The best way to explain how Collaborative Divorce works – and the value of this team approach – is to share a real case study.
Sue* and John*, the parents of two children, were married for ten years when John told Sue he had an affair and wanted a divorce. He moved out and then moved back as they tried marital counseling. Eventually they agreed the marriage wasn’t going to survive and were determined to end it amicably because of their children.
Both Sue and John were scared about the future. Would they have enough money to live comfortably and support their children’s needs? More important, how would the divorce affect the kids emotionally?
As they watched divorcing friends litigate and squander life savings on fighting each other in court, Sue and John knew this was not the right approach for them. They heard about mediation, but Sue felt she needed to be represented by her own attorney because John’s superior knowledge about finances would give him an advantage.
Then they read how comedian Robin Williams used the Collaborative Divorce approach – and they decided to try it.
Sue and John assembled a collaborative team of two attorneys, a Family Specialist, a Financial Specialist and a Child Specialist.
The attorneys guided the couple to define goals and priorities. As Sue wasn’t working and one child wasn’t yet in school, Sue needed immediate financial support.
The Family Specialist, a mental health professional trained in collaborative practice, met privately with Sue and then with John. Beyond discussing their issues and concerns, the specialist identified behaviors that triggered each other’s negative reactions.
The Financial Specialist gathered information on their spending habits and suggested various financial scenarios to meet their goals.
The Child Specialist talked with the children and reported back to the parents and the team. This was especially important because of one child’s learning disability and special needs. A parenting plan was developed and both children’s feelings and concerns were incorporated into the divorce resolution.
When the entire team met, the Family Specialist helped Sue and John set ground rules to ensure civil, respectful communications. However, some meetings were still heated, as Sue blamed John for breaking up their marriage and destroying the family. The specialist helped John understand that Sue needed time to adjust to her new situation.
By the end of the process, Sue and John had constructed a mutually beneficial agreement that was very different from the terms of a typical litigated divorce case. They were happy because they crafted it together, addressing the entire family’s needs and priorities. Sue and John are back in control of their lives.
Now two years later, the children are doing well in school, have friends and enjoy good relationships with both parents. The co-parenting transition from one household to the other was seamless. Neither parent badmouths the other. The child with learning disabilities receives extra help at school and has tutors at home. Both Sue and John are actively involved in their children’s lives and care about what is important to them.
The Collaborative Divorce process helped this family navigate complex legal, emotional, and financial issues while minimizing instances of conflict, with a new style of handling conflict that continues to work well today. Although divorced, they will always be a family.
*Names and pertinent facts have been changed to protect the identities of the family.