When a couple is contemplating divorce there are many options. There is mediation, collaborative divorce and as a last resort, litigation. Ending a marriage is an important decision to make and doing it the “right” way has implications for the rest of your life, particularly if you have children.
Mediation is an excellent way to resolve conflicts in the dissolution of a marriage. Mediation is a voluntary process where both parties make decisions together based on their own and each other’s understanding of their issues, taking into account the realities of their situation. The mediator functions as a neutral facilitator to assist the couple in negotiating the agreement to arrive at the best possible solutions that are fair and equitable for them both. In order for a couple to enter into mediation, they need to be able to be in the same room together and have the ability to discuss their issues. Ideally, both parties are able to advocate for themselves and explain their positions. The goal is that they each are able to understand the otther’s positions as well as their own, thereby getting to a fair place that works for each of them.
Every couple is not a candidate for mediation. Sometimes, one party feels bullied by the other and needs someone at his or her side, and does not feel comfortable working only with a neutral mediator. At other times, one party may be too angry to sit in a room together with only a mediator and may need to have a lawyer who can advocate for him or her. In this situation, it is generally best to use collaborative attorneys. Collaborative attorneys work with a mediation model. They also aim to achieve a fair and equitable solution between the parties, but in this situation, each party is represented by their own attorney. In many cases, this is a more comfortable model. It is more familiar for people getting divorced to each have their own attorney. In collaborative law, the couple agrees not to go to court, but to resolve their issues by negotiating together, often in 4 way meetings with their attorneys. In addition, auxillary professionals are frequently brought into the case. For example, a mental health professional is often introduced as a child specialist or divorce coach. As a child specialist, this person can advise the couple on the best ways to discuss the divorce with the children, can discuss concerns that the parents have with their children, and actually meet with the children to make assessments or help them adjust to the divorce. The child specialist generally helps the parents craft the parenting plan and is able to discuss the pros and cons of different arrangements.
As a divorce coach, the mental health professional is able to provide support and advocacy for her client. She can guide her client through the difficult areas to be discussed, help understand and deal with feelings, temper anger if necessary, idnetify hot buttons in her and in her partner and in sum, do prep work so the joint meetings with the attorneys can go smoothly. While using a coach adds an additional expense, it often saves money in the long run, as the joint meetings can be smoother with less tension and generally they take less time. And most important, the client feels supported through this difficult process.
The third way to get divorced is through a litigative process, where the divorce attorneys “fight” for their clients and court is always an option. This method is the most expensive, and the most difficult to navigate. The fighting lawyers generally up the ante by asking for more than is reasonable as a negotiating tactic, and the damage done to the couple is often irrepairable. If the couple plan to co-parent it becomes very hard, as the environment in litigation can become quite toxic.
It is obvious, that I recommend mediation and collaborative law, and my years of experience have shown that couples who divorce through these methods come out whole, and families can survive.