Being divorced is universally recognized as one of the most stressful events in a person’s life. This stress can show up as anger, a sense of loss, or some other emotion, and these emotions often present hidden roadblocks to an effective settlement.
I represented a husband recently in a litigated divorce. Through some intense negotiations in a ‘cold-war’ environment we managed to divide two thriving restaurants, a residence worth over a million dollars, a vacation home, several cars and myriad financial investments. But then we came to the hutch.
“I’m keeping the hutch!”, she says. “Never in a million years!”, says he, “I’ll burn it before you get your hands on it!”
And the entire deal was down the drain. The hutch was purchased for less than $2,500, mind you, and either party could have easily replaced the hutch — but the emotional value far outweighed the financial value and the parties were unable to move past their anger and bitterness.
This happens often in a litigated divorce. By the end of the case, whether it actually makes it to trial or not, the parties have been taught to wage war. There must be war, and there must be a winner. In this case, the person who gets the hutch wins. Each party has his/her emotions wrapped so tightly around “winning” that the hutch becomes the battlefield. I have seen the same happen over a dining room table, a CD collection and family photos. I hear similar stories from my colleagues virtually every day.
This rarely, if ever, happens in a Collaborative Divorce. There are emotions, of course — but the Collaborative Divorce Process is designed to reveal these hidden roadblocks. Guided by their professional Collaborative Team, the parties can learn to effectively communicate their interests and concerns to each other; they can find reasonable alternatives that take into account each of the parties’ highest priorities; and they can actually learn to trust each other in the process.
In Collaborative Divorce it would not be unusual to see the parties recounting to each other all of the family stories wrapped around the hutch — how the purchase came about; what the hutch has meant to each of them over the years; how the children joke that it was the one piece of furniture that was absolutely off limits when they were young. By voicing their memories each party is able to own the ‘emotional value’ of the hutch, which is what they seek. In the end physical ownership of the hutch becomes far less important. The parties have cleared their emotions to a point where they can move forward to an effective settlement — including a jointly-made decision about who will keep the hutch.