Is The Collaborative Divorce Process Only for Couples Who Get Along Well and Don't Fight?

Many people who first learn about collaborative divorce incorrectly assume that it only works for couples who get along well and don't fight. The thinking is that if there is significant conflict the couple is not able to negotiate a settlement and likely will need a court to impose an order on them.

This isn't true! The collaborative divorce process works well for high-conflict couples. The collaborative professionals include "divorce coaches" who are skilled at working with the spouses to manage the anger and emotions that often drive the conflict with these couples. The turbulent emotions, left unchecked, can be and often are a major obstacle to resolution. The divorce coaches help the spouses to navigate these turbulent emotions, to communicate more effectively and to focus on what is required to reach a mutually-agreeable solution.

If a high-conflict couple proceeds through litigation there is little to no expertise to deal with the anger and emotions. The adversarial nature of that process exacerbates the conflict which often leads to destructive relationships, broken families and exorbitant legal fees. Our view is that high-conflict couples fare much better in the collaborative divorce process than the traditional process in a courtroom. We encourage high-conflict couples to consider the collaborative divorce process when contemplating separation.

I recently finished a collaborative file where the spouses were high conflict - the marriage was over for the wife and the husband was devastated. In our first collaborative meeting they fought over everything. We involved divorce coaches who worked with this couple to reduce conflict, to manage their emotions, to improve communication and to help each of them to focus on what was really important. Although the husband was so immersed in anger and initially unable to focus on the big picture with the assistance of the collaborative professionals he was able move on. When we resumed the legal meetings the couple reached an agreement. Some time after the file completed my client sent me a note expressing her gratitude for the process and telling me that the family was in a much better place than it had been for years!

For high-conflict couples with children, it's especially important to use the collaborative divorce process and reach an agreement that meets the needs of everyone. While a divorcing couple ceases to be husband and wife, they remain parents indefinitely and, for the well being of the children, need to co-parent effectively. The collaborative divorce process, with the assistance of divorce coaches, assists high-conflict couples to shed the conflict and move on to co-parenting effectively for the sake of the children!

What Am I Giving Up If I Choose A Collaborative Divorce?

In my initial meeting with clients they often ask this question. It's a valid question and arises, I think, because of the traditional stereotype of divorce and what it often looks like. Traditionally, divorce was about winning and losing, preparing for a battle in court where you strive to win with little regard for the claims of your spouse. During the process you try to gain every possible advantage to defeat your spouse. This is a typical "win-lose" scenario! If you think about divorce in these terms, you may be concerned that a more respectful process like the Collaborative Divorce process may mean concessions and settling for less than what you would get if you win in court.

The Collaborative Divorce process seeks to change the dynamic of divorce from "win-lose" to "win-win". We determine what the highest needs of each spouse are and seek to create a solution that meets each of their needs. Often the needs of each spouse are different - for example, one spouse may want to retain an employment pension and the other spouse may be more interested in retaining the family residence. In the Collaborative Divorce process, instead of strictly following the law (which would have the spouses splitting each asset) we are able to look at other options that better meet the needs of spouses. In my view divorcing couples using the Collaborative Divorce process gain so much more than they would hope to gain in a court battle.

Also important is that in the Collaborative Divorce process you and your spouse maintain control over the process and its outcome. You determine what is most important to you in moving forward, the pace of the negotiations and the terms of the ultimate agreement. After all, aren't you best able to determine what works best for you moving forward in life? In court you relinquish full control to the lawyers and ultimately to the judge to reach a resolution that he or she deems appropriate for you and your spouse. Sometimes the outcome is a "win-lose" and sometimes it is a "lose-lose".

When you are in the Collaborative Divorce process you and your spouse determine the pace and the timeline. Sometimes the spouses need time to work with the divorce coaches to manage emotions, or we need to work around vacation or work schedules. This can be reasonably accommodated in the Collaborative Divorce process. In court you are at the mercy of the court schedule.

A win-win resolution provides a much superior springboard for a couple and family to move forward in life! I encourage you to use the Collaborative Divorce process to seek this outcome.

How Will My Divorce Affect My Children?

Parents contemplating divorce are always concerned that the divorce will negatively impact their children. Many of my clients tell me that they vividly recall living through their parents horrible divorce and don't want to put their children through a similar experience.

In the Collaborative Divorce process our paramount concern is the children. We say that we take the children out of the middle and place them in the center! We have the divorce coaches who can work with the parents to help them to appreciate how their behavior affects the children and to learn how to keep the children in the center. We also can bring in a child specialist, if need be, who will meet with the child and report back to the parents.

However there is good news here - psychologists who have researched the effect of divorce on children over the years conclude that "it's not the divorce that negatively impacts children - it's the conflict between a mother and father during the divorce that negatively impacts children". So, parents - you have much control over whether or not your children will be negatively impacted by your divorce.

I urge you to be mindful of the following:

Avoid conflict with your spouse. To do this you must select the right process for your divorce. I recommend the Collaborative Divorce process as in this process the best interests of the children are paramount.

Place the needs of the children as a priority. When you think about settlement in terms of "what's best for my children" you're placing yourself in a frame of mind that allows you and your spouse to cooperate. You are thinking of you and your spouse together as parents continuing to care for your children rather than individuals seeking a victory.

Be aware of sensitive to your spouse's needs. This can be challenging however you will never reach agreement unless some of your spouse's needs are met (in addition to your needs). If you can negotiate with a win-win solution in mind you are beginning to foster a cooperative spirit which often will allow you to reach a durable resolution in a cost efficient manner.

If you can eliminate conflict with your spouse your children will be thankful!