There is an old cliché that says, “Criminal court involves bad people acting on their best behavior, and family court involves good people acting on their worst behavior.” When we imagine a divorce, we often think of ugly courtroom battles. They drag on, with partners exposing one another’s secrets or even fabricating accusations. People battle for property and child custody, and everyone is looking out for themselves.
This mental picture is not imaginary. Most cliches have some basis in reality, and there are certainly true divorce horror stories in the world. However, there is a better way. If you and your spouse can work together, you can consider a collaborative divorce. This is a process where everyone works together, attempting to meet both spouses’ needs.
How It Works
In a collaborative divorce, both sides still hire their own lawyers. In contrast to an ugly courtroom battle, however, the attorneys are there to help everyone work together. Their involvement is simply to help ensure that all legal requirements are met. No one is going to war. In fact, the process is so friendly that one attorney may recommend another before negotiations begin.
These lawyers are specially trained in collaboration and mediation techniques, which contain a bit of psychological training. The goal of a collaborative divorce is to help each party walk away as satisfied as possible. When negotiations hit a wall, the lawyers’ mediative techniques can kick in. They can help spouses listen to one another’s needs and concerns, redirecting contention into cooperation.
In a collaborative divorce, you will avoid court. Instead, you will attend several meetings. First, you will meet with your lawyer. This will give you a safe place to vent your frustrations and concerns while expressing what you want in the divorce. Your spouse will do the same with their lawyer. After the attorneys understand what their clients want, everyone meets together to hash out the details. This may require a few meetings to finalize, but you make agreements, you submit them to the courts to finalize the divorce.
Bringing in the Experts
A collaborative divorce can involve more than just the four major players (the two spouses and their lawyers). You can also include others with expertise in certain fields. For example, you may bring in financial professionals who can help with asset division. You can also include mental health experts. They can help you manage your uncomfortable feelings with the divorce, and they can help you make decisions that are best for the children. With their experience, they can help you draw a parenting plan that benefits everyone.
You can include these experts in meetings, both the individual and collective ones, based on your comfort level. They will likely be helping your spouse the same way they are helping you, sitting in on their individual meetings as well.
How You Can Benefit from a Collaborative Divorce
Anything said in a court of law becomes a matter of public record. Contentious battles full of venom and accusation are recorded, and anyone can access that information. To maintain your privacy, anything said within your collaborative meetings remains there. After agreements are made, they are submitted on to courts. Only your finances and the fact that you got divorced go into the public record, and everything else remains private.
In a courtroom divorce, your power is stripped from you. You can hire the best attorney who makes the strongest arguments, but ultimately, the court is going to make all the decisions. You can still “win” or “lose,” and you could be forced into actions that you believe are unfair.
In a collaborative divorce, you can avoid having to say words like “lost” or “must.” You don’t lose anything, and you aren’t forced to do anything. You make agreements, and you are allowed to say “yes” or “no” during negotiations Any sacrifices you make are your choice. It is a very empowering experience, having agency over all final determinations.
Courtroom divorces are costly. You must pay your lawyer to investigate your claims against your spouse and build an argument. Time in the courtroom is also time paid for their services. Sometimes, the opposition is guilty of “churning,” especially if you are paying for your spouse’s attorney fees. This is an unscrupulous practice where one side continues to enter claims and demands that require a response, prolonging the divorce and upping their salaries. In some cases, there are courtroom fees regardless of final rulings.
All of this can be avoided in a collaborative divorce. You pay for the time it takes to attend your meetings and for some fees associated with filing the paperwork. Afterward, the only financial obligations you have are the ones you negotiated.
It bears repeating: A courtroom divorce takes time. Anything can slow it down, especially if the marital assets are vast and complicated. In a collaborative divorce, you are required only to attend the scheduled meetings. You may have to schedule a few more if you hit roadblocks, but in general, the entire process will take far less time than a courtroom divorce.
Divorce is never easy. Even if the relationship was unsalvageable, it’s still difficult to say goodbye and transition into a new phase of your life. This emotional difficulty is compounded when you find yourself fighting against your ex, each of you scraping for a “win,” diminishing the relationship you once had.
In a collaborative divorce, you will be working together. It may be your last opportunity to be on a team, which can be a great way to honor what you had. In the best-case scenarios, you could even part as friends.
If you are considering a collaborative divorce, reach out to our office today. With experience, we can help you create a smooth process for your divorce. Our number is (914) 312-4131, and you can contact us online.