By Sarah Miranda
You may face the prospect of divorce when there seems to be no hope in saving your marriage. Many couples would like to avoid the acrimony of litigation and the court system during this painful transition time. Collaborative divorce is an alternative to traditional divorce litigation and was created to provide a solution to the court system backlog as well as keep families out of a harsh litigation environment.
Having experienced divorce personally, both as a child and as an adult, I have a greater understanding of what my clients and their families go through. As a family law attorney, I’ve learned that the best way to resolve conflict is by not creating more conflict. While there are clearly some cases that should be tried and heard in court, statistics show that the majority of cases filed often reach a resolution prior to trial.
Simply put, the collaborative process offers the option where, before any litigation is filed, parties can meet in an informal office setting and the discussions can be held more comfortably and with less friction. The negotiation and mediation are done as amicably as possible with the parties’ individual attorneys. If needed, the parties can seek assistance from trained professionals such as business appraisers or financial planners who work as a team with the attorneys, engaging in a process that is truly customized to meet the needs of your family. Ironically, having this team in place may actually save money because it removes the costs and preparation associated with litigation.
Children are often quick to absorb the turmoil of their parents’ relationship ending, and experiencing a divorce is often life-changing. It is my personal belief that resolving conflict collaboratively is the best thing two people who are struggling through the difficult process of a divorce can do for themselves and for their children.
I often remind my clients that even though they are no longer in a relationship with the other parent, they are now going to be embarking on a co-parenting relationship that is different from what they have known in the past. You may no longer be in a marital relationship together but you are still parents together. And that will last a lifetime.
Beginning a respectful co-parenting relationship focused on what is in the best interests of your children will always be a better alternative than attempting to parent together after having torn each other apart during custody litigation. Protecting children from exposure to the court system and the inevitable high conflict present in adversarial cases is the reason I chose to begin a collaborative practice in addition to my family law litigation practice.
But Collaborative Divorce is not just for couples with children. It is beneficial for adults who have assets or property and want to avoid a long drawn-out court battle and the expenses associated with it.
So how does it work? During the process, parties and their attorneys proceed together through a series of meetings and exchange information with an agreement to be respectful of one another and forthcoming with the information necessary for the process to move forward. It is important to note that if the parties do not reach an agreement through the collaborative process, they can still file a lawsuit in court, but they must start with new attorneys. Additionally, information that is exchanged during the collaborative process is not admissible in court; thus, a commitment to the process is essential in succeeding with Collaborative Divorce.
In order for this to be successful, all parties need to commit to reaching a resolution without the need for litigation. Going this route has additional benefits:
-You and your spouse control the timing of the process rather than a judge
-Your children’s needs are considered at every step of the process
-The cost of the collaborative process is more affordable and predictable than litigation
-The process is private and voluntary rather than public and mandatory
-Communication and cooperation between you and your spouse is encouraged rather than prohibited
-You are able to make decisions in an environment that is safe and supportive
-You and your spouse focus on a solution that works for both of you, not just one of you
-The process considers not only the legal aspects of divorce but also the emotional, financial and practical aspects
-When the process is over, you and your spouse are able to maintain a cordial and respectful relationship
Attorneys providing this specialized service must be trained in this field to develop collaborative negotiation skills. I’ve received collaborative training with a focus on family law and am happy to answer questions or provide a brochure and materials about the process, as well as enable your spouse to locate and consult with another collaborative attorney in our area if this is a process that you feel may benefit you. Collaborative divorce can work for just about anyone going through the divorce process.
A Fayetteville native and graduate of South View High School in Hope Mills, Sarah Miranda is a partner at Hutchens Law Firm who practices in the areas of Family Law and Civil Litigation. She is also among a select group of attorneys in Cumberland County who provide a new alternative to traditional divorce called “Collaborative Divorce.” Sarah is AV-Preeminent rated by Martindale-Hubbell.