10 Feb How to Have a More Peaceful Divorce
Divorce is usually imagined as a painful, destructive nightmarish, court-room brawl that spends your retirement funds, your children’s college funds and leaves both parties better and broke and their attorneys rich. And it can be that. But it doesn’t have to be.
I’m not suggesting that divorce is like a walk by the creek. There are usually difficult moments just as in any closing of one of life’s chapters while opening a new one. But divorces don’t have to be mean and acrimonious.
There are alternatives to hiring the two meanest gun-slinging attorneys in town and watching as they destroy the reputations and assets of you and your divorcing partner. Your first step toward a civilized divorce is to agree not to go to court and not to hire mean lawyers. Propose to your divorcing partner that instead of being the victims of courts and attorneys, you together will decide on the divorce process best suited for your family.
Oh, I forgot. I haven’t even mentioned how angry litigious divorces effect children and the blended families that are the legacy of these painful battles.
So, let’s assume you have chosen not to litigate, i.e., go to court.
Another option is caucus mediation. This option is litigation disguised as mediation. You will still have to prepare and answer rude mean questions for one another. You will still have to produce documents separately and try to hide as much as you can to gain an advantage. You will still be required to sit for a deposition and be interrogated by your adversary’s attorney. This will all cost thousands of unnecessarily spent dollars. And I haven’t even mentioned the $500 per letter exchanges that you will pay to attorneys to write their mean letters “in your defense,” letters that will make your divorcing partner mad and generate a response; which will make your attorneys richer at $400 per hour.
You will waste all of this time, money and goodwill before you ever sit down to negotiate your divorce agreement. And when you do sit down to talk, you won’t sit across from your partner in this divorce process. You won’t even speak with them or hear the words they say.
You will be sequestered in a room with your attorney. And you divorcing party will be in another room with their attorney. The only person who will know what you and your attorney propose will be the mediator, who moves between the two rooms and may pretend to know what the judge might decide.
While in court the judge and the attorneys have all of the power and control, in caucus mediation the attorneys and the mediator are in charge. You and your divorcing partner remain bit players in a theatrical production that you pay for and of which you become the victim.
So, I don’t recommend this either. I suggest three options that are relatively less expensive and much less painful.
The first option is for divorcing couples who have: 1. Few assets, 2. Either no children or an agreement about parenting time and parenting decisions; 3. Or if you have assets and have a clear agreement of what,
In this event, contact an attorney who will draw your legal agreements: file a complaint, prepare a marital dissolution agreement, a parenting plan if applicable and take you to court to complete the process. This should cost less than $1,500.
The second option is face to face mediation. This is for couples who have many arguments about how they will divorce, but some disagreements; couples whose assets are less than $500,000 and who can expect to talk civilly together and with some help come to agreements.
If this sounds like you, your first step is to seek a neutral mediator. I am a candidate and you can also find others by looking ….
Once you have agreed on a neutral mediator, contact them, set an appointment with them and they will guide you through the negotiation of your divorce agreements, the parenting plan and the marital resolution agreement.
They will help you discover together all of the financial documents you need. They will help you evaluate your assets and divide them equally. If spousal support (i.e., alimony) is an issue, they will help you decide how this will be allocated. When your assets create a complex picture and values are difficult to evaluate, they will help you finds ways to place value on your assets, through one neutral appraiser or evaluator and then help you negotiate with each other which party gets what assets or help you decide to liquidate assets and divide the proceeds.
A parallel process is to develop a parenting schedule which will become the basis of the parenting plan.
This above may cost about $2,000. Once assets are valued and divided and once a parenting schedule is devised, you are ready to go to the first option, consult one attorney who will agree to draw up your legal documents and proceed to court to finalize your divorce. The same less than $1,500 should be the expense for drawing these documents and filing the divorce.
The third option is a team approach to divorce. It is called a collaborative divorce. This is for divorcing couples who have complicated finances or disagreements about parenting after the divorce or about spousal support (often a thorny issue). This process is for couples whose estate has over one million dollars in assets.
Your divorce team will include two attorneys, one for each of you, a financial neutral and a process coach. The job of process coach is to help manage difficult emotions that can sabotage the process, help the rest of the team understand how to avoid triggering these emotions and how to engage your best adult selves in problem solving together, and to set rules for how people present ideas and talk so that the process is smooth, respectful and efficient.
The financial neutral helps the parties gather financial information, develop a clear picture of the couple’s assets and liabilities and help each party develop a budget for their new future. The financial neutral will help make financial decisions easier to understand and help parties make fair and equitable decisions.
The two attorneys have an important role. One attorney is assigned to each party. Their job is to empower you in the divorce process. (Notice how different this is from litigation and caucus mediation in which attorneys are empowered and the process serves them, the judge or mediator before it serves you). In addition to helping you find your voice, your collaborative attorney is also dedicated to being sure that the process is respectful. Your attorney may offer ideas that help your partner feel more comfortable with an idea. Both attorneys are working with the divorcing couple to find a path to a healthy termination of your marriage and toward a relationship with clear boundaries and separate futures, a relationship of mutual respect and goodwill.
As you might imagine, your choice of attorney is critical. In the collaborative process, this is your first step. Choose attorneys who have been trained in the collaborative process and who enjoy building a peace rather than making war. I hope you will consider me among those who want to build peace with you and your divorcing partner.
Once attorneys are chosen, you will choose a neutral mental health professional who will help guide the process and help maintain civility of the negotiations.
You will also choose a financial neutral who will help you list, catalogue and evaluate your assets. They will assist both parties in developing budgets for their lives after the divorce.
Once your team has been chosen, you will meet, sign employment agreements, and set a schedule for future meetings.
Both parties will agree to complete transparency. There will be no secrets kept by attorneys. Both parties will cooperate fully in gathering the necessary information. Your cooperation in the discovery process will save you thousands of dollars.
At the first meeting, you will be given homework assignments that, if you complete, will again save your money on professional fees.
You will meet with the designated neutral coach who will help the team learn about how you make decisions and how the process can be designed to avoid the pitfalls of hitting your emotional buttons and how to maximize your personality strengths to help move the process along quickly and therefore will less expense. You may need to meet with the coach several times during this process.
You will also meet with the financial neutral to build a financial picture of what income and assets you have collectively. This will create a basis for negotiating fair and equitable financial resolution.
This process may cost as little as $_0,000 and I believe it should cost no more than $25,000. Of course, if there are emotional issues that extend the process or complex finances that require appraisals and take time to list and evaluate or if there are parenting issues that take time to resolve, this process can cost much more.
 Notice there is a gap between option two and three. Option two is for couples with less than $500,000. Option three is for couples with over $1,000,000. This creates an ambiguous space between option one and option two. If you fall into this in-between space and you think emotions may cloud your negotiations, option three is for you. If you have a complex financial situation with debts mixed in with assets, option three is for you. If you think you are both emotionally stable enough to manage civility in a face to face mediation and you both understand your finances option two is for you.