When families break up

A week into their divorce, “the Browns” had, on their own, worked out their parenting agreement which was fair to both of them, reasonable, and accounted for the needs of their children. Then one of the spouses retained a divorce lawyer and the legal battle began.

Over two years and $75,000 later, the Browns settled their legal issues and signed essentially the same agreement they had started with.

Both spouses came away from the experience exhausted, embittered and nearly broke.

While there are times when court is the only option, my experience as a divorce mediator and collaborative lawyer has taught me that most divorces do not have to be this adversarial, time-consuming or costly.

I feel privileged to be writing this new column on separation and divorce. Already an attorney, I became a mediator in 1997 and began working full-time as a collaborative divorce lawyer earlier this year. By definition, the separating and divorcing couples I assist choose to work out their legal agreements and arrangements through cooperation, not litigation.

An advantage of not going to court can mean a more amicable end to the marriage — which can benefit the entire family. Although my area of expertise is out-of-court agreements, these columns are intended to help all couples, regardless of the route they ultimately choose.

Divorced myself, future columns will draw from my personal and professional experiences. Because I am also a parent, the writing will often focus on children and divorce, and the columns will also be informed by discussions I have had with others, including psychologists, social workers, and financial experts.

I plan to write about children’s fears of being abandoned, reunification fantasies, and the self-blame they may experience during the divorce. Parents should know how to tell children that the divorce will happen and what it will mean for them, as well as ways to ease the transition from living in one home to living in two. I will also write about “nesting,” which involves the children staying in the home during a separation, while the parents take turns leaving.

Some parents wonder if they should stay married for the sake of the children, and I will talk about this. The issues of “parentification,” a kind of role reversal where a child is made to take care of a parent, and “parental alienation,” where one parent turns a child against the other parent, are other topics I plan to address.

To care for our children, we must first care for ourselves and deal with our own issues. Columns on the following issues will, I hope, help:

• Many couples find that, for whatever reason, they must continue living in the same house during the divorce; doing so is a strain, and I will discuss how you and your spouse can make things a little easier.

• I will suggest guidelines for partners to follow in communicating with each other.

• In some instances, couples continue to live together because one fears that leaving would set a bad precedent and compromise his rights down the road. I will discuss this and offer a method of addressing these fears while protecting one’s rights.

• Money matters are usually a very big part of divorce and deserve serious investigation.

Other topics I will cover are divorce among the elderly and the formation of stepfamilies.

Finally, I will devote time to the various ways in which a couple can divorce, from what might be called the “traditional” (hiring attorneys and beginning proceedings in court), to mediation (where the couple sits together with a neutral third party to create agreements), and collaborative law (where each spouse has their own attorney, and by agreement, going to court is prohibited).

I hope that the columns will become conversations, and that many of you will share comments, reactions, and, yes, disagreements with me. And, while I cannot answer specific questions about your particular case and situation, your general queries are welcome.

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, or (718) 229-6149, or go to lc-mediate.com.