A new law that creates a uniform standard of practice for collaborative divorce in Pennsylvania may lead to more couples using this method of dispute resolution to end their marriage amicably. While the technique has been used successfully for years, the Pennsylvania Collaborative Law Act signed by Governor Tom Wolf in 2018 established it as a formal legal process.
In collaborative divorce, each spouse is represented by his or her own lawyer, but for the limited purpose of working toward an out-of-court resolution of disputed issues. In fact, the spouses and their lawyers sign an agreement to use their best efforts to resolve all issues without going to trial. Toward that end, the attorneys are barred from representing the parties in court if the collaborative divorces should fail. The spouses and their lawyers participate in negotiation sessions, sometimes with the aid of a presiding neutral, and eventually agree on a contract that can become part of the divorce decree.
When collaborative law works well, divorcing spouses can come to fair terms for alimony, child custody and visitation, and asset and debt division. This can only happen if all parties are honest and communicative. In accordance with the Pennsylvania Collaborative Law Act, each spouse and their lawyer should “provide timely, full, candid and informal disclosure of information relative to the collaborative matter” and update information as necessary. If one spouse tries to misrepresent their financial situation, such as by hiding a bank account, they violate the collaborative agreement.
For couples who are willing and able to get along during a divorce, there are a number of benefits to collaboration. The process gives the participants more control over the time schedule for completing a divorce. Generally, a collaborative divorce is less expensive than traditional divorce, though there are still significant costs — notably the fees charged by the presiding neutral and by expert witnesses that are often needed to help evaluate marital property and determine parenting plans. But the contractual nature of collaborative divorce avoids the bitterness of litigation. Parents who work together instead of fighting about childcare, finances and other matters can provide their children with a sense of stability and an example of mutual respect. Communications made during the collaborative process are privileged and are not admissible as evidence if a divorce proceeds to court.
The experienced attorneys at the Pittsburgh law firm of Feldstein Grinberg Lang & McKee, P.C. can help you decide whether collaborative divorce is right for your case and can advocate for you during the process. To schedule a free 15-minute consultation with one of our knowledgeable lawyers, call our office at 412-301-7395 or contact us online. We represent individuals throughout Pennsylvania.