ARE YOU DIVORCING?
CHOOSE A WAY
Your marriage is in trouble and you want out. The first thing that you think about is finding a lawyer and battling your way through the process. Don’t be so quick to open the Yellow Pages. First, do some research. Divorce can be done in at least 4 ways: Pro Se, Litigation, Mediation or Collaboration.
Pro Se means that you and your spouse sit at the kitchen table and work through all of the issues of sharing custody, changing living arrangements, dividing property, setting up two new households and sharing time with the children. Once you have decisions on all of these issues, you can write down your plans, research the law in your area and petition the court for a divorce decree. The kitchen table has the advantage of keeping things low key, working cooperatively and maintaining a good relationship with the other person as you reconfigure your lives. The disadvantages of this method are that a power imbalance could put one party at a disadvantage, unfamiliarity with the law could result in some poor choices for the future, and incomplete processes could lead to litigation in the future.
Litigation is the most familiar and probably the most contentious method of divorce. Each party hires a lawyer to advise them and represent their interests. Most litigated cases end of settling without going to court; however, the process leading up to that point is generally one of battle, hostility and acrimony. Many times the family, extended family and even friends are injured in the battle. Often there is little or no recovery from the process. When a case does go to court, the decision making power is ceded to the judge and both parties may end of very unhappy with the outcome.
Mediation is a more civil process of using one trained mediator to help you work through all of the issues and develop a settlement agreement. This agreement is then taken to a lawyer for review prior to signing and filing for divorce. A skilled mediator can keep you focused on the issues at hand and reduce emotional conflicts in the room. However, the mediator is there to work toward resolution of the issues and is not trained in facilitating a change in the emotional dynamics. Because of this, mediation can feel more like the kitchen table with a guide.
Collaborative is a transformative process whereby a team of professionals assists in working through the practical and emotional issues. The team generally consists of a lawyer for each person and a coach for each person. The lawyer advises on aspects of the law as you consider different options and solutions. The coach addresses the emotional dynamics and assists in learning new ways to communicate your needs and resolve issues with the other person. For custody issues and shared parenting, an expert in child development acts as a neutral advisor to the entire team so that the children’s needs are presented objectively for everyone to consider as they problem solve. For financial issues, an expert in financial planning can develop projections and plans as a neutral advisor to the team. The collaborative process is focused on transforming the historical model of divorce as a battleground to a more realistic model of divorce as a reconfiguration of the family where relationships will continue in a new form. The couple retains control of all decision making and decisions are based on mutual interests and common goals and not on power dynamics.
By now my bias toward the Collaborative Divorce should be obvious. Reshaping the family is a difficult process. Even the most mature individual will report that during their divorce they were a bit insane at times. The stress of ending a marriage and making dramatic changes in the life style of your children and yourself is a major emotional event. The team approach can give you the best opportunity to make choices that are legally sound, financially wise and emotionally healthy. For more information on Collaborative Divorce visit the web site of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals: www.collaborativepractice.com