LONDON–We all know what a nightmare the traditional divorce process can be. In the adversarial system, both spouses air their dirty laundry in public until the judge—a complete stranger who cannot fully understand what each of you is going through—makes the final decision. In recent years, however, settling divorce out of the court has become more and more the norm. And even judges are recommending it as a faster and smarter way.
Family Law Judges on Both Sides of the Atlantic Encourage Settling Divorce Out of the Court
Collaborative Divorce in Britain
Most recently, a British judge announced at a Collaborative Divorce reception that collaborative family law cases in England settled out of court can now receive court approval within as little as a couple of days. Mr. Justice Coleridge, who was speaking at an engagement on October 13 marking the fifth anniversary of Collaborative Divorce in the U.K., says that fast-tracking divorce cases is now possible if the couple has already agreed to the terms of their divorce, according to the Daily Telegraph.
Collaborative Divorce, which was invented by a Minneapolis attorney in 1990 and which arrived in Great Britain in 2003, is a non-adversarial approach to divorce in which both parties and their lawyers negotiate in a safe, confidential environment, ruling out the litigation option unless the parties hire new lawyers. “I think every conceivable encouragement should be given to parties to negotiate by this method,” Coleridge said about Collaborative Divorce.
According to the Telegraph, about 1,250 English lawyers are now practicing Collaborative Divorce, more than 300 of them in London.
Divorce Court’s Judge Lynn Toler’s view
In the United States and Canada, Collaborative Divorce and other Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) methods such as divorce mediation have become more common as ways of resolving marital disputes. In a recent Divorce Magazine article, Judge Lynn Toler, the star of television’s Divorce Court, advises divorcing couples to research all options available before considering litigation.
“ADR can help you walk away with not only a mutually tolerable result, but a greater sense of control,” Judge Toler says. “The advantages are many. ADR can speed up the divorce process, help avoid excessive attorney’s fees, and since the proceedings are privileged and confidential, it leaves the litigation option intact.”
Judge Toler encourages splitting spouses to get informed about not only mediation and Collaborative Divorce but also newer ADR hybrids such as Collaborative Mediation and Cooperative Divorce. It’s up to couples to find out what method best suits their own unique situations. “Knowledge is power,” she says. “Be aware of your options. I [as a judge] may not be the answer.”
Illinois Judge Lowrance Weighs In
“In the adversarial process,” says Cook County, Illinois judge Michele Lowrance, “family-law attorneys must enhance disagreements and positioning as they continually repeat them to each other and then cultivate them for court. Mediation encourages emotional expression in ways that are productive; in the adversarial process, the only avenue for this kind of expression is usually anger. Communication often freezes between the parties as they battle through their attorneys’ voices and become afraid that they may say the wrong thing… Mediation encourages ongoing communication, because they know as I do breakdown in communication is the first step toward disaster.
“The trickle-down benefit to the children is immense,” Judge Lowrance adds. “The children observe their parents skillfully deal with each other, even if they didn’t before. They learn that conflict is part of life and doesn’t mean they are going to lose a parent. In choosing mediation, you will endorse a positive, often benevolent, process rather than fusing your future to a potentially destructive life experience.”
Robin Williams Follows the Trend
Earlier this year, comedian and Oscar-winning actor Robin Williams made a few headlines by opting to keep his divorce out of court and settle it through Collaborative Divorce. “We will strive to be honest, cooperative, and respectful as we work in this process to achieve the future well being of our families,” Williams and his wife, Marsha Garces, stated in their divorce documents, according to People. “We… agree to seek a positive way to resolve our differences justly and equitably.” While this kind of celebrity divorce may not be as good for tabloid headlines, it’s much better for the children and the pocketbook.
A More Civilized Divorce Process
As divorce has become more common in recent decades and lost much of its social stigma, it seems that it has also evolved as a more civilized and rational process. So when you choose your divorce lawyer, you may want to ask them about the different ways you can settle your divorce out of court.