While everyone understands that a Petition for Divorce is filed in the court system, many people may not realize that a divorce is a lawsuit, just like any other civil lawsuit and, as such, it is a matter of public record.  Under our open courts system, that means that anything that is filed in connection with the divorce is subject to being seen by others. In light of the surge in identity theft and other financial scams, we should all be leery of allowing our private information to be accessible to strangers.

Collaborative divorce process

The collaborative process is a method of alternative dispute resolution recognized by the Texas Family Code. As such, the communications, discussions, and negotiations that take place within the protections of the Collaborative Participation Agreement are confidential from the outside world. This allows the clients to speak freely in front of each other, as well as each other’s attorney, without fear of being cross-examined in court by their spouse’s attorney. Each client can freely brainstorm “out of the box” solutions without the fear of the suggestion being used against later.

For many clients, keeping the details of the reasons for the demise of their marriage, or the details of their financial situation, out of the view of the public is their highest priority.  In the collaborative divorce process, some parties choose to file a Joint Petition for Divorce so that neither is deemed to be the one who is either pushing for the divorce or the reason behind the divorce. For some couples, this is important so that their children don’t blame one parent over the other. Depending on the particular profession of one or both of the spouses, having the divorce presented as a joint decision can be important to them as a means of protecting their professional reputation.

 On the financial side, information is exchanged within the collaborative process in a manner that protects it from public disclosure. While the Final Decree of Divorce will have to include provisions regarding any minor children involved, clients have the option of having their financial agreement set forth in an Agreement Incident to Divorce that is not filed with the Court.  If requested by either client or either attorney, a sworn verification is made by each client that all of their assets and liabilities have been disclosed. The financial privacy afforded by the collaborative process can be particularly important for either small business owners or high-level executives of large companies who need to maintain confidential or proprietary information.

In a litigated divorce, where the final decisions are being made by a judge or jury, clients are required to lay all of their information out before the Court.  This includes not only the details of their marriage and their children, but also their finances.  Details about the mental or physical health of the parties and/or the children are revealed in a public setting.  Account statements, for both assets and liabilities, have to be introduced into evidence. Our judicial system allows for anyone to sit in the courtroom and observe a trial proceeding. Do you really want a complete stranger to know that one of your children suffers from a mental health issue, or that your current financial picture may not be as robust as you would like? Conversely, if you have a large estate, do you want a stranger to know exactly how much you have in the bank or how many pieces of real estate you own? For most of us, the answer is no. If keeping your private life private is a priority for you, consider the collaborative divorce process for the dissolution of your marriage.

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