s no right way to get divorced either. Not all divorces are the same, and how yours will proceed depends largely on your attitudes, feelings, and beliefs as well as those of your spouse.

As a divorce attorney in Colorado Springs, I know that feelings of anger, betrayal, or a desire for retribution by one or both spouses at the end of a marriage will often carry over into the divorce proceedings.  This leads to an emotionally and financially draining process filled with acrimony and conflict. Conversely, if a couple agrees to part ways amicably, with maturity, rationality, and a desire to minimize arguments, the process will proceed quite differently.

Therein lies a key distinction between two of the most common types of divorce in Colorado Springs: collaborative divorce and contested divorce. Even though both of these processes wind up in the same place – with a final divorce decree that allocates property, establishes support obligations, and defines the rights and duties of the parties going forward – how they get there are very different.

What is a Collaborative Divorce?

As the name implies, collaborative divorce involves both spouses and their attorneys’ working together to sort through all the practical issues involved in the end of a marriage. The goal of collaborative divorce is to reach as much agreement as possible with as little conflict as possible.

 

At the end of a successful collaborative divorce process, most Colorado Springs divorcing couples will have saved time and money by agreeing instead of fighting, and will have reached a mutually acceptable agreement that should minimize any feelings of resentment or unfairness.

The first, and perhaps the most important, step in a collaborative divorce is the agreement of both spouses to participate. You can’t collaborate with yourself, and if both parties aren’t on the same page about working through their issues together, then the process will be over before it starts. If, however, a couple is committed to wrapping up their marriage in a non-adversarial, honest, and respectful manner, then collaborative divorce offers them a mechanism to do so.

Both spouses will retain their own divorce lawyers, as in a traditional, contested divorce. But these attorneys, usually specially trained in collaborative divorce, will focus their energies on working together with their clients to address and resolve all issues through negotiation and compromise. Other experts, such as financial consultants, child specialists, or others may assist with this process if agreed.

Both spouses must make full and complete disclosures as to their finances, and they agree not to proceed with litigation or otherwise alter the status quo while the process is going on. The attorneys typically agree that if the couple is unable to reach a resolution, they will have to retain different attorneys to represent them in formal divorce proceedings.

If successful, a collaborative divorce will conclude with a comprehensive agreement which can be submitted to a judge for approval.

What is a Contested Divorce?

When agreement looks difficult if not impossible, and when conflict looks probable if not inevitable, a contested divorce is the likelier path. This involves one spouse filing a petition for dissolution of marriage with the court, after which a judge will decide all issues on which the parties can’t agree.

As the couple fights over various matters, attorneys (and experts they retain) bill for their time as they exchange information.  Then the fights begin over substantive and procedural issues. The each attorney will establish and assert their positions in an effort to get a favorable decision by the judge, who may have such a busy schedule of cases that decisions can be a long time coming. A trial will ultimately be held, and the judge will make the final rulings as to property division, support, custody, visitation and all other matters.

While contested divorces are sometime unavoidable, they are also significantly more expensive and lengthy than collaborative divorces. Additionally, leaving decisions up to a judge can result in outcomes that leave one or both parties angry and resentful if things don’t go their way.

If you are considering or anticipating a divorce, an experienced Colorado Springs divorce lawyer can help you understand your options and guide you through the process in the manner best suited to your circumstances, needs, and goals.

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