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Collaborative Divorce

What Happens if the Collaborative Divorce Process Breaks Down?

When you or your spouse decide it’s time to go your separate ways, a collaborative divorce is a great option if you are on good terms with your spouse and looking for a way to avoid a prolonged court battle that is the hallmark of a traditional divorce. However, the collaborative process can seem intimidating because so many people are unfamiliar with the concept of a collaborative divorce.

We went into detail about what happens in the collaborative process in another post. In this post, we’ll talk about the factors that can derail the collaborative process and what happens if the collaborative process falls apart.

What the Collaborative Process Is and Is Not

The collaborative divorce process attempts to avoid court intervention in the separation process. The goal of the process is to collaboratively agree to the terms of your divorce settlement agreement outside of a courtroom. Each party has a collaborative divorce lawyer to help during the negotiations, but each collaborative lawyer agrees to not take the case to court. When the divorce agreement is complete, either party can file the necessary divorce forms to get a final divorce judgment.

While the goals of a collaborative divorce are similar to those of mediation in that both seek to resolve your divorce-related issues through negotiation rather than in court, they are two separate processes. Similar to mediation there are neutral participants. Often experts are brought in to provide financial assistance or parenting expertise for divorcing parents. However, unlike informal mediation sessions, you’ll also have your attorney present.

A man changing tyre of a car

What Can Go Wrong

The most important part of a successful collaborative divorce process is having two parties that are committed to making the process successful. If either party decides to withhold important information or is generally opposed to open communication, coming to a mutual agreement can be impossible. Some examples of stalling tactics are:

Withholding Important Documents

There are a lot of important documents that are needed to ensure that each party has all the information they need to make an informed decision regarding any divorce agreement. Documents like financial affidavits and audits of your assets should be provided in a timely fashion to keep the process moving. If this doesn’t happen, it could impact one spouse’s expectations regarding the timeline for divorce leading them to pursue litigation instead.

Lying or Giving Inaccurate Information

It may seem like it should go without saying but lying or falsifying information during the collaborative divorce process is a quick way to have your divorce proceedings end up in court. When the other party finds out the truth, they may very well end the collaborative process in favor of the traditional court process. If your attorney finds out you’ve been misleading the group the attorney may obligated to withdraw from representing you.

Missing Appointments

This delay tactic can show that the offending party isn’t truly committed to the process as the regularly scheduled meetings are designed to move everything along on schedule. These meetings allow for the group to stay on track, key documents to be exchanged, and for all parties to stay informed about the proceedings.

What Happens Next

If the collaborative process fails, it can be a hard blow, both emotionally and financially. Both parties have invested a lot of time, energy, and money in seeing the collaborative process through. The next step in the process is for the couple to file a divorce petition in the traditional litigation route. Heading down the road to litigation can be quite hard for a couple that had been attempting the collaborative process.

Another hiccup that can throw people off if the collaborative process fails is that both parties will have to retain additional divorce attorneys. Collaborative law rules and participation agreements prohibit the original collaborative attorneys to continue representing their original clients if the case ends up in litigation. You will need to retain a new, experienced divorce attorney and help get them up to speed on the details of your situation.

A broken car standing on a road indicating breakdown

The Role of Mediators and Other Third Parties

Either or both spouses can terminate a collaborative divorce at any time. However, since you decided to start down this road, it’s important that you make every effort to cross the finish line. This can mean bringing in a third-party that can help the couple get past a particularly sticking point. These third parties could be financial professionals, divorce coaches, or a child specialist. This team of professionals can help the core four participants (the couple and their lawyers) come up with creative solutions.


I hope this helps you better understand what happens if the collaborative divorce process breaks down. If you have any questions or want to talk to a collaborative law attorney about whether the process is right for you, feel free to give us a call at (206) 409-4086 or send us an email.

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