(This article, the first in a series from professionals involved in Collaborative divorce, was written by Edina Strum, a Tucson attorney. She can be reached at 520-790-7337.)
Marriage is a deeply personal commitment filled with choices based on individual beliefs and the needs of the family. Yet many couples make their private lives highly public through a litigated divorce, and they place the ultimate decision-making for themselves and their children in the hands of a judge who will know them only for a very brief time. Understandably, not everyone walks away from the process with a good feeling.
There is another way. It’s called Collaborative Divorce, and it offers respect, privacy, and creativity. The marriage is ultimately dissolved, but the divorcing couple has the opportunity to involve child specialists to address custody and parenting time issues, financial specialists to assist in the often confusing and difficult process of making the family finances stretch to cover two households, and coaches to give support and solid, unbiased information to the parties so they can make informed decisions.
Collaborative Divorce is not about making divorce “easier” but is about focusing on the common needs and goals of all members of the family. The process builds on the shared values and interests of the parties rather than singling out the differences that have led to a divorce. Collaborative Divorce uses a team approach and draws on skills such as mediation and appreciative listening, both of which are techniques that encourage and support people in presenting their interests and searching for solutions.
For example, a parent states his or her interest in the child’s education and that is why selling the home and moving to a different school district is distressing. This can prompt a conversation about exceptions to district residential policy, private schools, charter schools, or re-thinking the family finances to keep the house until the child finishes school. On the other hand, suppose a parent states his or her position that the marital home will not be sold under any circumstances. The underlying concern may be the child’s schooling, but the positional approach may shut down the discussion and the real interest may never be heard.
The Collaborative Divorce process is framed by a set of principles and guidelines to which both parties and their attorneys commit, in writing. The guidelines include a belief that litigation is not the best resolution for family law cases, and, therefore, excludes the possibility of litigation (unless the current attorneys and specialists withdraw). The principles call for full, open disclosure of all information needed to resolve the case. The process moves forward in a series of meetings involving various members of the collaborative team – the parties, the attorneys, coaches, a neutral financial specialist and/or a child specialist. The end result is the same as litigation, but the collaborative process incorporates far more regard for the truth and compassion for the family than is possible in most litigation.
Is Collaborative right for you?
Divorce is a sensitive personal matter. No single approach is right for everyone. Many couples do find Collaborative Practice a welcome alternative to the often destructive, uncomfortable aspects of conventional divorce.
If these values are important to you, Collaborative Practice is likely to be a workable option:
- I want to maintain the tone of respect, even when we disagree.
- I want to prioritize the needs of our children.
- My needs and those of my spouse require equal consideration, and I will listen objectively.
- I believe that working creatively and cooperatively solves issues.
- It is important to reach beyond today’s frustration and pain to plan for the future.
- I can behave ethically toward my spouse.
- I choose to maintain control of the divorce process with my spouse, and not relegate it to the courts.
Does this path sound and feel comfortable for you? We suggest that you get more information by visiting our website or calling the Collaborative Law Group. You can then talk to a Collaborative lawyer, divorce coach, child specialist, or financial professional about your situation to help you make the decision.