It is an unfortunate fact that, in the United States, approximately 50% of all marriages will end in divorce. That ending has traditionally been seen as a declaration of war, a time to get all you can while the getting is good, a time to beat out your spouse by being the ‘winner’ in a sorrowful and destructive chess game.
We cannot change the fact that people divorce, but we can change the way in which people can choose to divorce. Today, there are a number of avenues available to people that fall under the rubric of ‘alternative dispute resolution’. The most widely known way for people to resolve conflict outside of a courtroom is through mediation. In fact, in many states, mediation is now mandatory for couples prior to pursuing a litigated divorce.
A growing number of attorneys, mental health practitioners and financial specialists have made a commitment to offering the public another alternative to litigation, known as Collaborative Practice. A world-wide movement, the practice of Collaborative Law allows couples to divorce in a mutually respectful, dignified, solutions-oriented process, with support for themselves and their children. Collaborative lawyers and the divorcing couple pledge, in writing, to resolve issues without resorting to court. The Unified Collaborative Law Act is in the process of being passed by legislatures around the country.
The Interdisciplinary Collaborative Divorce Team is comprised of experienced divorce professionals with specific training in collaborative dispute resolution. The Team centers on the couple and family, keeping the locus of control over decision-making in the hands of the family. While stepping out of the adversarial process, both spouses can feel fully represented by an attorney. Each spouse also has a divorce coach available to assist in managing the emotional turmoil that divorce inevitably brings, and that could potentially derail rational and informed negotiation. The couple confers with a neutral financial expert and is able to develop a plan for each individual’s financial future, with an eye toward ensuring that no one is left unable to move forward in life after the divorce process is completed. If there are children, a neutral child specialist serves to help parents keep a focus on the needs and interests of the children, during and immediately after the divorce. In this way, the children are protected from conflict and have a voice in the process that reorganizes their family life.
Collaborative Divorce depends on the willingness of people to be open and transparent, to think creatively, to avoid positional bargaining, and to keep the best interests of the family center-stage. The couple is informed about the law, and has the room to negotiate within the “shadow of the law” so that more creative options become available. Collaborative Divorce allows for the sense of family to remain strong, for partnership in parenting to remain viable, and for healing to occur more quickly.