By: Gary L. Borger, Esquire
Does divorce have to be a financial and emotional nightmare? Do parents have to “go at” one another, destroying any chance at having a workable co-parenting relationship in the years following the divorce? There are options.
Divorce, from a legal perspective, involves only children and finances (support and division of property and debt). From a human perspective, divorce involves a massive upheaval of one’s life. While the legal system must ignore the emotions of divorce, they are often the driving factors that keep parents getting divorced from settling. Once a case is settled and an agreement is signed, all a judge needs to do is “dissolve the marriage” in a short, uncontested, no-fault hearing of less than 15 minutes in length. Therefore, the overriding question is, “How do we get to a settlement?”
Instead of testifying before a judge for the judge to make all the decisions about your child(ren); the support to be paid and received, if any; and who gets what property (and any money needed to adjust for the value of what each spouse keeps from the marital estate) and who is strapped with what debt, there are at least three better ways to resolve these issues in an amicable fashion.
First, the spouses could sit down together and reach an agreement on their own, which should then be reviewed by an attorney for each spouse to make sure that all issues have been addressed to make the settlement not only final but comprehensive. Then an attorney for one spouse can draft a formal, legal settlement agreement with all the necessary legal language and provisions, to be reviewed by an attorney for the other spouse. Legal fees under this process are minimal.
Second, if the spouses can’t resolve things on their own, they could meet with a neutral mediator who could assist them in getting to a settlement on the items they couldn’t settle on their own and make sure that all items are addressed so that unresolved issues don’t remain.
Third, instead of mediating their disputed items, the spouses could retain attorneys trained in the collaborative divorce process. This is indicated where one spouse is reluctant to sit down without an attorney by his/her side because of a fear of being taken advantage of by the other spouse who may have a better knowledge of finances and/or who may have a stronger emotional bargaining ability (i.e., an ability to wear down the other spouse in negotiations). The collaborative process involves as series of meetings of the spouses and their attorneys (as each spouse is represented by his/her own attorney at all times). In addition, for the collaborative divorce process to work at its best, it should involve a divorce coach who is a trained and licensed mental health counselor such as a psychologist, social worker, or family therapist. The divorce coach does not act as a therapist but rather uses his/her education, training, skills and experience to help the spouses get over the emotional barriers that frequently interfere with reaching a settlement. Also, where indicated, a financial neutral such as an expert forensic accountant can be involved to help the spouses determine what cashflow each needs to live post-divorce, to determine actual cash-flow income where cash and benefits are involved in one’s job or profession and to value any business or professional practice interests involved.
It has been the experience of this practitioner (and data show) that spouses who resolve their differences on their own, whether directly or through mediation or the collaborative divorce process, overall generally spend less money on their divorce; voluntarily comply with the terms of their settlement; have fewer, if any court appearances in the future; are more able to work out any disputes that may arise in the future; and are better able to effectively co-parent their children, with the result being that the children, in such cases, are generally healthier compared to children of parents who have litigated their divorce through the adversarial court system.
In summary, before entering the court process when divorce seems inevitable (as one may be tempted to do from an emotional standpoint), consider mediation or the collaborative divorce process to save money, remain emotionally healthier, and create an environment that will tend to serve your children’s best interests in having parents who show respect and civility to one another and who are “on the same page” in terms of parenting their children.
BorgerMatez, P.A. is a Cherry Hill, NJ family law firm that, when appropriate, promotes an amicable and peaceful approach to divorce and divorce-related disputes.