The basic Collaborative Process structure is a fluid process that provides the parties and the team a structure to resolve issues. After signing the Participation Agreement and developing goals, the process moves to developing questions to be answered (framing the issues). Questions should be framed in a neutral way that will help the parties generate options at the next stage in the process. Framing the issues is followed by gathering information, which involves collecting all needed and relevant financial and legal information, information on the child’s needs and interests, and information on any particular issues facing the individual family.
Once the information is gathered in a Collaborative Divorce, the process moves to generating options. This is a period of brainstorming in which no evaluation of the options is done. Often, parties are able to generate one option each (their preferred option) and the team must encourage and support the parties to generate more options than those two. The team may need to ask questions to provoke a different way of thinking in an effort to assist the parties in generating more options. Brainstorming may also help keep the focus on problem solving rather than becoming stuck on positions. In addition, once the parties have generated all the options they are able to, the team can suggest options.
Once all the options have been generated in the Collaborative Process, the process moves to evaluating the options. Each party shares his or her thoughts on the options generated. The team should frame the evaluation of the options to the parties as, “which of the options are you willing to consider?” This question is different from which of these options do you like or prefer. It is also a different question from which of these options meets your own needs. If parties have concerns about an option, the team should encourage the parties to express these concerns using “I” statements.
Once the concerns are expressed, the team can then attempt to generate options to address the concerns. This discussion may lead to generation of additional options or a minor adjustment to an option previously generated that is more agreeable to the parties. Another technique used in the evaluation phase is to ask each party to look at each of the options and say “yes, no or maybe” to whether he/she would consider the option. This technique results in a reduction of the number of options under consideration and allows for identification of any options that both parties can live with as a basis for resolution. Even if a party says he/she will agree to an option, it is important to emphasize that the party is not stuck with that position later. The parties’ commitments are not binding unless they sign a final agreement or an Agreement to be Relied Upon. Through the evaluation of options, the parties are able to reach a mutual resolution.