Divorce Without War

I usually write my newsletters about something I’m learning in my own life that I believe will also be of interest to you. Today I feel it is important to talk about divorce, specifically an alternative to the war of litigation that allows for better outcomes. Better for you, your finances, your health, your kids, your future. I want to talk to you about collaborative divorce.

I am a member of the Collaborative Divorce Professionals of Boulder County in Colorado, a group of professionals who are, as I am, passionate about this kinder, gentler way to end a marriage. It is a relatively new approach to divorce, and a lot of people don’t know about it. It is an important alternative to consider.

The Art of Collaboration

As I see it, push coming to shove rarely tones down conflict but instead heightens it. Between nations a (sort of) sense of safety comes from having bigger and better weapons. In divorce we hope to derive safety and fairness by having the toughest, meanest lawyer adept at war. But those who have traveled this route know that it is an illusion.

Litigation is war. It is a long, drawn out process that more often than not stirs fears and brings out the absolute worst in two people who once loved each other. It saps financial resources, which are already stretched too thin by two people trying to live out of one pot. In a recent case a couple spent a half a million dollars litigating their divorce. That money could have been spent on college education for their kids, or retirement, or even a trip around the world. Instead it went to the legal process.

Sharing and cooperation are skills we were introduced to in kindergarten. At that time the items at stake were a truck or a doll or the biggest piece of pie. Now it’s about houses and retirement accounts – bigger stakes but the principles are the same. We will remain locked in a power struggle one against another, until we decide to do things differently. There is a better way.

Marriage starts as an act of love and devotion, often with the oversight of church or other spiritual guidance. When a marriage ends it comes under the jurisdiction of the courts. Many couples don’t realize that when divorce papers are filed, a lawsuit is filed. Marriage is reduced to a legal contract rather than a commitment of the heart and/or a spiritual union.

When it comes to separating lives, things like memories, family heirlooms, and children cannot be adequately divided via a spreadsheet. Our most precious items cannot be parted out with a “one for you” and “one for me” (or “one for you” and “two for me” as is often sought in divorce). So what is the alternative?

Introducing Collaborative Divorce

What do you need in order to part ways with the least damage to your heart, with your pride intact, and your family as whole as it can be given the circumstances? How can your assets be divided in a way that allows you both to have a good life on the other side of divorce? Answering those questions is the realm of collaborative divorce. Collaborative divorce takes the approach of doing whatever is needed to separate hearts, families, and memories, gently and meaningfully.


The Collaborative Model and Alternatives

In the true collaborative model each of you would retain an attorney who is collaboratively trained (very important) who will work together with and for you, not in opposition. The four of you make a commitment to stay out of court and present through difficulties until it is complete. Meetings are often held with the two divorcing parties and the two attorneys (called four-ways) at the same table ferreting out answers to those all-important questions posed above. A divorce coach is often included to help the couple with the emotional impact. Other professionals are brought in as needed: financial advisors, child advocates, divorce coaches, realtors, property evaluators, etc.

Alternatively, you can get the help of a collaborative attorney without having to retain one to represent you. To do this, ask about unbundled legal services. It can be very useful to have a collaboratively trained professional on your team to review important documents, to provide information about things like maintenance or child support, to educate you about the tax implications of a decision you are considering, etc. A collaborative attorney can provide this information to you without instilling fear. An attorney trained for war can scare the socks off you.

Law schools teach the adversarial model – win at all cost. There are a growing number of divorce professionals who are refusing to litigate because of the toll it takes on them, and those they serve. Because this is the model attorney’s initially learn and practice they need considerable retraining in order to work collaboratively. Be sure to ask about collaborative credentials to make sure the attorney you would choose has the required training.

Cost Comparison

The costs for a collaborative divorce vary as much as costs for a litigated case. Sometimes they are less because conflict is kept at a minimum. Sometimes they are more because of the number of outside experts. It is an undisputed fact that a highly contested divorce is the most costly of all. (Find more information on financial and other differences, here.)

Your collaborative dollar goes further. In the collaborative process your fees go directly toward a negotiated outcome. Collaborative divorce is a very thorough process covering aspects that may be missed with litigated and pro se cases. This thoroughness reduces the need to return to negotiations post-divorce for missed items. The collaborative process has a strong record of completing the first time around.

Collaborative negotiations allow the two parties to divide their lives in purposeful and meaningful ways rather than leaving it to a non-vested third party, the judge. Judges hear hundreds and hundred of divorce cases. Even one who cares and wants to do well by you doesn’t have adequate time to review your case. The truth is, no one is as intimately connected to, or as concerned with your case as you are. The collaborative process provides you with a unique opportunity to slow things down and take charge of the things most important to you.

Collaborative divorce isn’t for everyone

To be a candidate for collaborative divorce you must be willing to be actively involved. You must be highly motivated to find amicable solutions. You must be willing to fully disclose financial and other information, and take responsibility for the process.

Not all couples are candidates for a collaborative divorce. There will always be couples that cannot work together. Some marriages end so poorly, and the divorces are filled with hurt and anger that they will require adversarial energy just to get through them. Those couples need litigation and are not candidates for the collaborative process.

Learning About Yourself

You will no doubt be challenged as you proceed. Divorce is hard; it challenges everyone. Having a team of experts to provide the support and guidance you need so you can divorce wisely is imperative. None of us initially has what we need to go through divorce. As we go through the process we grow and change. We learn about ourselves. We learn new skills. In that, divorce itself is a growing up process.

Some of the things you will learn are:

  • The extent of your strength and courage
  • How to be present with strong emotion
  • Your conflict style
  • Family of origin patterns
  • Your mental, emotional and physical needs
  • How to manage your fears
  • Better ways to communicate
  • How to center and ground yourself
  • How to ask for support

Not only is working collaboratively easier on you and your future, the process itself equips you to step into your future in a more empowered and knowledgeable way. Future interactions with your child’s other parent will have a decidedly different flavor post-collaborative divorce, than they would after a heavily contested divorce.

Whether you opt for the full collaborative model or simply hire a collaboratively trained attorney for your team, the value gained vs the money you spend is unparalleled. More information here.

As a resource for you, on the first Thursday of every month a variety of collaborative divorce professionals offer a free seminar to answer questions about divorce in general and the collaborative process specifically. There is no need to RSVP. Just show up. The location may change from time to time so be sure to check the website. Information here.