Think about the most important decisions you may have to make regarding your family. How do you want to invest your hard-earned income? Do you want to return to school to pursue a graduate degree, or would it be better for your family if one parent was more available to care for young children? Which school should your children attend? For that matter, where should your child live, which parent should they spend time with, and when?

Few would feel confident putting such important decisions in the hands of a stranger who knows very little about their family. However, that’s exactly what happens in a “traditional” litigated divorce when a couple can’t reach agreement and a judge is forced to rule on the issues. How a couple chooses to divorce, rather than why, can shape their future for years to come. Thankfully, there is a family-friendly alternative to traditional litigated divorce in the form of Collaborative Divorce.

Collaborative Divorce, sometimes referred to as Collaborative Process, is a family and future focused alternative to a traditional litigated divorce. This process was founded in Minnesota and is based on the revolutionary premise that spouses, even divorcing spouses, are in the best position to make decisions about the future of their family. Spouses in a Collaborative Divorce seek to resolve disputes out of court, without the stress and added expense of litigation. The process is driven by the clients, not attorneys or the court’s schedule. Trained Collaborative attorneys represent each spouse and work with jointly-retained financial and mental health professionals to reduce conflict and avoid the cost and heartache of litigation.

Collaborative Divorce uses a problem-solving approach to help the family achieve financial arrangements that best meet the goals of the family. These goals could range from paying down high-interest debt quickly, finding new living arrangements for both spouses, easing a spouse back into the workforce, to finding creative solutions to pay for childcare or private school. Collaborative attorneys and financial professionals work to maximize the family’s assets to help each spouse achieve their financial goals for the future.

For many families, the most valuable part of Collaborative Divorce is the ability to craft a unique parenting plan with the assistance of trained child development and mental health professionals. The child specialist helps parents prepare to tell the children about the divorce, and meets with the children (if age appropriate) to learn about the unique needs of the family and each child. The child specialist then assists parents to create a parenting plan that takes these needs and the family’s future goals into account. A Collaborative coach, or mental health professional, may also work with the family to manage the difficult emotions involved in divorce and improve communication skills needed for successful co-parenting and problem solving. The goal is to create a post-divorce environment where all members of the family can thrive.

While divorce is never painless, it does not have to be an endless process of scorched-earth litigation. It is possible to divorce with dignity and respect, and to stay out of court.