Pennsylvania passes law encouraging collaborative divorces

Pennsylvania recently passed a law that encourages and standardizes the collaborative divorce process.

Those who are going through a divorce have a choice about whether to pursue an agreement through the courts or through alternative methods, such as mediation and collaboration. As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports, Pennsylvania recently passed a law that both encourages and standardizes the collaborative divorce approach in the state. Below is a look at what collaborative divorce entails, what the new law does, and what the advantages and disadvantages of collaborative divorce are.

What is collaborative divorce?

Collaborative divorce is a dispute resolution process that is used as an alternative to going to court. While collaborative divorce is sometimes referred to as a do-it-yourself divorce, this characterization is a bit misleading. In fact, during the collaborative process each spouse retains their own attorney and both attorneys agree that they will only work for the spouses to help them reach a settlement without going to court. In the rare instance that a settlement cannot be agreed upon and litigation is required, both spouses are obligated to retain new attorneys. In addition, other specialists are also involved in the negotiations, including financial advisers, therapists, and child behavior specialists.

The parties typically meet face to face a number of times and try to come up with a mutually beneficial agreement. The two attorneys are present to ensure that any final agreement is both legally enforceable and in the best interests of their clients.

What does the new law do?

On June 28, Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law the Pennsylvania Collaborative Law Act. This new law codifies many of the best practices associated with the collaborative process and ensures it is better regulated. While collaborative divorces have long been an option for Pennsylvanians, the process, until now, has largely been unregulated, with collaborative divorce attorneys instead following non-binding guidelines and ethical rules set down by the International Collaborative Law Association. The new law simply ensures that those involved in the collaborative process are now protected by legal standards.

Is collaborative divorce better than litigation?

There are certainly many advantages to collaborative divorce. The process usually tends to be cheaper, faster, and less stressful for both parties than going to court. That being said, it is not the right approach for every divorce. As CNBC points out, each spouse needs to trust that the other spouse will be forthcoming about their finances since neither spouse will be able to use the power of the court to subpoena financial documents. As a result, there needs to be a considerable amount of trust between the two parties, which isn't always possible during a divorce.

Furthermore, any marriage where there is a dramatic power imbalance - especially in relationships involving alleged domestic violence - isn't suitable for a collaborative divorce. In such situations, one spouse can easily intimidate the other spouse into accepting an agreement that is not necessarily fair.

Family law help

There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all divorce. That is why anybody going through a divorce should reach out to a family law attorney for help. An experienced attorney can help clients understand what is at stake in their divorce and which process will likely best protect their long-term interests.