There’s no way around it — divorce is messy, expensive and heart-wrenching for all members of a family. But it’s a reality many families will face. In 2012, more than 80,000 couples in Texas alone filed for divorce. The vast majority of divorces end up in court battles that can take years to settle, not to mention the toll the mud-slinging process takes on all involved. But it doesn’t have to be this way. There is another option, one that avoids the courthouse and allows the parties to customize the outcome to the needs of their family rather that the limited cookie-cutter divisions of property and “standard possession orders” that are often the result in court. Twenty years ago collaborative divorce was a cutting edge technique. It has since been perfected to help end marriages as amicably as possible, so you can avoid a “War of the Roses.” Here’s five things you need to know:
1) Addressing vs. avoiding
You will be angry, you will be hurt — there’s no avoiding that. But instead of hiding behind lawyers, collaborative divorce recognizes that there is more involved than the legal issues and acknowledges the pain, empowering couples so they’re not consumed by emotion to the point where rational thought goes out the door. “It takes maturity and a willingness to look toward the family’s future instead dwelling in the past,” says Julie Quaid of Quaid Farish LLC, a neighborhood firm specializing in collaborative divorce. “But it’s better for the family as a whole.”
2) You get a squad
In traditional divorce, you and your spouse lawyer up for a cage match in the court. Each of you has a side, and it’s up to a judge to pick through the personal wreckage and assign a “winner.” In the collaborative process, you have a team of professionals with a common goal of a dignified resolution without going to court. A neutral mental health professional helps bolster frayed communication lines and offers support on hard decisions like how to tell the kids about the divorce. A neutral financial expert steps in to gather all of the financial information and make sense of the money. The attorneys are working toward the best solution for the family, not necessarily for the singular benefit of one client. “It’s very different from mediation,” Christopher Farish of Quaid Farish explains. “Mediation is mostly about trying to avoid going to court by reaching agreements through a third-party mediator whose job is to pull each client off of their positions by guessing what a judge would do in their case. It’s about getting it settled no matter what, without regard for the interests of the parties. Collaborative divorce is all about the clients.”
3) You’ll avoid the mud
Divorce is a very emotional time which is compounded when the parties pursue personal attacks using past events in their marriage as weapons against each other. The goal is to look like the better spouse and better parent thus earning more financial resources or hours with the children. Once a “winner” is declared, that mud-slinging all stays on the public record, forever. Not only is collaborative divorce totally private, it’s more about finding solutions than pointing fingers, saving you and your kids from a lot of hostility. “You’re throwing every single piece of dirt you have at this person and then expecting to co-parent with them once it is over,” Farish says. “In a collaborative divorce, you’re able to focus on the needs of the children rather than focusing on the negative qualities of your spouse.”
4) Customized outcomes
Judges are looking for an outcome for the parties that is equitable under the law, but the Judge is constrained by the law they are sworn to uphold, which often results in a judgment that doesn’t address the unique differences between each couple that comes before them. The Judge’s orders are final and whether it is division of the estate, child support or custody, often both parties are left unsatisfied, which can lead to years of battling it out in court.
Working collaboratively, attorneys don’t look for a “one-size-fits all” solution but instead find something both parties find acceptable. You have a favorite work out class on Wednesday night? Great, the ex will take the kids that night. Like clothes, divorce is best when custom made. “The Collaborative process helps to create a durable agreement that takes into account the goals and interests of each party,” Quaid says.
5) 1,000 little perks
There’s no way to avoid the pain that comes with ending a marriage, but you can control everything else in a collaborative divorce. You get to meet where and when you want, instead of being at the mercy of the court schedule (not to mention the pill of parking downtown). Your squad of experts knows you, and knows when it’s time to call for a break or to change the subject. You’ll spend resources more wisely because collaborative divorces usually require fewer meetings with lawyers, meaning they are more cost effective. Plus, there will always be food at meetings, so no one ever gets hangry.
Hopefully, you’ll never need these tips, but if you do, Quaid Farish is there.
Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Lakewood/East Dallas.