Weddings bring out the best in people. With the purest intentions and absolute sincerity, couples proclaim their eternal devotion to each other, have a great party and then live happily ever after.
But sometimes things change.
Marriage doesn’t just join two hearts together. It also intertwines finances, children, property, pets, retirement, stability, friends and emotions. When the marriage ends, those ties that bind must be untangled.
Divorce is the formal process for untangling the legal marriage relationship. It sounds simple, but in reality, getting divorced is far more complex than getting married and often more passionate.
Just as weddings bring out the best in people, divorce can bring out the worst. The horror stories are familiar: years of bitter fighting about money, kids, property and pets; nobody’s paying the bills; bad decisions are driven by bitterness, betrayal or revenge; nest eggs are squandered on legal fees; and the kids are stuck in the middle.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
The collaborative approach to divorce reflects a different philosophy. The parties agree to work with a team of professionals to end the legal relationship in a way that is fair, respectful and transparent. This team includes trained collaborative attorneys and experts who assist parties with difficult matters, including children’s issues, real estate, tax ramifications and therapy. And all of this occurs before parties step foot in the courthouse.
The process is not adversarial, is less expensive and typically takes less than six months. At the beginning of a typical divorce, parties are served papers, which begins the adversarial approach. It becomes a fight. In a collaborative divorce, parties meet with the collaborative team and develop a strategy to resolve the divorce. It’s a joint effort.
The parties are each represented by attorneys who are trained in the collaborative approach. Any collaborative attorney should be competent in family law and have collaborative law training. Essentially, this method requires attorneys to engage in a paradigm shift from a litigious practice to resolution.
Think about collaboration as interest-based bargaining (meeting needs, problem-solving), not position-based bargaining (adversarial, fight to win). Before any party contacts a qualified collaborative law attorney, they need to decide which path they would like to take. And most cases could be handled through the collaborative process.
The process is straightforward. Parties know what they are walking into. First, the collaborative attorney will meet with their client and advise. After consultation, the attorney will schedule a meeting with professionals within the collaborative team. Mediation may be part of this process. Meeting with a real estate professional or financial adviser may be part of this process. But the process will be clear to the client. There are no surprises and negotiation is never dress rehearsal for court.
If it doesn’t work, the collaborative process ends and parties can still go to court, but not with the collaborative team. Parties could hire a trial attorney, who will retain experts to testify. Expert preparation and testimony is expensive. Compare this to the collaborative approach, where experts work with parties at the beginning of the case. Parties are in more control over what happens with their children, property and future.
During a divorce, parties can either look short term or long term. In the short term, it may be difficult to imagine working with an former spouse to reach any sort of resolution. It seems better to fight to win. In the long term, parties who collaborate suffer less financial and emotional harm. Needs are met and the matter is resolved. Does anyone want to be fighting issues in a divorce for the next five or 10 years?
The collaborative approach is not for everyone. It requires the parties to recognize that the genuine emotional impacts of divorce are separate from the legal aspects. If someone is determined to use the legal process to settle emotional scores, the collaborative approach won’t work. Some cases simply need to go to court. But most cases can be resolved with the help of a team that understands the complexities of divorce.
Collaborative law is now a solution in Southwest Colorado. It’s a way for parties and their children to move on with their lives.
It’s not a fairy tale. It’s a real solution that can help you end conflict and move on.
Angie Buchanan is a Durango attorney with a practice in mediation and collaborative law. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (970) 403-1770.