At the May 15, 2019 meeting of the Nassau County Bar Association’s Commercial Litigation Committee, Supreme Court Justice Leonard Steinman gave the view from the bench; his perspective on litigation as a sitting judge and former commercial litigator.
He also spoke of his former tenure as one of the justices assigned to divorce cases. He recounted that on one divorce case, he asked counsel why the case had not yet been settled. The lawyer told Justice Steinman, “It’s not soup yet,” alluding to a Lipton’s Cup-a-Soup commercial of the 1970s.
The lawyer’s comment was, in fact, very appropriate. Often divorce (and other) cases just won’t settle until the parties have had enough: they’ve spent enough money; they’ve spent enough time in the courthouse; they’ve gotten emotionally ready and they’re exhausted; they’ve realized the impact on the children just isn’t worth it; they’ve spent too much time disclosing financial information and going through depositions . . . . And they realize that the courthouse is not the place to be told you were the good spouse; you were the good parent. There’s no pat on the back; there’s no getting even. The parties finally get worn down; they’re finally ready to reach a compromises. They’re ready to move on.
But with a Collaborative Divorce, from the start every member of the professional team is working towards making the soup. The lawyers make sure their clients’ interests are being heard, and also work to make sure the client can (at least) hear the spouse’s interests. The Family Specialist (a mental health professional specially trained in moving the parties through their divorce) addresses the emotional issues that may interfere with a spouse’s readiness to move on; keeps the children’s concerns in focus; manages the hot-button topics, lowering the temperature at the negotiation table; and makes sure that a spouse can move forward despite past power imbalances and “dances.” The Neutral Financial Specialist cuts through the positioning to provide the parties with an even-handed view of the finances; and at a great savings. The parties are not stifled; their pain is addressed, not aggravated by adversarial litigation.
There is no magic bullet. Collaborative Divorce can be hard work, for the parties, and for the team. But wounds are not deepened by court papers designed to inflame. Energy is not focused piling on for past transgressions, designing every sentence to maximize a position and negate the role of the other party.
With a Collaborative Divorce, the parties are kept focused on moving forward. The result is a settlement that both parties can see is right for them, reached by enhancing, not hampering the parties’ ability to communicate. They leave the divorce better able to sit in the same room with their former spouse to celebrate future graduations, weddings, births of grandchildren, etc.
It may not be instant soup, but it’s ready a lot sooner than through litigation; it’s better for you; and it tastes better, too.
Filed in: Completing Your Divorce