Maybe you heard the old joke: A society reporter meets a divorce attorney coming out of the post office. The reporter asks the attorney what he was doing in the post office on Valentine’s Day. The attorney replies ‘creating some new business’, to which the reporter replies ‘me too’.
Remember what it was like when you were first dating? Maybe you do not if it was a long time ago. There is that rush of attraction. The buzz of the hormones, the activity, the excitement, the need to tell your friends and so on. Then as romance builds there is the hope of never being lonely again. There is the desire of fitting in with your peers. The plan of a happy family and maybe pets or children. All of these drive the effort to become a couple. A happy couple. Not violence, cheating, arguing, addiction, abuse of any sort, but just bliss. Dating might not have been as easy as you now romanticize it but bear with me for a minute and think about divorce and bliss!
So say now that some things are different, and it is now divorce you are dealing with. Everything seems to surround suspicion, repulsion, anger, hurt and withdrawal. The opposite in all ways from bliss. But what if we could use those same powerful forces that drove the coupling process, to drive the uncoupling process?
With the collaborative divorce practice we start out agreeing that the relationship is going to have to change. Once that is agreed, the couple that is breaking up meet with the two collaborative divorce attorneys. All four sign what is called a Participation Agreement. That agreement contractually binds all 4 to work together in good faith. They only go to court when they have all the issues settled. Each person is in problem solver mode. Each person has tasks to lead the group to a restructured family, but with the help of experts whenever needed. When finances are addressed they have one financial neutral, and not just dueling attorneys. That neutral expert is the one who gathers the information in a fair and reasonable way, organizes it and makes an accurate balance sheet on a reliable neutral basis. Everyone can then meet and intelligently discuss how the money will work in the future. No one need be deceived or afraid they will be unable to survive after the process is done. With children we use a neutral with mental health and/or social work training who knows child development. That neutral expert can gather information from each person, the schools, extended family, sometimes the children and any other appropriate collateral sources. Then the neutral will give constructive guidance on what the issues are for the children and what is best for them in your specific case.
The neutral and the attorneys and each both parties meet in a five-way meeting to plan what is best and how to make that happen. It can be multiple steps that take place over years-worth of time. It can be unique and unlike anything a judge would be willing to order without an agreement of the parties. Without this process people who are in conflict are completely unlikely to think of these constructive solutions. The attorneys are right there in the meeting to figure out how to write a document that describes that agreement and to troubleshoot it based upon their experience and knowledge of what has gone wrong and has had to go to court in the history of family law.
Each person in the team is pushing to the goal of reaching agreement and submitting a settlement to the court. No one has any benefit in berating anyone else. The attorneys help the parties avoid unwittingly making bad agreements. We do not have any extra team members imposed upon us by the court system or needed by us to defend against some expert with an agenda. This collaborative divorce process allows everyone to have the benefit of one expert on each major issue to organize the details and advise on the fine points of their field of finance, social sciences and law. It allows each person to know they are not agreeing to an improvident plan. No one is in a position to force a rushed decision upon another person. There is no ‘take it or leave it’ demand. Although you will still have to make decisions some of the pressures of that process can be reduced by not having to do so in a mediation session or an ENE session. You are allowed to just think about it for a day, or a week, if you want or need to so you are confident in your decision. It is a big decision and it is treated accordingly. Because of these protocols this system is usually able to be faster and cheaper while creating an agreement more closely fit to the couple’s individual needs. Each person still ends up with the same kind of decree as anyone else in the court system. It is enforceable in the future as any custody, separation, or divorce decree and fully effective as far as taxes and property titles go. This collaborative process can be as close to divorce bliss as it gets.