Don’t laugh, and suspend your cynical judgment for just a few minutes. Let’s assume you have been thinking seriously about ending your marriage or a long-term relationship, but you are scared because you don’t want the divorce process to ruin you or your children.
Despite your feelings of doubt, shame, insecurity, jealousy, anger, grief, or whatever else you may be feeling, you still value concepts like personal integrity, good faith, transparency, honesty, and mutual respect. If that sounds like you, then I urge you to learn more about the Collaborative Divorce model.
Collaborative divorce is a modern, sensible non-adversarial dispute resolution option. It is different from mediation, or litigation. It applies especially well to divorcing couples who understand that an adversarial divorce will likely make a difficult situation worse, and for couples who may want the added support of a lawyer, unlike the typical mediation model, where clients go to the mediator without their attorney.
The Lawyer is Your Guide
In collaborative practice, the lawyers are there to support you throughout the process and provide confidential legal advice, but they agree in advance to resolve the case without going to court. Period. Collaborative divorce is an interest-based negotiation model.
It provides added value because it brings an interdisciplinary team together that is dedicated to helping you and your spouse emerge from this process healthy and whole, even if you don’t feel like that at this particular moment in time.
You and your spouse still have the benefit and comfort of a family lawyer of your choice who is there to provide you individual advice and represent your interests and whom you know is dedicated to a non-adversarial approach to your divorce, if that approach is appropriate.
We don’t go to court because we are afraid of conflict, but because we are battle-worn and tested and we know the type of devastation that a bad divorce can bring to our clients and their children. We are making a conscious choice, too.
A Mental Health Professional is Part of Your Team
Collaborative divorce is different because it includes a mental health professional whose job is that of a coach. The coach is there to – among other things – normalize the intense emotions, not to diagnose or perform couples counseling. A mental health coach is a skillful person who understands family systems and dynamics and helps all of us identify emotional hot-spots or triggers that may impact the negotiation.
Collaborative divorce lawyers pledge to move your divorce forward without the typical adversarial tactics that can make a difficult situation even harder. We are not operating within the adversarial system. We agree at the outset not to go to court, and we do not threaten to go to court during this process.
We sit down together like competent adults in the same room, and with the expertise of the coach, we all work through whatever the issues are, at a pace that makes sense for you and your family, and we get the job done. Well done in fact, because with this model, we can minimize the emotional and financial costs of your divorce.
Better still, we start the process with the hope and expectation that you and your spouse will be better co-parents and friends when you are no longer married to each other. You can work with the coach whenever you want to so that the emotional issues and the day-to-day questions are not being addressed at meetings with the lawyers, because we all value your time and are mindful of the costs.
A Client-Centered Process
All of the same paperwork that is required by the adversarial divorce process is prepared at the end of the collaborative process, and we file it with the court as a fully completed, uncontested divorce. In most states, this means that you never have to set foot in a courthouse to get divorced.
Collaborative divorce lawyers do not get the option to fail to resolve your case collaboratively, and then still take your case to court. We don’t bargain in the shadow of court.
Your collaborative lawyer has the skills and confidence to get you divorced without using the traditional adversarial tools and tactics. Instead, we set aside our traditional weapons and trust our negotiation skills. We learn to trust the team to make decisions that are both legal, highly ethical and reasonable.
If the process fails, then you will need to hire litigation counsel. That “disqualification clause” creates the incentive for all of us to make sure this is the correct process from the beginning, and it is what makes a Collaborative Divorce a true Collaborative Divorce.
A collaborative divorce looks at the bigger picture of your life and helps you put your divorce into proper perspective. A divorce is one aspect of your life at the moment, and it will eventually be resolved, even if one of you isn’t ready, or didn’t ask for this to be happening.
That is very common. But, how your divorce unfolds and your ability to influence the process, is actually something within your control, even if everything else in your life feels out of control at the moment. The divorce model you choose will have a direct impact on whether you emerge from this transition healthier and happier than when you started, or whether you end up full of bitterness and resentment for the rest of your life.
So how can you have a truly collaborative divorce? You demand it.
You Have Choices
You choose to honor what you value most about yourself, even if your spouse hasn’t especially noticed those values lately. You seek it out, even if your communication hasn’t been strong lately (or ever), and even if you are experiencing a basic lack of accountability and trust in your relationship (every divorcing couple has that same problem).
You choose the collaborative divorce option because you want to use this time to develop or improve your communication.
You deliberately choose a system that provides accountability and an opportunity to be heard.
You recognize the value in rebuilding trust with your former partner.
You do this because you honor your past, and want to emerge from this process healthy and whole.
You do it for yourself and your children. You have a choice. Choose wisely.
Can you think of a time in your life that required courage to act differently than what was expected?
Collaborative divorce attorney Nanci Smith is based in Williston, Vermont. She has received advanced training in collaborative divorce, and is a strong advocate of the collaborative model. www.nancismithlaw.com