Divorce: What If Court Wasn’t An Option?
Divorce: What If Court Wasn’t An Option?
By Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
Untangling a marriage can be difficult. Couples are intertwined emotionally,
financially, residentially, socially and parentally. The goal of divorce is to
unravel the interconnections so the parties may resume a life as independent of
each other as possible. The divorce process may include the input of multiple
professionals. The list of professions includes legal, financial, real estate,
mental health and child specialists.
Conflict often reigns during dispute resolution as the parties stake out their
position and turf. Traditionally, the parties obtain their own lawyer who then
brings in other professionals. The lawyer’s objective is to dissolve the
marriage in a manner that as closely as possible reflects the vision of their
client. The approach tends to be adversarial, combative, prolonged and costly.
For the couple, their mutual mistrust is heightened. The tension thus escalates
and the children are exposed to more parental conflict and uncertainty. Many
couples and children are casualties in this process. They pay financially,
emotionally and socially.
There is an old adage, “You can win the battle, but lose the war.” At the end of
the process, how are the children; are all relationships intact; will the
children want both parents at their wedding? Divorce marks a moment in time,
family relationships are forever.
A relatively new approach to unraveling marital connections provides an
alternative to couples in divorce, helping relationships remain intact. This can
have tremendous benefit in view of the fact that those with children will
forever be connected as parents.
Known as Collaborative Law, the approach began in 1990, when one lawyer said he
would no longer litigate. His approach was to enter marital disputes with the
goal of reaching a negotiated settlement. In the process, his involvement
ensured that his clients would understand their rights and then could choose
their issues as they negotiated settlements free from the threat of litigation.
Anecdotal evidence from lawyers now practicing Collaborative Law suggests less
stress and tension in their practice and that clients are more satisfied with
settlements as compared to those who litigated.
In the Collaborative Law process, the parties and lawyers sit round table to
share information and over time, reach consensus on solutions. In the process,
the lawyers role model appropriate problem solving behavior which may be
instructive to the parents for managing future disputes between themselves.
Whereas each lawyer in a traditional dispute would enlist their own set of
professionals, those practicing Collaborative Law have begun to see other
professionals as team members or consultants to the collaborative process. The
role of the various consultants is to provide information to the lawyers and
parties about the likely outcomes of various courses of action. From there, it
remains a matter of negotiation for the parties to arrive at a solution. While
it may be an expensive series of meetings, on an overall basis, negotiated
settlements tend to be far less expensive than those litigated. The added
benefits are reportedly better ongoing relationships and more durable
Collaborative lawyers have yet to spring up in all jurisdictions. As a movement
Collaborative Law is still young yet organizationally making great strides. A
comprehensive website has been developed by a group of collaborative lawyers to
bring information to the public and serve as a portal to help couples find their
nearest collaborative lawyers.
While there is no one-size solution to fit all, Collaborative Family Law does
offer its approach as an alternative strategy aimed at resolving disputes more
amicably than traditional family law. As with any approach, there will be
indications and contra-indications. However, until substantial research is
conducted, anecdotal information is all that is available. Proponents sing its
praises. Couples interested in exploring it further, should visit the website:
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