With approximately fifty percent of marriages ending in divorce, the termination of a marriage is now a common life transition. Although it may be common, divorce can be difficult on both parents and children. If asked, most couples would say that they would prefer to minimize the harmful effects of divorce on their children. Ideally, the parents hope to be able to enjoy their children’s birthday parties, graduations, weddings and other family events together without bitterness or resentment marring those occasions. Is there a greater gift to give your children than enabling them to experience these events without having to worry about how their parents will interact? By choosing the right divorce method, a couple can go a long way to reaching that goal.
Couples with no children, few assets and an amicable relationship may be able to complete their own divorce. This is called a pro se divorce. Even in fairly simple cases, the individuals must have the time to educate themselves about the divorce process. It will inevitably take a significant amount of time to understand and complete the required forms and comply with Court procedures and timeframes. The couple has to be comfortable assuming responsibility for a process that has significant legal implications.
For couples not comfortable with a pro se divorce who would like to keep the divorce process amicable and minimize conflict, mediation is an excellent alternative. Mediators are attorneys, mental health professionals or financial professionals who have undertaken special training in mediation skills. The mediator acts as a neutral party, guiding the couple through their divorce while encouraging them to advocate on their own behalf and reach solutions that will best serve their family. In some cases, the mediators work in a two person team. A mental health/attorney team is especially suited to fostering cooperation and moving the process along. In mediation, the couple is encouraged to think creatively to find ways to divide assets, create budgets and care for the children after the divorce. Because the couple is making their own decisions for their family, instead of having solutions dictated by the Court, mediated divorce agreements are more likely to be complied with after the divorce. Since mediation is a cooperative process, it is typically the least costly of the assisted divorce methods. Mediation is not only for those people who get along well. In most cases, hurt and resentment are part and parcel of the divorce process and mediators are trained to deal with these feelings and turn conflict into productive solutions.
Some people, while hoping to accomplish an amicable divorce, are unwilling or unable to advocate for themselves. For these people, Collaborative Divorce might fit the bill. Collaborative Divorce is a method that has been spreading across the nation. Collaborative Divorce addresses the emotional, financial and legal considerations of a divorce using a team model. The husband and the wife are each represented by attorneys who have agreed to work in a cooperative, non-adversarial process. The attorneys agree from the start that neither one will turn the matter into a litigated case. The attorneys assure that a party’ rights are preserved and act as his or her ally throughout the divorce negotiations. What is unique about Collaborative Divorce is that the husband and wife may be aided by either one or two divorce coaches, one neutral financial specialist, and when there are children, a child specialist. The divorce coaches are mental health professional, who guide the husband or wife through their divorce and help them acquire the skills needed to negotiate and overcome the conflicts that caused difficulties in the marriage. The coaches will also help the couple deal productively with emotional issues that are part of the process. The neutral financial specialist assists the couple in evaluating financial options and reaching a settlement that is best for the family overall. The child specialist provides information about the developmental needs of the children during and after the divorce and gives the children a voice in this process. Collaborative divorce is a good option for couples who are uncomfortable divorcing without the support of their own attorney and mental health coach. One might assume that the team model of Collaborative Divorce would increase costs. The fact is that use of the team model can reduce costs by delegating aspects of the divorce process to the professionals most skilled in those areas.
Both mediation and collaborative divorce are cooperative processes that help the clients work together. Most people will be successful using one of the two divorce processes. However, in cases of domestic violence, hidden assets, significant mental health or addiction issues, the couple will most likely face a traditional adversarial divorce. In these cases, the husband and the wife each hires his or her own attorney who will generally attempt to reach a divorce settlement, but, if necessary, will take the case to trial. This process entails more Court involvement as issues are decided at hearings and information is gathered through the sworn testimony of the couple and their experts. This is typically the most costly and least private of the choices due to the frequent use of the Court and the time spent by the attorneys in preparing for and attending hearings and building a foundation for trial. From this group come the infamous divorces cases that cost exorbitant amounts of money and take years to complete and cause normally sane people to act in uncharacteristically insane ways. Unfortunately, the children must witness the insanity and see their college funds used to fuel the conflict.
Vicki Volper is an attorney licensed to practice in Connecticut and New York. Attorney Volper works both as a mediator and as a Collaborative Divorce attorney from her office in Westport, Connecticut.