I help people dissolve their marriages without destroying their lives.
The ending of a marriage or a marriage-like relationship is the worst man/woman-made disaster most of us ever face. The realization that the fantasy didn't come true or is coming to an end and letting go of it is very difficult. Timing is often different for the parties -- one party may have grappled with the decision to leave for some time before s/he tells the other party about it. Although the first party is often ready to move on at that point, it is only then that the second party and their children (including their adult children) begin to wrestle with their fear, anger, and/or grief about the impending changes in their family.
My goal in working with clients in this challenging transition is for them to feel safe and empowered throughout the process, so that each member of the family can move through this difficult life transition to a more hopeful place. I am skilled and effective in helping clients negotiate the best possible outcome for themselves and the other members of their family given their particular set of circumstances.
FIRST STEP -- CREATE SAFETY
The decisions that the parties make at the outset of the separation process have an enormous impact on how each member of the family experiences the transition. The single most destructive thing one spouse can do, especially at the outset, is surprise the other -- file a petition, have the other served with a summons, change bank accounts, close credit card accounts, stop paying bills, and so forth. Surprise causes the surprised spouse to react defensively, which is often interpreted by the first one as aggression, and soon they are in a cycle of escalating conflict, frequent court appearances, and rising legal costs. So if you and your spouse can make just one agreement, make this one: NO SURPRISES. Agree to tell the other before you make any significant changes. You are not asking permission to make changes; rather, you are preventing the corrosiveness of surprise from taking over as you make them. (Note: this advice may not be appropriate if there has been physical violence in the relationship.)
If you and your spouse can make a couple more agreements, make these:
o You will not fight through, over, or about your children (including your adult children),
o You will make all decisions based on what you agree is the best thing for your children, and
o You will treat one another respectfully, even when it is very difficult (or perhaps, especially when it is very difficult).
NEXT STEP -- CHOOSE A PROCESS
There are a series of legal hoops that you must jump through in order to get a judgment dissolving your marriage, dividing your property, providing for your children, and so forth. Beyond that, however, you and your spouse must choose a process to get you there. There are three processes available to you -- two are voluntary negotiation models (collaborative law and mediation) requiring agreement and the other (going to court) is the default system that is always available.
In divorce MEDIATION the parties meet with a neutral impartial mediator who facilitates the negotiations between them. Each party needs to be able to negotiate for him and herself. Often one or both of the parties consults with an attorney of his/her own choosing outside of the mediation sessions for assistance in understanding his/her rights and obligations and in evaluating various settlement options. The goal in mediation is for the parties to reach an agreement that optimizes the outcome for everyone in the family.
In COLLABORATIVE LAW each party has an attorney but there is an agreement among the four of them that this will be a negotiation, that these attorneys will not represent these parties in court. That agreement paves the way for interest-based negotiations where the goal is for the parties to reach an agreement that optimizes the outcome for everyone in the family. I believe a collaborative interdisciplincary approach that includes other specially trained professionals (mental health [divorce coach], child development, financial, and vocational specialists) facilitates this process.
In LITIGATION each party has an attorney (although a party may go to court without an attorney) who zealously represents the client's interests. If the parties do not settle their case the judge makes the decisions for them. Litigation is emotionally and financially the most costly of these three options (you can count on litigation to cost more, take longer, and feel less satisfactory in the end than if you had negotiated an agreement).
AND -- SELECT A LAWYER
You and your attorney will be working together, perhaps closely, so select an attorney whose style fits with yours. Your attorney needs to be skilled and experienced in the process that you will use: collaborative law, mediation, or litigation. Once you have determined that the lawyer you are consulting with has the requisite knowledge and experience to handle your legal situation, notice other attributes that will make working together easier or more difficult. Does this lawyer listen well? Respond to your questions and concerns? Explain how the law applies to your situation in a way you can understand? Suggest approaches that sound reasonable and that resonate with you? If your answers are not "yes" with respect to this lawyer, consult with someone else.
A BRIEF ROADMAP
Whether you are going to use collaborative law, mediation, or litigation, you will use the following basic sequence of steps.
=Identify issues, then gather and organize information about each one. For some issues the information is what you already know. For others, you will need to collect current and historical information and documents.
=Identify what is needed by and important to each person involved, including the children. Understanding what is important to each person, and why, creates opportunities for finding solutions to many issues.
=Brainstorm all the options for resolving each issue. Evaluate each option.
=Negotiate agreements based on the options that best meet everyone's needs.
The time it will take to go through these steps for each issue will vary, depending upon the issue. For some issues you may need to loop back through them a time or two before you've gathered and exchanged all the information that you'll each need to make an informed decision about it. For others, once will be enough.