The decision to get married is probably one of the easiest you’ll make in your life — it seems like a no-brainer when you’re happy and in love with your significant other. But sometimes things don’t work out, and a divorce is inevitable. Cue the negative emotions, stress and financial burden associated with ending a marriage.
Divorce will never be as easy as getting married, but times are changing and there are options for those who want a more simple and amicable process. Years ago, divorcing couples had only one option: litigation. These days, going to court is still a viable option, but there are two newer alternatives to litigation: mediation and collaboration. Today, I’m going to focus on collaborative divorce.
In the days of “conscious uncoupling,” more people are looking for a more cooperative and private process as they settle their divorce. Collaborative divorce means each of you still has a lawyer, but the goal is to reach an agreement through amicable negotiations without court intervention.
This option can also save you thousands of dollars over litigated divorce, which involves a great deal of lawyer preparation, adversarial negotiation and possible court time. Another advantage of this type of divorce is that you can usually expect a settlement within months, not years as with litigation. Why? Although the pace of your divorce is determined somewhat by the schedules of lawyers and other professionals, you do not have to wait for an available court date.
So, how does it work? First, you and your spouse each assemble a team of professionals to assist you in problem-solving. Attorneys are retained individually to drive the process and advise their client while divorce coaches help the parties move through the emotional and practical steps of separation and divorce. If children are involved, child psychologists can be brought in to get the family dynamics and visitation schedules on track.
You should also enlist a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA), who is trained to guide you through the financial aspects of divorce and help you make decisions based on realistic post-divorce financial projections, not emotions.
Before going into a collaborative divorce, make sure you and your spouse are willing to work together to make it an amicable one. If you don’t ultimately reach an agreement, the attorneys and other professionals you have retained must withdraw, and you must start all over again with new attorneys who will likely bring you to litigation.
When is collaborative divorce not for you? If you have any concern that your spouse may be hiding assets or debts, this may not be a good choice. Information gathering in this type of divorce is done on a voluntary basis (no subpoenas), and your spouse may not be forthcoming. Collaborative divorce is usually not recommended in situations of domestic violence or substance abuse.
This process is designed to spare you and your children the emotional pain and suffering of adversarial litigation. You will also be able to hone your communication skills with your soon-to-be ex, which is especially necessary if you will be co-parenting. In addition, both you and your spouse have your own attorneys and other professionals to advise you, an advantage not provided by the single, neutral mediator in mediation (which I’ll dive into in a future post.)
Since both you and your spouse are highly invested in the development of the agreement, the likelihood of future compliance is great with a collaborative divorce. Like I mentioned before, divorce is never easy, but this option can help make it a little less painful.
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