Going through separation can be one of the most challenging and stressful times in one’s life and it can be made much easier and less costly by choosing a peaceful rather than warring approach. Consider the choices and outcomes of the following families.
Jane and Doug and Jeff and Melisa are two couples going through separation and divorce. They are capable, loving parents, each wanting what is best for themselves and their children. They know, despite the end of their marriage, they will continue to have a relationship as parents of their children.
Right now, as they separate, they dislike each other as though they never loved one another.
Each of them is worried about the adverse impact their separation and divorce will have on their children, finances, emotional wellbeing, time and future. As you will see, each couple’s path through separation and divorce is vastly different because of the choices they make from the outset.
Jeff and Melisa each meet with and retain a divorce lawyer. Jeff is very upset and tells his lawyer, “I want Melisa to feel the pain I feel.” Jeff’s lawyer starts a court action right away. Melisa is shocked and angry and, in response, her lawyer files a counter action. Each of them is anxious, hurt and scared. They worry about losing their kids, their savings, and their home.
Jeff and Melisa’s negative feelings towards each other are heightened and fueled by allegations and demands made by their lawyers throughout the litigation process. This adversarial process intensifies their conflict to a point where they cannot even discuss simple matters affecting their children. They must go through their lawyers for everything.
Each of them spends over $70,000 to litigate, and take time and energy away from their kids, families, friends, and career to focus on the court process.
After numerous court applications and a trial, the Court makes many orders that affect all aspects of their lives, including how they interact with each other, with their kids, how they will spend their money, divide their assets and debts, and where they will live. Their family’s story is now part of the public record.
Neither of them is happy with the results. They are financially destitute and emotionally distraught. Neither of them is a winner, and there are many losses. The fight does not stop here. Since they are both unsatisfied with the outcomes, they keep returning to court to resolve their ongoing disputes, which only fuels their conflict.
Jeff and Melisa’s experience might have turned out differently had they chosen a non-adversarial path to resolve their disputes. The fault is not theirs or with our court system, it is simply that family disputes and family law do not belong in the court room.
Now take Jane and Doug’s experience. Jane does some research and learns about collaborative divorce law. She finds out that it is a process where a couple agrees not to go to court. She schedules an appointment with a collaborative divorce lawyer to learn more and asks her lawyer to invite Doug to the process. Doug, although upset about the separation, is relieved to know it can be done without litigation so he too hires a collaborative divorce lawyer.
Jane and Doug are each represented by their own collaborative divorce lawyers, along with other experts, who work together as a team to help them through the divorce process. Jane and Doug find comfort and guidance from the entire collaborative team. Taking a creative and respectful approach, the team helps Jane and Doug learn ways to effectively communicate their concerns, needs and goals for the benefit of themselves and their children. Together they make sure all issues are addressed and work towards mutually beneficial outcomes.
Since Jane and Doug agree not to go to court they control the process and outcomes, rather than having a third party make decisions for them and their family. They are able to concentrate their time, effort and finances on what matters to them. They leverage the expertise of the therapists and financial advisors part of their collaborative team to address their children’s needs and the emotional and financial aspects of their divorce. Their children are given a voice in the process and are spared the trauma of litigation.
The end result is one that is private and less stressful. There is no public record. Jane and Doug have improved their communication with each other thanks to the collaborative process that promotes respectful and considerate dispute resolution. Jane and Doug find sustainable outcomes; each is content. They accomplished this in an efficient, productive and targeted manner because of the unique structure of the collaborative process.
Not only did they save themselves enormous financial cost, more importantly, the process has not emotionally drained them. Instead they have learnt how to continue being parents to their children and carry on in their new reality.
Separation can be one of the most challenging times in a person’s life, but it does not have to be. Divorcing peacefully is the best choice for couples and families going through separation. It is possible even if one of the spouses has a high conflict personality; in fact it is in those situations that litigation should be avoided altogether.
Choose wisely; choose peaceful and respectful resolution for yourself and your children.
Zahra H. Jimale is a collaborative divorce lawyer, family law mediator and the founder of Jimale Law Corp. For more information please visit www.jimalelawcorp.com
NOTE: the names used in this article are fictional.