Reclaim Your Hope and Dignity through Collaborative Divorce

By: Mary J. Biacsi, Esq.

There is HOPE! Feelings of fear, hopelessness and anger are all very normal when faced with the prospect of a divorce, but they don't have to dictate your experience with the divorce itself. The reality is - you do not have to stay stuck and wallow in emotional despair. There is an alternative option that provides support through the process. This option is - Collaborative Divorce.

I have seen many clients walk through my office doors feeling worn out and full of fear, anxiety and utter hopelessness. These negative emotions can be turned around; however you need to be in a process that will provide you the support and education you need to grow through the process. Litigation does not always have to be the answer.

Kathy, consulted me for advice about ending her marriage. She was wracked with guilt and anxiety. Her self esteem was at an all time low. She felt as though there was no hope. Her husband, Steve, was resistant to the idea of divorcing, of course adding to Kathy's guilt. Eventually, Kathy and Steve both decided to hire Collaborative counsel and entered the Collaborative Divorce process. During the first several meetings, Kathy was in such a bad place she was unable to look anyone in the eye, especially Steve. Her low self esteem was so palpable.

Initially, both Steve and Kathy had a lot of angst concerning their three children. Kathy believed Steve would not be able to handle the day to day grind of children. Steve believed that Kathy drank to excess and perhaps she had an addiction to alcohol. This was an allegation that Kathy vehemently denied. Well, as fate would have it, Kathy was stopped by the police and arrested for Driving Under the Influence. Kathy's fear and anxiety were now at an all time high. What was going to happen to her? Was she going to be able to have time with her children?

You may assume that Steve ran to Court to obtain temporary custody of the children because of the arrest and to prove his wife wrong. However, that is not what happened - Steve and his counsel, along with the whole Collaborative Team, took the high road. Luckily, the Collaborative Team had been formed and the process had begun. Both Kathy and Steve each had their own attorneys and the couple was working with a Mental Health Professional (MHP) and a Financial Professional. The Financial Professional was acting as a neutral and eliciting full disclosure of the assets from Steve and providing guidance and educating Kathy on the finances. Kathy felt totally in the dark about their assets, however, working with the Financial Professional shed light on the financial picture. The MHP was working closely with the couple to address both parents concerns about the children and dealing with the accusations of alcoholism.

It was a very positive thing for the family that this couple chose the Collaborative Process. Everyone addressed the issues and rather than strategize against each other, we all were on the same page and were working to address concerns and solve problems. Disagreements were approached and dealt with in a respectful and dignified manner. The Collaborative Counsel created a safe environment for Kathy and Steve to express their interests, concerns and needs. Even though difficult and highly emotional, problems were dealt with head on and processed.

Through the process and with the guidance of the attorneys and the MHP, Kathy and Steve were able to truly listen to each other and communicate in a manner that they had never been able to do during the marriage. The issue of Kathy's drinking was put on the table and addressed in a manner that was not degrading to Kathy, rather she was provided with the continued support she needed to work through this process and her dependency on alcohol. Clearly, both Kathy and Steve loved their three children and wanted only what was best for them. They were able to create a Parenting Plan that addressed the safety concerns of Kathy's drinking. This was done in such a way as to not exacerbate Kathy's already low self esteem. Rather, it was done in a supportive manner that provided Kathy the space to look within and be accountable and she started to make changes.

If Kathy and Steve were in the throes of litigation when she received her DUI, rest assured, Steve would have been running to Court to file a Motion for Temporary Custody so he could "protect" the children from Kathy. The Court would not have afforded this couple an avenue to address the difficult issues head on and deal with them. Rather, they would have become more polarized and the fighting would have just begun.

What was the end result for Kathy and Steve? There was a lot of sorrow, regret and what ifs about their marriage. They did end up coming to a resolution about their finances, assets and the children in a manner that addressed their needs and interests. They walked away from the process without despising each other. In fact, I recall at the final meeting, prior to signing the final paperwork as prepared by the attorneys, Kathy actually referred to Steve as "Honey". What was even more impressive was that Kathy grew through the process. She not only was able to look Steve in the eye, she was able to make informed decisions about her life, her future and that of her children. Steve also grew through the process, recognizing the role he had been playing in this dysfunctional relationship that they had created. Kathy and Steve emerged from the process as better people and better parents.

The story of Kathy and Steve may sound as though it was an easy process for them. However, that is not the case. There was a lot of hard work that they each had to do to work through the process. The end result was and is two happy households and three children who are secure in their lives because their parents handled their divorce in a respectful, dignified and private manner. They chose to make the hard decisions about their lives instead of only focusing on the negative attributes of the other and delegating hope that the Court would make the right decision.

As in Kathy and Steve's case, the Collaborative Process, while not easy, can work for you. The Collaborative Process affords the couple, privacy and control over the process. The meetings are held in a private office and the team, together, set the schedule of meetings. A Judge is not ordering you when and where you are to meet to discuss your personal life. The Collaborative Process sets up a team of professionals who provide guidance, advice and counsel as you take each step through the decision making process and create agreements for your future.

The names of the characters in this story are based on actual cases. Names and other details have been changed.