After 10 years of marriage, it happened. Mary told John last night that she wants a divorce. With that, the ground shifted beneath them, and the aftershocks will reach out to their children, family, friends and larger community. In the midst of the grieving, confusion and anger, Mary and John have some choices to make about how their divorce will proceed. This can come as news to people as we tend culturally, thanks to movies and television, to view divorce as this monolithic, highly adversarial war between two attorneys in a courtroom, winner take all. There is, however, an array of pathways available to divorcing couples.
1) The Kitchen Table – This shorthand refers to couples doing all of the negotiations concerning their divorce themselves, around the kitchen table so to speak. No attorneys are involved in the negotiations. A couple may even opt to prepare and file the divorce papers themselves as well, though they may benefit from the assistance of a lawyer with that.
2) Mediation – Here a neutral third party helps the spouses to determine their fundamental interests and helps the couple explore alternatives that can satisfy each person. The mediator does not impose a solution. Rather, he or she creates a space to enable the spouses to come to their own decision about their future. A mediator can be helpful in many situations, particularly where the parties are not quite able to create a safe space for discussion on their own, or could benefit from a bit of structure that has proven effective in past instances.
3) Collaborative Divorce – With a collaborative process the couple agrees ahead of time not to fight in court. They work with specially trained attorneys to identify their interests and to negotiate an agreeable ending to their marriage. The couple may hire independent financial and other experts to assist in understanding and resolving some issues. Collaborative Divorce is designed to help the divorcing couple identify and obtain what is important to them, contain costs, maintain a non-toxic atmosphere, and prepare them to face their future in the midst of a family that has changed.
4) Arbitration – In arbitration the spouses are generally represented by attorneys who plead their respective cases to an arbitrator, a person hired by the couple with decision-making powers similar to those of a judge. Arbitration resembles litigation in that the spouses place control of the outcome in the hands of attorneys and delegate decision making to a third party.
5) Litigation – This is what people generally think of when they hear “divorce.” Lawyers in a formal court setting fighting it out in hopes the judge will rule in their respective client’s favor. It is generally the most expensive and stressful option. It is also the pathway that typically leaves the divorcing couple with the least amount of control.
My personal and professional commitment is to assist people with the kitchen table, mediation and Collaborative Divorce processes. I believe these keep control and responsibility where they belong—in the hands of the divorcing couple. In this way a solution that truly meets the needs of the evolving family can be fashioned. Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have. My door is open to you.