A frequent question asked during an initial phone call or meeting with a client is “When will I be divorced?” The answer is “It depends.” It depends on whether or not there are issues in dispute, what those issues are, how far apart you are on those issues, and whether emotions may impede resolution of those issues. There are a range of possible timelines. On the fast end is a very simple divorce with no children and very few assets, with both people agreeing on how to divide the assets. It usually will take an attorney about a week or less to draft the necessary legal documents (assuming all the necessary information has been provided to the attorney) and, if there is another attorney, the time needed by that attorney to review the documents. The next step, signing the documents, can be accomplished in a matter of days if both spouses are prompt in doing so. Once the documents are filed with the court, a judge will be assigned to the case and will review and sign the document (if it is acceptable and in proper form) within a month of filing of the documents. Even in those situations in which the couple thinks they have an agreement, it may be helpful to work with professionals who are trained in the collaborative process, and who are committed to helping them reach agreement, but also who can help identify issues that the couple has not addressed. Couples who “do their own divorce” sometimes miss issues that can create future conflict and possible litigation. More time will be needed if there are disputed issues involving parenting time, financial or other issues. The key in these situations is finding the resources to help the couple ultimately reach an agreement. Some cases drag on, not because of complex issues, but because the spouses are engaging in emotionally charged behavior creating obstacles to reaching agreement. Couples who work with neutral experts (rather than two competing experts) and with coaches and child specialists can avoid some of the common causes of protracted delays. Attorneys trained to facilitate settlement agreements can also help you make better use of your time. For names of professionals trained in the collaborative divorce process, visit the Collaborative Law Institute of MN website here. The more contentious cases which are not resolved by agreement may not go to a final court hearing or trial for a year or more. Since close to 97% of divorce cases in Minnesota are resolved by agreement, not trial, the process you use to reach an agreement will affect both the length of time needed and the quality of the agreement.
Have you found yourself repeating to your children a phrase your mom or dad said to you when you were young? It is true that we are most influenced by the parenting models and family dynamics we grew up with. If you are going through a divorce, how you divorce will have a huge impact on your children. In collaborative divorce practice, your children can experience your better parenting practices even in times of stress and conflict. There are resources for parents to help their children through the divorce process. Vicki Lansky’s The Divorce Book for Parents and Constance Ahron’s The Good Divorce provide practical tips and guides for parents. In addition to helping them cope with your divorce, you can model for you children a way to handle difficulties in their future relationships by choosing the collaborative divorce process. In a collaborative divorce, your children’s interests will be heard with the help of a collaborative child specialist. Instead of fighting over custody, you will focus on what parenting schedule is in the best interests of your children. This is a gift to your children, not only for their present well-being but also for their future relationships and parenting.
As a divorce attorney, I often ask myself “What is this dispute really about?” This is also a good question for each person going through a divorce. In an early case I had before I started practicing collaborative divorce, an ex-wife sued my client after the divorce was final. Her motion said that he had wrongfully taken the Tupperware and her maternity clothing and she wanted those items. We actually had a court hearing on this and her ex-husband had to get on the witness stand and testify. He testified that he did not have the Tupperware and he did not have and had no use for her maternity clothes. That brought out a chuckle from those in the courtroom and the judge stifled a grin. The motion was denied and I felt like we “won.” Looking back, I now realize that the divorce did not resolve some underlying issues which caused the dispute to keep on going. In a traditional divorce, the legal issues control the outcome in court and the emotional issues determine how long and how costly the dispute is. In a collaborative divorce, both the emotional and legal issues are acknowledged and addressed. The process we use focuses on the interests the parties have – and in my experience most of those interests are shared by both. If there are differences, those are discussed. The basic facts needed are incomes, values of assets, debt balances –which can easily be verified by documents. Those assets that are harder to value such as homes, businesses – can be valued by a neutral expert agreed to by both The emotions of anger and perceived wrongs of the past can impede progress in reaching a final agreement. In a collaborative divorce, a neutral coach who is a mental health professional working with the couple, helps them work through those impediments to a settlement. If you are going through a divorce, you want to avoid arguing about the Tupperware and get some help to focus on what your real interests are and how you can reach an agreement.