If you were a mouse, you might well have heard this conversation if you happened to be outside an office where a four-way negotiating session was taking place:
WIFE: There’s no way I’m going to sell our home while our children are still in local schools. I’ve put 15 years of my life into that house, and I’m not going to let you take it and move in with your new girlfriend.
HUSBAND: You think that just because you’ve lived there, you have more interest in the house than I do? Every single improvement on that house was done with my hands. I practically re-built it, and anyway, you’re never going to be able to afford to pay the mortgage and utilities and all your other expenses based on what you’ll be getting in child support and maintenance. Be sensible for once. If I buy you out, at least the kids will still have access to the home they’re familiar with.
WIFE: Why you selfish !?#*!! You are your bimbo are not going to defile the home that I put my heart and soul into.
HUSBAND: My girlfriend?!? Well, if you think you and Gorgeous George from the health club are going to benefit from all the work that I did on the house, you’re just as crazy as I always said you were. If you’re going to be so stubborn about my buying it from you, then let’s just put it on the market.
WIFE: You’re heartless! How can you throw your children out of the only home they’ve ever known?
HUSBAND: Who said you were taking the children anyway?
It’s a scene that anyone who has gone through a divorce can recognize - a classic confrontation of the law versus people’s emotional agendas - an intersection that can often derail any hope of a peaceful settlement of the financial, custody and support problems that make up a modern divorce. The divorcing parties hold fast to their resentments and suspicions about each other, and attempt to settle their emotional issues under the banner of a divorce action, often superimposing their own limited and emotionally charged understanding of the law. In a normal adversarial situation, their attorneys often have little impetus to bring their clients back to the negotiating table, as litigating the case in court can yield big money for the lawyers, even while it reduces the divorcing couple’s assets just at a time when they will need them most. Clients allowed to, or even encouraged by the attorneys to vent their emotional issues are guaranteeing themselves that at the end of the litigation, their financial picture will be grim, their emotional state will have been shredded, and their children’s access to future funds for college will be depleted.
Is there a better way? Fortunately, today there is. It is a system of clients and attorneys working together and, when applied to matrimonial cases, can yield better results than litigation or mediation, while retaining the ability of both parties to sensibly make the plans that will allow them to go on with their lives, limit the emotional price for them and their children, and preserve as much as possible of the marital assets for future use. With its roots in the business world, collaborative divorce has attracted a group of responsible, dedicated attorneys who, as unhappy as most litigants are with the current state of matrimonial practice, have dedicated themselves to making the divorce process less painful and less expensive by becoming trained and certified to practice collaborative law.
What’s so different?
Collaborative law had its origins in business litigation, but now exists as a full-fledged methodology for settling divorce cases. Here, both parties retain certified, collaborative attorneys, lawyers who have undergone extensive training in the process, and, most importantly, agree in advance not to go to court, which takes away the motivation for attorneys who love to litigate in court (and charge much higher fees) from doing so. The two litigants and the two attorneys work together to find sensible, legally based solutions to the various issues facing the parties. In a collaborative divorce, instead of the usual adversarial relationship between litigants and their respective attorneys, everyone is committed to participating in an open, inclusive discussion of the issues and possible solutions. Their collaborative attorneys, who are trained in techniques to keep tempers down, and to target and solve the issues with the help and input of their clients and, when appropriate, with the assistance of neutral financial and even therapeutic professionals, help guide both parties to a place where they can calmly investigate their realistic options, and make decisions that benefit them and their children, while retaining more of their assets with which to continue their lives and provide for their children.
Collaborative divorce represents a considerable advantage over mediation services – where one attorney creates a settlement agreement based solely on the input of the litigants and is not allowed to offer legal advice to either – in that the collaborative professionals are able to keep both parties legally protected and informed, while teaching them how to make important decisions together that will affect their lives and their children’s lives for years to come. And all without the need to go to court or spend the children’s college savings fund on litigation. A collaborative divorce gives both parties the opportunity to make their own decisions regarding their assets and their children, without the possibility of submitting the issues to a judge who may (and often do) come up with solutions that neither party wants.
For more information on Collaborative Divorce, as well as a list of certified attorneys in your area, visit www.nycollaborativeprofessionals.com. Or contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
My name is Jeanne C. Breiter and I have been practicing matrimonial law in the traditional process for over 30 years, and became certified as a collaborative divorce lawyer in 2010. I have the experience, knowledge and background, and specialized techniques to help you calmly negotiate your future, and to protect your rights, whether in the collaborative process, or in the traditional process.
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