In the Collaborative Divorce Process, there is a collaborative team put into place to support the divorcing couple while they move through the settlement negotiations leading to a legal divorce. Depending on the needs of the clients, the team could include a financial professional, a divorce coach or a child specialist, in addition to the attorneys. The collaborative team meets with the parties in a series of sessions designed to give them maximum support, input and information during the often difficult divorce discussions. Decisions are made within the context of the team meetings, so there is maximum input and structure from the team members when important negotiating decisions are made; decisions that may significantly impact the parties for some time to come.
However, there are instances when the parties, either with or without informing the collaborative team, decide to speak directly with each other outside the collaborative process. This may be done with a desire to speed up the process, save fees or with one party having more nefarious intentions in mind, like taking advantage of what may be inherently unequal bargaining postures or dynamics between the parties.
When such a situation occurs in the Collaborative Divorce process it is ideal if the clients “going off on their own” to negotiate final decisions is first discussed with the attorneys or another collaborative team member. Certainly it is a good idea to allow the parties maximum flexibility in their own process, especially when they are both communicating with each other in a civil and respectful way and when they already have the necessary information to make final decisions. If this is the case, even if the parties are not successful in resolving issues by speaking directly with each other outside the collaborative process, they can re-enter the process knowing they did what they could to finalize matters themselves, despite the fact it was not successful.
The more problematic situation is one where the clients go off on their own outside the collaborative process, but they have never actually had the communication skills to have similar discussions while in the marriage. Here, if the couple’s only motivation is to save money or for one or the other to get a leg up, the prospects for disappointment, frustration and a cessation of acting collaboratively can be high. Thus, the collaborative team faces a dilemma when such a situation occurs.
At least if there can be a discussion beforehand with one or more of the team members about setting ground rules and boundaries for such out of process direct discussions, the parties have a better chance, however things turn out, to remain in a collaborative mode with each other. However, where they start negotiating with each other unilaterally outside the support of the collaborative team, it is often difficult to resurrect the collaborative approach within the team structure, if such direct negotiations result in a further lack of trust and a decreased willingness to be open to compromise.