Collaborative divorce: Part II

Leslie and John decided to end their 14-year marriage.

Joint counseling had helped them speak more openly to each other than they had in many years, but rather than bringing them closer together, their discussions highlighted how far apart they had grown. Both were angry and, ultimately, neither wanted to stay married.

The usual process:

Most couples, when getting divorced, hire litigators — because what else is there to do?

Often, the lawyers file threatening motions with the court, motions likely filled with exaggerations, if not outright lies about the other partner. Each spouse blames the other and demands more than the other can accept.

The lawyers take depositions, perhaps hoping to intimidate the other spouse and discover weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

You pay for experts with the expectation that they will report or testify in a way that is favorable to you. Of course, your spouse is likely to hire his own experts for the same purpose.

The judge appoints a forensic psychologist to report on who should get custody of the children — a terrifying win or lose proposition for many parents.

Most spouses never question their lawyers. After all, their lawyers are the experts, aren’t they? If there were another way to proceed, the attorney would tell them, wouldn’t they?

Well, no, most litigators don’t discuss the different ways to divorce with their clients. Some litigators don’t know about collaborative divorce. Others are afraid of it because it poses challenges to their way of doing things.

A better way:

Unlike most couples, Leslie and John learned that they had a choice when it came to getting divorced, because their therapist knew about collaborative divorce (and mediation).

They knew that if they chose collaborative divorce, each of them would be represented by an attorney, and both of the lawyers would agree in writing to work together in good faith to reach mutually beneficial agreements, and to not go to court.

With their lawyers present, Leslie and John would have opportunities to communicate directly with each other. Rather than threatening and blaming, they would be assisted in examining their needs for the future, and how best to get those needs met.

Instead of sitting through depositions and giving away as little information as possible, in collaborative divorce John and Leslie would freely share financial information to allow for a better understanding of how they are currently situated, and to use this understanding as the foundation for creating workable options to consider.

Collaborative lawyers spend no time at all preparing for trial, and the chances are very good that the spouses, with the help of their attorneys, will succeed in reaching an agreement. Statistically speaking, 86 percent of collaborative divorce cases end with a settlement agreement.*

John and Leslie have also learned that one of the greatest differences between court battles and collaborative practice involves the use of experts.

In collaborative divorce, an accountant or financial planner will provide balanced information of, say, what a small business is worth, or the value of other property such as retirement accounts. He will help you weigh your decisions and the potential implications. Often, the spouses split the cost of fees between them.

Also in collaborative divorce, the therapist you may decide to consult won’t report to a judge. Instead, he would work with you, perhaps helping you deal with the sadness at the loss of the marriage, and with the fears of going forward.

Your collaborative lawyer will help you work through the divorce in a way that is much less stressful and adversarial than going to court. Collaborative divorce is faster, more efficient, and more constructive than litigation. You may find it to be less expensive as well.

*Statistics compiled by the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals

New York City- and Long Island-based divorce mediator and collaborative divorce lawyer Lee Chabin, Esq., helps clients end their relationships respectfully and without going to court. Contact him at lee_chabin@lc-mediate.com, (718) 229–6149, or go to lc-mediate.com/home.

Disclaimer: All material in this column is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Discussing your particular case and circumstances with a legal professional before making important decisions is strongly encouraged to safeguard your rights.