How Does Time Work in the Collaborative Process?

Clients involved in the Collaborative process often have concerns about the timing of the process. For example, consider these three clients using the Collaborative process to resolve the issues in their divorces:

  • David had been unhappy in his marriage for years, and was the party who first brought up the topic of divorce in conversations with his wife. He has felt impatient as his wife went through the emotions of denial, anger, and betrayal and then deliberated about what process she wanted to use and who she wanted to retain as her counsel. Now that they are finally having meetings, David feels the Collaborative process is moving forward too slowly, and wonders if he made the wrong decision in choosing the Collaborative model.
  • Although Catherine has been the “initiating party” in terms of the divorce, she is much less knowledgeable about the family’s finances and about money in general than is her husband. She is terrified by the pace at which the process is moving, and is very worried that she will be forced to make decisions that are not carefully thought through.
  • Stan is really worried about the costs of the Collaborative process, and equates time with money. He has a vision running through his head of a long series of meetings with two attorneys, two “coaches,” and a “financial neutral” sitting around the table, and five meters running up a huge price tag. Stan is worried about how long the Collaborative process will potentially take since, in addition to finances, he and his wife have issues involving their three children, one of whom has special needs.

All of these client concerns are very real and very understandable. It is important that clients using the Collaborative process share their concerns about time with the professionals, who will be able to work with them to address the timing issues.

The different circumstances of clients like David, Catherine, and Stan means that they will move through the Collaborative process in different ways and at different speeds:

  • For David, no matter what process he and his wife use, it will be necessary and important to allow his wife time to process her feelings and work on the “emotional” divorce as well as the “legal” divorce. At the end of the process, it is to be hoped that David will feel that this was time well spent because it enabled his wife to work through her feelings in a constructive way.
  • Unlike the litigation process, for example, the Collaborative process won’t move faster than the pace which works for the slowest member of the couple. Catherine will likely find the spreadsheets prepared by the financial neutral extremely helpful in understanding the status of the family’s finances as well as planning for the future.
  • Stan’s concerns will be addressed, in part, by understanding that the parties will work in different configurations of professionals depending on the issues being addressed. Most likely, the parties will meet just with the financial neutral to gather and organize all of the information regarding income, expenses, assets, and liabilities that will form the foundation for their financial decision making. Most of the meetings around the children’s issues will be with the coaches only, relying on the coaches’ expertise and experience in facilitating co-parenting, supporting the children’s relationships with both parents, and developing time-sharing schedules that are appropriate for children’s different developmental stages and other unique needs.

The Collaborative process isn’t a one-size-fits-all process. The timing of the process depends on the individual clients and the facts of the situation, and must be explored by the clients and their team. While clients should hold team members accountable for a cost-effective and time-efficient process, clients must also acknowledge their contributions to the time that the process takes.

-Mary S. Pence, JD

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