Many couples today choose not to get married, but instead live together in a committed relationship as married couples do, having children and purchasing a home, without the benefit of marriage. Although this decision not to get married may work well for the couple while they are happy, if the relationship breaks down, it is far more difficult for the couple to separate and secure Court orders to address all of their issues. When a couple who is married chooses to separate, the Family Court in New Hampshire will address all issues the couple needs addressed, including parenting, support and the division of assets and debts. However, when a couple who is unmarried chooses to separate, the Family Court can only address parenting and child support. If the couple owns assets together like a house and furniture and furnishings, the Family Court does not have jurisdiction to address these issues. Therefore, a separate proceeding must be filed in the Superior Court to address the division of the home and other assets. The proceeding to address the division of the parties’ home is called a partition. Any other assets must be addressed in an equity proceeding.  This can be very difficult and costly for the couple as 2 separate cases need to filed in 2 separate courts.

If the couple is able to come to an agreement on the division of their assets and the parenting and support issues, this simplifies the process greatly. This is not always easy, however, as much like divorce, there are a lot of emotions impacting the parties’ ability to communicate, listen to and appreciate each other’s perspectives, and consider what is most important: their children. Much like in a divorce, the couple is dealing with feelings of hurt, sadness, fear, anger, and distrust. It is almost impossible to reach an agreement with so many emotions getting in the way.

The Collaborative process provides a solution to allow such couples to separate, divide their assets, create a parenting plan for their children and address their support needs, all in one process. The benefits of the Collaborative process in these cases, as in divorces, is the assistance of a team of professionals to help the parties work through the issues. Each party will have a Collaboratively trained lawyer. This is a lawyer with experience in divorce and parenting cases, but also specially trained in the Collaborative process. In addition to their lawyers, the couple will have the benefit of a Collaboratively trained mental health professional called a “Coach”. One of the primary jobs of the Coach is to help the parties process and work through their emotions to enable them to reach an amicable resolution. By helping the parties to work through their emotions, those emotions do not get in the way of a settlement. The parties will also have the benefit of a financial professional (like a CPA, Divorce Financial Planner, etc) called a “Financial Neutral” in the Collaborative process. This professional helps the parties to understand their finances and make good financial decisions. Within a couple of months, with the benefit of these professionals, the parties are able to reach an agreement on all issues. This saves them a lot of time and money, and reduces the animosity typical Court proceedings can create.

Once an agreement is reached on the parenting and support issues, a Parenting Petition will be filed with the Court along with the parties’ Parenting Plan and Uniform Support Order. This will allow the parties to turn their agreements into a Court order, giving them confidence that the agreements will be followed. It is not necessary to file anything with the Court to address the division of their assets as their written agreement will suffice. If needed, their written agreement is a “contract” that can be enforced.

Most couples find that by working together in the Collaborative process with the help of the Collaborative team, agreements can be reached that both parties are satisfied with. Couples that are satisfied with the results tend to follow the agreements reached without the need for future Court involvement.

If you are not married, have children with your former partner and/or own assets with your former partner, contact one of the Collaborative attorneys at Parnell, Michels & McKay, PLLC. We can help you to work through all of these issues in one process, avoiding the need for multiple proceedings in different courts.