It costs $7,000 per family unit to open your mouth in court.
That is how local family law attorney Wendy Wood described a return to court to resolve parenting disputes in this column two years ago. I doubt the cost has gone down.
A local therapist tells me that she wishes there was a better way to divorce. The traditional process is bringing divorced parents to her office where they battle over their children. She was thrilled to hear about the collaborative law divorce process.
The collaborative divorce method is customized to family needs. Parents can plan ahead for children’s costs like vacations, camps, first vehicles and sports. Parents learn how to communicate and cooperate about sharing time with their children. Several couples have told me they communicate better after their collaborative divorce than in the years before it. The process fosters open and honest communication. This is in marked contrast to traditional divorce methods, which are intended to be adversarial. Those processes can foster emotional pain and expensive court visits long after the divorce.
Unlike a traditional divorce where the judge may be determining the property settlement and child custody issues, collaborative law enables couples to create unique settlements tailored to their family needs. In the courthouse, the judge has a set of rules that must be strictly followed plus other ‘guidelines’ that are routinely followed in every case. The judge knows he or she cannot be reversed if the statutory guidelines are followed. Therefore, after a trial, couples are stuck with ‘one size fits all’ judicial decisions. In contrast, during the collaborative law process, couples can customize the provisions to fit their particular circumstances.
In a collaborative divorce, you and your spouse have control over your divorce. You can have privacy and confidentiality that is not available in a traditional litigated divorce. In court, you may have to be on the witness stand and say things that can never be erased. Every word in the trial is public record. But then a collaborative law divorce can be more difficult because you take responsibility for your own decisions. You cannot pass the buck and later blame the judge. You have to be mature enough to talk things through, even when it’s painful. You both have to act like grown ups.
Collaborative law has four main characteristics.
Safe environment. You and your attorneys pledge not to go to court. Your goals to get through the collaborative law process are aligned with that of your attorneys. If you drop out, so do they. This means you can speak openly in the meetings because nothing you say will be used against you in a courtroom.
Transparency. You both agree to be honest, sharing all information openly. This saves you a lot of money and speeds along the process because you don’t need an expensive and slow discovery process. Your neutral financial professional examines all the financial data and saves you the expense of hiring dueling experts.
Privacy. Your private life remains private. If you have made mistakes, they are not exposed in a public record. Collaborative law is not about looking backward with anger, shame and regret. It is all about moving forward to a new normal.
Customization. Collaborative law professionals make it their goal to help you design the solutions that fit your family’s needs. You can agree to resolutions that a judge is not allowed by the law to order.
The collaborative approach is divorce done differently. You and your spouse get a neutral divorce coach who provides support for the variety of emotions that often accompany divorce. She will help you find stability and take your time to fully understand your choices. If you have minor children, your divorce coach will help you practice your new co-parenting skills and schedules before the divorce is final. If your children’s shared time doesn’t work out as well as you two had anticipated, you get to try another schedule before you become officially unmarried. She helps you choose and settle into the pattern that fits your family.
Your neutral financial professional helps you two develop a complete and accurate list of property. She helps you to understand and discuss finances openly. She provides insight and education on the money issues – for the negotiations and for your separate financial futures. She works to keep you both from making expensive financial mistakes. (Disclosure: I have been doing this for several years.)
Your collaborative attorneys also take a different approach to your divorce. They advocate and advise each of you, plus they work together to bring you two to your desired resolution. They help you set goals and understand the legal issues of your situation. Collaborative law attorneys don’t fight. They don’t waste your money manipulating details to gain a few yards. They help each other and work together to find the best solutions for your family.
Traditions are a staple of this community, but breaking from traditional divorce is a positive option. To see if collaborative law divorce is suited for you or someone you know, visit these websites.