May 10, 2018
A Better Way to “Consciously Uncouple” – Collaborative Divorce
Q: I want to have a “good” relationship with my spouse after our divorce so that our children don’t feel uncomfortable being in the same room with both parents at their future life events, such as their wedding. Is that even possible?
A: This question begs the catch-all answer that all lawyers were taught in law school: “that depends.” However, in most cases, the answer is a resounding yes! In fact, in any divorce or “break-up” where children are involved, the answer should always be yes, in my opinion. When children are involved, you and the other parent will always be your children’s parents, even after your children become adults. There isn’t a person on the planet who wants their parents to attend their wedding and make everyone uncomfortable (including the bride and groom) because everyone can feel the tension in the room. Fortunately, you have a lot of control over the outcome of your divorce. However, it all depends on which divorce process you choose.
There are five ways to resolve all issues relating to your divorce (or custody dispute): (1) the “kitchen table” negotiations between you and your spouse, (2) mediation, (3) Collaborative Law, (4) settlement negotiations between attorneys, and (5) litigating your divorce in court. The process you choose not only affects the future relationship you will have with your soon-to-be-ex and how your children are impacted by the divorce, but it directly impacts the cost of your divorce and the amount of control you have over the outcome of your divorce. The range for cost and control begins with option one above, which is the least expensive and gives you the most control over the outcome of your divorce, and as you move to option five, the cost increases and your control over the outcome decreases such that option five is the most expensive and you have very little control over the outcome of your divorce. The more control you have over the outcome of your divorce (as opposed to a court having control), the greater your chances at having a “good” relationship with your spouse after your divorce because you both participated in reaching an agreement that works for both of you.
In my experience, most divorce and custody cases are riddled with distrust and animosity. As a result, in the traditional litigation process everyone loses, especially the children. When parties litigate divorce and custody issues, the parties’ relationship only deteriorates further, which inevitably causes harm to their children (whether they can see it or not), and the costs are exorbitant. I have found that if you want to resolve your divorce or custody case in a way that positively restructures your family and preserves relationships, takes your concerns and interests into consideration and protects your children from the potential negative effects of divorce, Collaborative Law is the best process to achieve those goals. It is also substantially less expensive than litigation.
Collaborative Law is almost the opposite of traditional court litigation: instead of being manipulative and adversarial, it is transparent; instead of trying to get more than the other side, it is a group effort to try to get both parties more of what they want. Collaborative Law is a team-based approach to resolving issues relating to divorce and custody outside of court where each party has a collaboratively trained attorney and a collaboratively trained coach who is a mental health professional. The parties may also have a collaboratively trained financial neutral to assist with resolving financial issues. There are structured team meetings where the coaches manage any emotional issues the parties may have and ensure that the parties communicate respectfully to one another while the attorneys assist the parties in resolving the legal issues. The Collaborative Law process is more powerful than mediation because if an agreement cannot be reached, all professionals involved are disqualified from representing or working with either party in litigation. This gives everyone the incentive to work hard to try to reach an agreement that will really help their family. Also, all time and money spent in the Collaborative Law process goes toward reaching a durable settlement agreement and enforceable “mini agreements” along the way (whereas in litigation, a lot of money is spent waiting for your case to be called in court).
If your goal is to have a “good” relationship with your spouse after your divorce for the benefit of your children, Collaborative Law is likely the best process because it is the most child-focused process that gives both parties the necessary tools and skills to move forward from the past to form an amicable relationship. However, Collaborative Law isn’t for everyone. For example, if someone is in a physically abusive relationship, Collaborative Law may not be a good fit, rather, settlement negotiations between attorneys may be better. Ultimately, litigation in court is the last place you want to be if you have children. Voltaire said it best: “I was never ruined but twice: once when I lost a lawsuit, and once when I won one.”
I am always trying to inspire my clients to reach their divorce and/or custody goals by providing insightful and empowering legal advice. I thrive on helping clients understand how to successfully navigate the changes in their family dynamics to preserve family relationships and achieve the best outcome possible for the benefit of their children. When I’m not helping clients, I am running around with my husband and our two young and extremely active children and our Pug, Wali.