January is known as “divorce month,” the time when the most people reach out to attorneys for information regarding divorce. It makes sense, as many people do not want to start this process during the holiday season, particularly if they have children. So January becomes the time of the New Year, new marital status.
If you are contemplating divorce, it is important to know that there are different ways to divorce. There is the traditional litigated model, where both you and your spouse hire attorneys and go through the court system. This is an adversarial, win-lose model wherein the two of you are talking through your attorneys, you have regular “status” hearings in court, and you file various documents, such as financial information, into public record.
Most cases that go through the court system settle by mutual agreement. In fact, less than 1% of cases proceed to trial whereby the judge makes the final decisions. So truly, the question is not if you and your spouse will reach agreements. Rather the question is how and at what cost, both financially and emotionally, that you will reach agreements.
Those who work within the divorce realm are recognizing that the traditional adversarial system is often not helpful for families, particularly for those with children, and at times can even be harmful, fueling the fires of conflict. There are alternative ways to divorce and given the divorce rate of 50% understanding your process choices is important.
One such process is known as Collaborative Divorce. This is a process that is external to the court system and uses a team-based approach to help families navigate the divorce process. The team includes: you each having your own attorney who provides legal advice; a coach who is a mental health professional who helps you both identify emotional responses so that decisions can be made from a more logical and thoughtful manner; a child specialist who is a mental health professional with expertise in child development who helps you to develop your parenting plan and transition from a marital to a co-parenting relationship; a financial professional who facilitates discussion of the division of assets and debts, child support, spousal support, and tax implications.
So what are the benefits of this team approach?
- Private: Since a Collaborative Divorce is external to the court process only your final agreements are entered into public record. Information related to your finances and other family matters remain confidential.
- Voluntary: Given that you each are choosing to participate in the Collaborative Divorce process, including providing each other with all needed information, you are more likely to participate and engage in the process.
- Collaborative: You both as well as your team are focused on helping you reach mutually agreeable decisions. Although tensions may arise, the focus is on settlement not on winning. And for further incentive, if either of you should choose to go to court, the Collaborative Process ends and all professionals withdraw. So the threat of litigation is literally off the table.
- Self-Directed: Although your team will facilitate discussions, you will make the decisions, not your attorneys or a judge. This gives you the freedom to be creative and reach agreements that meet the needs unique to your family rather than following a one-size-fits-all model.
- Durable: Plus, since you make the decisions, you will be more likely to abide by those decisions and be less likely to go to court in the future.
- Faster: Again since you make the decisions, you set the timetable. The process proceeds at your pace without attorneys having to go to court for regular “status” hearings no matter how much progress has or has not been made.
- Empowering: Rather than talk through your attorneys, you and your spouse talk to each other facilitated by your team. This might sound like the last thing you want to do yet if you have children you will have to talk with each other post-divorce. The team in a Collaborative Divorce can help you transition into a co-parenting relationship setting boundaries and structure for communications and interactions.
- Forward-Focused: In a Collaborative Divorce the focus is on helping you move through the divorce process in a manner that is focused on the future and not on dwelling on the past, seeking revenge, or proving who is the better parent. It is about creating a future in which everyone can thrive.
- Child-Focused: The single most contributing factor to how children adjust to a divorce is the amount of conflict between co-parents. Throughout a Collaborative Divorce, the focus is on your children and the benefit of proceeding through the legal, financial, parenting, and emotional aspects of divorce in a manner that will have the least negative impact on your child and preserve positive parent-child relationships.
- Economical: Yes, it may seem costly to have a team of 5 professionals and indeed a Collaborative Divorce does come at a high hourly rate yet the overall cost, both financial and emotional, is by far less than a highly litigated divorce. That is for two reasons. First, each team member works on the pieces within their area of expertise. So you are working with a child specialist to develop your parenting plan with your attorneys providing legal guidance. Second, the child specialist and financial professional are neutrals, only facilitating discussion and problem solving and not taking sides. In contrast to a litigated model where you may each have such a professional on your “side.”
Of course, a Collaborative Divorce is not for everyone. If there is domestic violence, child abuse, or someone is hiding assets then court intervention is needed. Yet these situations occur in by far the minority of divorces. Remember that you do have a choice in what your divorce story will be.
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Stay tuned for next week when I will talk about another alternative process, mediation.