When you think of the word ‘divorce,’ what comes to mind? For most people, the word carries a sense of conflict, struggle, even bitterness. The end of a marriage can involve disputes over child custody, co-parenting, and of course money. As both partners prepare to move into a new phase of life, each has to fight for their own interests — or risk being taken advantage of by the other.

Obviously, there are situations that live up to this negative image. A long, bitter, drawn-out divorce is never ideal — but it’s something people do experience every year. This type of divorce is emotionally draining, not to mention costly. And the outcomes are seldom ideal for everyone involved.

Is there a way to avoid these conflicts? Is there a better way to go about divorce?

Actually, a lot of people go through the process of divorce with relative ease. Very few divorces are without any tension whatsoever, but with the right tools, people can and do get that tension down to a very manageable level. The idea of collaborative divorce may sound far-fetched at first, but when you break it down, it represents a better way forward for many divorcing couples.

What is Collaborative Divorce?

The process begins with a binding legal contract in which both parties agree to resolve divorce-related issues outside of court. Laws vary by State — but in New Jersey, for example, collaborative divorce brings the advantage of avoiding subpoenas, official testimonies, and legal dispositions. Taking these elements out of the equation can be enormously beneficial — but honesty and openness are extremely important. If both parties enter into a collaborative divorce, yet one or both parties prove to be unreasonable, dishonest or disrespectful during the process, the collaborative aspect will be lost. For this reason, mutual trust and transparency are vitally important. Barring that fundamental level of trust, traditional legal proceedings will come back into play and any agreements reached will be inadmissible in court.

The collaborative divorce process can and does involve a number of different professionals — including collaborative divorce specialists, child custody experts, financial advisors and divorce counselors. Some collaborative divorce specialists fill several roles, and have training in various aspects of the divorce process.

What are the benefits?

In a “normal” divorce — in which there is not a strong collaborative element — most of the major decisions are ultimately in the hands of a judge. There is also a question of lawyers, whose fees add up quickly, and who can make the process more contentious.

The main benefit of collaborative divorce is putting more control in the hands of the two divorcing parties, and establishing key agreements before the legal process is set in motion. Because collaborative divorce involves careful input from all sides — including couples, mediators, lawyers, financial advisors and custody specialists — both parties have a meaningful degree of protection as the legal process begins.

Ultimately, this can lead to more amicable long-term outcomes — financially and especially in terms of child custody and co-parenting. When children are involved, both parties are going to be part of each others’ lives in some way over the long term. Collaborative divorce is an effective path to better, more sustainable long-term results.