My previous posts have covered: Making the decision to get divorced and searching out the various processes on how to get divorced, including collaborative divorce. From my way of thinking, which is not necessarily how anyone else might think, the next step for me was to talk with my spouse. So filled with my newfound knowledge about collaborative divorce this is what I proceeded to do. While I was hopeful we could agree to use the collaborative process, I also realized that getting both of us to agree on this would be one of my biggest challenges. I think we both felt certain about divorce, now it was how to accomplish it. I spoke with her one evening (we were still living in the same house) and discussed what I had learned about collaborative divorce. I had a couple of brochures (not attorney specific material) provided by the attorney I had decided to work with, along with a list of about 10-15 collaborative attorneys and their contact information. I talked about the benefits for both of us in using this process (see my last post). I encouraged her to look over the material and to speak with another collaborative attorney or several so she could make an informed choice. I was still hopeful after this discussion that she would agree to a collaborative divorce. In the back of my mind, I had some doubts simply because during our 30 some years of marriage, there were many times when we would not agree on what I thought were issues of significant importance. A few days later my former spouse told me she had contacted another attorney, not one of the several listed as collaborative attorneys. She told me that this attorney recommended against a collaborative divorce, stating it was not necessarily less expensive or less stressful. It wasn’t until later when I found out she had talked to an attorney who was well known in family law circles as someone who vigorously opposed collaborative divorce due to the fact that if issues could not be settled, both of us would have to find different attorneys to represent us going forward. I wrote about this in a my previous post about collaborative divorce. What I liked about this feature was it put everyone, including attorneys, on the same side of the fence sharing the goal of reaching agreements without court. I ask you to think about this for a minute. The attorney I talked to did both traditional divorce litigation and collaborative divorce work. She could have recommended either. My attorney recommended collaborative divorce after listening to my desired goals. The attorney my spouse talked with only did traditional litigation divorce, and so what do you think she was going to recommend. Did that attorney talk with my spouse about my spouse’s goals? Whose interests were being placed first? While the answer to this question seems clear to me, Go to my website and under “about us” click on the Collaborative Divorce Knowledge Kit. Especially look at page 2, outlining the differences between collaborative and litigation processes. I’ll let you decide for yourself which process places your interests first. It wasn’t until later, well into the divorce process, I found out this attorney had a reputation for contentious litigation, driving up costs for legal fees, and stretching out the time it took to get divorced. My spouse ended up hiring this attorney. It was my worst nightmare. Of all the attorney’s she could have hired she chose this one. Oddly, this should not have come as a surprise to me, and looking back now, maybe it didn’t. But it sure was a huge disappointment, to say the least. Hindsight being 20/20, if I were to go back and do something different, it would be to have asked my spouse to attend a meeting with a collaboratively trained coach. In most cases this would be a mental health professional, (not a therapist) and me together to further explore the benefits of a collaborative divorce vs. a traditional divorce and our own individual and joint goals for this process. While I have doubts my spouse would have attended such a meeting, since she had previously declined to participate in marital counseling, I wish I would have known at the time to ask for such a meeting. My advice to any divorcing couple is to take advantage of utilizing a collaborative coach even when exploring divorce options. I wish I had. But always remember it takes two to effectively collaborate. In my next post of “Getting Unmarried” before I get into my actual divorce process experience, I’ll talk a little more about choosing an attorney.
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.