The Price Is Right: The Value of the Collaborative Process

Two people holding cups of coffee on a table.

The true value of collaborative divorce lies in the quality of the outcomes that clients can achieve and not in the cost or speed of the process.  Still, some couples seek out collaborative divorce as simply being a cheaper and faster way to get their case settled.  Here are some considerations of the cost of divorce and the collaborative process.

What a divorce should cost – There are many distorted ideas about what an amicable divorce settlement “should†cost.  Upon reflection, most people agree that resolving the issues relating to their divorce is more complex – and likely more important – than other costly transactions such as selling their house.

Consider creating a “peace chest†– Parties who gear up for litigation sometimes set aside a “war chest†for litigation.  It is helpful for the parties in a collaborative divorce to designate an asset or a debt source for payment of their fees based on the maximum amount they believe they would be able to spend on getting the best possible outcomes for their case.  In doing so, they will be most likely be able to reward themselves at the end of the case when they find they have not used the entire “peace chest†allocation.

Intangible benefits are real – Think about the quality of the post-divorce relationship on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is constant, all-out warfare and 10 is a friendly, respectful relationship without any awkwardness for parents or children.   Try to visualize what both a 1 and a 10 would look like in terms of parenting, communication, financial issues, trust, etc. and then try to identify the value with moving upward on the scale.  Even moving, for example, from a “4†to a “7†could be priceless.

It’s a “rainy day†– There is a line in a movie where a divorce attorney tries to prepare his client for the cost of the divorce by saying “Remember that money you were saving for a rainy day?  Well, it’s raining.† The reality is that a divorce is a family crisis and that there are economic consequences that need to be accepted rather than resisted.

Measure of commitment – The most important factor in determining the quality of the outcome of a collaborative divorce is the level of the parties’ commitment.  While commitment certainly means setting aside ego, addressing emotions and developing empathy, the financial aspect is just as essential.  As with many things in life, people often get what they pay for.

“Just get it done†or “Do it right†– Divorce is often viewed as something to simply survive, so there is an understandable temptation to seek the most painless route, economically and emotionally.  However, making difficult choices may be an important step toward having a better future.  Just getting the divorce done – at the expense of foregoing opportunities to improve their lives – may, in the end, be something the couple cannot afford.

(This article is adapted from an article by Ron Ousky, JD, in the summer 2008 edition of the Journal of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals.)

Through the Eyes of a Child, The Child Specialist Role
“Daddy’s doing divorce cause he’s mad at mommy for lying.†  “My mommy found another family to love.† â€œI have to tell the judge I want to live with daddy.â€

Children are often the unintentional victims of litigated divorces. The collaborative process strives to reduce the negative impact on the child and the parents that can continue for years in contested divorce cases.

Most traditional divorces have representation for both parents through their respective chosen attorneys. In a collaborative divorce the children have their own voice in the role of the child specialist, a mental health professional whose role is to focus on the needs of the children in the difficult process of divorce.

The child specialist has the unique opportunity of learning about the child and providing feedback from a truly neutral, but informed perspective.  They are able to meet not only with the child and the  parents, but if needed also with teachers, other involved therapists, extended family members or any one else deemed important in the child’s life.  This allows the child specialist to understand how the child is experiencing the impact of divorce and to assist in developing an individualized parenting agreement.

Young children with their ‘magical thinking’ often blame themselves for the divorce or have fantasies about reunification. The adolescent may have the expectation that they should be informed and involved in all decisions related to the divorce and the impending changes. The child specialist can provide support, clarification and education to both the parents and the children, in a safe non biased environment.  They also help identify undetected problems, worries or needs of the child and communicate these to the collaborative team.  Unlike ongoing  therapy, the child specialist’s role is only related to addressing the divorce and they can be utilized as a resource in the future for divorce related issues.