Collaborative Divorce: Time is money—Yours!
Abraham Lincoln once said a lawyers’ time is his “stock-in-trade.” In an initial divorce consultation, a question always asked is what is this going to cost me? The most accurate, yet most unsatisfactory, answer is “It depends on how easy or difficult you and the other side make it.” A court divorce fight can quickly escalate into a financial and emotional bloodbath. The collaborative divorce process offers a more rational approach.
While Courts are available to settle marital disputes, they are not the most efficient means of doing so and should be the last resort for couples going through a marital breakup. Too often, they are the first resort. Two factors which drive up the financial and emotional costs of divorce are: 1.The negative raw emotions of the divorce experience are allowed to control decision making; and 2.The inherent inefficiencies of the court process. The collaborative process emphasizes resolving differences and moving on with one’s life without getting stuck in the court process. The decision-making process is controlled by the Parties, and not the Courts.
The court process is, by design, both adversarial and deliberative. Its adversarial aspect gives both Parties the right to hire lawyer-advocates with an ethical duty to zealously represent the interests of their clients. This promotes “positional” bargaining where both lawyers are trying to get the best outcomes for their clients. This often results in the Parties’ attorneys presenting their client’s actions in the best light and the opposing party’s actions in the worst light, which, in turn, results in the magnification of the negative actions of both Parties. This reinforces a deep-seated emotional need to be vindicated as being “right” and the other side “wrong.” Separating couples, who are going through a period of varying degrees of temporary insanity, are especially vulnerable to this approach. Once sucked into this “black hole” of negativity, it’s difficult to get out. The collaborative divorce approach, while recognizing the negative fallout of a separation and divorce, does not allow it to control decision making. With the assistance of experienced collaborative professionals (not just the Parties’ lawyers, but where needed, a marital therapist, child Psychologist, financial planner/CPA, expert appraiser, etc.), the Parties commitment to resolving their differences and moving on with their lives makes the collaborative divorce approach work.
The deliberative nature of court proceedings insures that nothing happens quickly. This is aggravated by the limited Court time and court personal to effectively handle the existing case load. The Collaborative Divorce process gives the Parties much more control of the timing. The collaborative sessions are scheduled at the first available time Because it starts out with two individuals who are focused more on working out their differences, and less on obtaining vindication for the others ‘wrongs” by “winning” Court confrontations, the time frame can be both expeditious and measured, depending on the mutual comfort level and needs of the participants. Scheduled meetings take place and if, for some reason more time is needed, they can be promptly rescheduled.
But it is not just the reduction of the financial costs due to the greater efficiencies of the Collaborative divorce process that recommends it. Just as, if not more, significant is the reduction of the emotional costs of an ugly, knock-down, dragged-out divorce, especially where children are involved. Court hearings often involve the re-hashing of traumatic episodes that occurred months if not a year or more prior to the day the issue is finally presented in court. What better way to stayed mired in the past than to relive it! The emotional trauma of an “ugly” divorce can inflict permanent emotional scarring on the Parties’ children, as well as the adults involved. And it seldom matters whether one party of the other is “right” in any particular instance. It’s the “fight” that inflicts the most emotional damage. During the dust storm of negativity inherent in the process of separating, well-meaning parents become blinded to the impact of their actions on their children. The collaborative divorce process involves a mental health professional, where needed, familiar with the collaborative process, to participate in the collaborative sessions in order to help the Parties focus on constructive steps to resolve their differences, to avoid inflicting harm on their children, and to move on with their lives.