“Divorce is one of the most financially traumatic things you can go through. Money spent on getting mad or getting even is money wasted.” – Richard Wagner
Richard Wagner has it right – a court fight to end a marriage rarely rights the wrongs, to say nothing of its impact on your wallet. The good news is that if your relationship is not working, staying married or enduring a protracted courtroom battle is no longer your only set of options. If you are looking for a divorce process that will respect your privacy and offer room for dignity and grace, collaborative divorce may be the right choice for you.
Three key advantages of a collaborative divorce process
Collaborative law is fairly new, and many of our clients have never heard of it before being introduced to a collaboratively-trained attorney, financial planner or mental health professional. That is unfortunate, because there are clear advantages to the collaborative path.
It can be more flexible
In collaborative divorce, meetings and conference times are scheduled around your busy calendar – not arbitrarily assigned by the Court. Solutions are not limited by statutory formulas. The reality of divorce is that you can either work with your spouse to devise a way to cover children’s expenses, or plug income and expense numbers into a formula, cross your fingers and hope for a good outcome.
In my experience, many clients overlook the collaborative path because they think their financial situation is “simple enough”. In reality, the process of dividing property is infinitely complex. Whether you think your circumstances are straightforward, or you have multiple real estate properties, unusual investments or complex compensation, a collaborative approach is more likely to bring you to a resolution that will work for the entire family in the long run.
One of the biggest sources of flexibility and creative solutions is the rigorous training that collaborative professionals go through. Everyone on your team is experienced in guiding the conversation to mutual common ground and benefit, which can result in solutions tailored to the family’s needs.
It can be more private
Many of my clients have a legitimate concern about the public nature of the courtroom process. Their intuition is correct: dirty laundry and nasty language isn’t just the stuff of daytime TV. I have seen it happen to real people, and it has not been pretty.
There is no escaping the need to file documents with the Court. However, collaborative divorce filings are limited to “plain vanilla” language. You won’t find personal details, ugly skeletons or financial specifics in there. That means your family budget stays as private as you would want it to be.
The potential for greater privacy does not end with money. All conversations and negotiations are strictly between spouses and their professional team: that is to say, not for the ears of the curious public in the courtroom.
It can be less expensive
Predicting the exact cost of a divorce is difficult, because every case is unique and affected by multiple variables. However, there are ways in which a collaborative process can save you money. First of all, there are no “dueling CPAs” – one neutral financial professional supports the couple throughout the process. That means you pay for one CPA, not two (or even three if the first two are in a disagreement over financials and a third specialist must be hired to break the tie).
Second, the communication approach encourages collaboration and constructive solutions instead of fostering animosity and drama. If both spouses are determined to come to mutual agreement quickly, the process can be considerably shorter. Much of the divorce cost is a function of the time it takes – after all, most professionals bill hourly. Less time from divorce initiation to agreement signing can mean lower professional billings and fees.
The fact that the collaborative process encourages a focus on resolving disagreements in a civil manner has another side effect: spouses get to keep a better working relationship. This is especially important in cases where children are involved. Mom and Dad will have to function in each other’s company during holidays, graduations and weddings in the years to come. Collaborative teams can help parents resist burning bridges. As a result, couples do not cause irreparable damage to the already fragile and sensitive relationship.
Divorce can be done differently
In closing, collaborative divorce isn’t for everyone. If you (or your spouse) are driven to use the divorce to inflict financial and emotional pain, a collaborative team won’t be able to help you. I find even the most argumentative clients usually learn that a courtroom is not the place to right all wrongs and validate one’s moral superiority. However, that lesson often comes on the heels of high legal fees and a protracted series of hearings. If you want to explore the alternative to courtroom divorce, visit your local resource: Brazos Valley Collaborative Divorce Alliance at www.bvcda.org.