So what is Collaborative Divorce, anyway?

By:  Lori T. Williams, Owner/Managing Attorney of Your Legal Resource

Collaborative Law Attorney, Randall Pitler,  explains the process and clears up the common misconceptions about Collaborative Divorce.   The Collaborative Divorce model went into effect in Michigan around 2004, with Michigan being one of the last states to adopt this model as an option for a couple wishing to end their marriage.  The process involves a husband and a wife who work out all issues involved in a divorce with the help of two collaborative law trained divorce attorneys, and if needed a collaborative law trained mental health professional (called a divorce coach), and a collaborative law trained financial professional.

The divorce coach helps identify and address the emotional issues that arise during every divorce.  In addition, the divorce coach may assist the parties in resolving any custody or parenting time issues involving the minor children.  The financial professional helps with business valuations, makes recommendations about the division of assets and debts to minimize taxes, and helps the parties with budgets or retirement projections, as needed.  This enables the divorcing couple to reach an amicable settlement on the financial issues, which is a key component of any divorce.

“It’s always better for the parties to try and settle these issues themselves, instead of having a Judge decide what’s best for their family”, says Pitler.  The intention of collaborative divorce is to reach a settlement on all issues without the court being involved in any of the decisions. Then once an agreement is reached, papers are filed with the Court to finalize the divorce.  If parties don’t reach an agreement, they are free to go to Court and start a traditional divorce.

Although Pitler has been practicing law for 18 years, he shifted his practice focus to amicable divorces in 2001.  He thereafter got trained as a collaborative divorce attorney in 2005, and started incorporating this type of divorce into his practice.  Today, he is handling Collaborative Divorces almost exclusively and prefers to refer out the contentious divorces to other colleagues.

“Because all aspects of the divorce are addressed and resolved before the parties go to Court, educating the public about this option has been challenging.  The economy has caused some people to file for divorce in pro per, and some of them would have been good candidates for Collaborative Divorce if they knew about it,” says Pitler.  “However, I see this area of family law growing slowly.”

Since not every couple is right for the Collaborative Divorce process, Pitler shared what the parties need to know in order to determine if they want to proceed with this type of divorce, or the more traditional divorce utilizing the court system to resolve disputes:

1)       Both parties need to be able to proceed in good faith towards reaching an amicable resolution.

“If one or both of the parties has an axe to grind, this is not the forum to do that,” says Pitler.  “However, the parties don’t have to get along perfectly or like the other person for this process to work.”

2)      Both parties need to have an open mind and be willing to cooperate and compromise, in order to reach a settlement that works for everyone.

“Some people just want their day in court, and they want the Judge to make the other party pay.  Collaborative Divorce is about addressing the needs of both parties, as well as what’s in the best interests of the children, but without the theatrics that can occur in Court. “

3)      Both parties need to be willing and able to do the work to advance the process.

“This can include getting financial documents together, being involved in the negotiation process, following up with the divorce coach to resolve any emotional issues or challenges around custody or parenting time, or working with the financial advisor to resolve any issues around the household finances.  Some parties want to put their head in the sand and let their attorney handle everything and tell them what the Judge ordered.  However, in Collaborative Divorce, the parties must be active participants.”

4)      If there are issues of abuse involved in the case, the parties will not be able to proceed with a Collaborative Divorce.

Pursuant to the guidelines of the Collaborative Divorce model, the parties cannot participate in the process if there is abuse involved in the case.  One of the parties would need to file a Complaint for Divorce with the Court and proceed with a traditional divorce if they want to end their marriage.

The benefits of Collaborative Divorce include:

1) Proper pace/No Deadlines

“The parties get to resolve the issues on their time table, without a Judge forcing them to settle within a certain time period so he or she can move their docket along.  Some couples need extra time to come to terms with all the issues of a divorce, especially when one of the parties isn’t emotionally ready to get divorced.”

2) Creative Process

“The parties and their attorneys can craft a Judgment of Divorce that is in the best interest of their family, negotiated on their terms, rather than having a Judge decide their fate in a divorce trial or pressuring the attorneys to get the parties to settle then and there.”

3) Privacy

“There are privacy advantages to Collaborative Divorce, since the parties aren’t airing their dirty laundry in Court.  Celebrities or high net worth families often choose this type of divorce around the Country, but it applies equally well to middle class couples who choose to divorce.”

4) Less Costly

“The Collaborative Divorce can be less costly than the traditional divorce, because it is designed with efficiency in mind.  The divorce coach helps diffuse the emotional issues which drive up costs in litigation and you don’t have to pay two attorneys to fight in court over an issue that should really be resolved privately in counseling.  Also, instead of hiring 2 experts with different valuations, each designed to serve their client’s interests, the parties agree on one financial expert who makes recommendations to the parties so they can settle the financial issues.”

For more information about Collaborative Divorce in Michigan, visit the State website.  For more information about Randy Pitler’s practice, visit his website. Click here to read Part 1 in this Family Law series:  Family Law Overview; Click here to read Part 2: The Implications of Divorce on College Funding; Click here to read Part 3: The Implications of Divorce on Mortgage Financing.

Points to Ponder and Share:

1) What are your thoughts about Collaborative Divorce?

2) Have you or someone you know used the Collaborative Divorce process for a divorce? If so, how did it work out?

3) What questions do you have about the divorce process based on any of the articles in this 4 part series?


Randall B. Pitler is the principal of Pitler Family Law & Mediation, PC., a family law firm based in Royal Oak, MI specializing in amicable divorce.  Mr. Pitler is a court-approved mediator and is certified in Collaborative Divorce.  He is the immediate Past President of the Collaborative Professionals of Southeast Michigan.  For more information, visit:

For referrals to a Family Law Attorney or Collaborative Law Attorney, or other legal professionals in Michigan, contact Your Legal Resource for a free consultation.

Lori T. Williams

Lori T. Williams is an attorney based in Birmingham, MI, licensed in 1989.  As owner of a legal referral business called Your Legal Resource, PLLC, Lori personally assists individuals and small businesses in need of legal advice or representation in Metro Detroit by connecting them with the right legal specialist to meet their needs.