If you are like many people, the beginning of a new year carries with it the sense of a fresh start, a desire for change, and resolutions (oh the resolutions!) about various things…these last until about January 10th…maybe the 11th.
For some people, the start of the new year brings an end to a stressful and uncomfortable holiday season due to turmoil or unhappiness in their marriage. As a family law attorney, each January I meet with many new clients who tell me the catalyst for the appointment was that they could not imagine enduring another holiday with their spouse. They are ready to take steps to end their marriage.
In the spirit of fresh starts and positive changes, I encourage people who come to meet with me (all year round, not just in January) to consider the Collaborative process as a means to move forward with the vast transition that takes place as a result of a divorce.
The Collaborative divorce process puts the people who are at a pivotal moment in their family’s lives in charge of the process, not their attorneys, and not the courts. A judge knows little about the family and the needs of each individual in the family. Too often, the adversarial nature of litigation hurts the entire family—financially, mentally, and emotionally. Some litigants, and, sadly, some attorneys, fight with a “winner take all” attitude that cares little for the integral family relationships (particularly between parents and children) that need to function in a healthy (and dare I suggest happy?) manner post-divorce.
The Collaborative process focuses on interest-based negotiations and the participants focus on goals, as well as concerns, while working as a team to build a final settlement agreement in which the family, in its new 2.0 version, can flourish. Trained attorneys, financial neutrals, coaches and child specialists work with the participants in a respectful and dignified manner through a series of meetings, rather than showdowns in the courthouse. While the Collaborative process and its trained professionals concentrate on interest-based negotiation, this does not prevent all conflict, emotions, or even occasional hostility. Fortunately, the professionals who are properly trained and practice Collaborative divorce have myriad tools they employ to move through tense and difficult settlement meetings to reach resolution.
This alternative dispute resolution is not just for people who can “agree to disagree” and want to part ways peacefully with minimal carnage and conflict. Collaborative methods can be used in high conflict cases very successfully. First, all the Collaborative professionals have been trained to help the participants focus on moving forward into the future, and seeking solutions that can work for everyone. Second, often in a high conflict case, there is one person who focuses on generating drama instead of solutions. By taking this type of case out of a courtroom and into a conference room to discuss proposals and options, the “stage” on which that person has to perform and the other actors (the Collaborative professionals) involved, are no longer set up to support antagonism. Another benefit in the Collaborative process, in particular for high conflict cases, is the use of divorce coaches. Coaches are mental health professionals who come well equipped to reduce tensions, help the participants see the situation they face from other perspectives, and assist the attorneys in facilitating a resolution that is win-win instead of win-lose.
There are many people who choose litigation for their pre-decree case, but when issues arise post-decree, they would rather be more in control of the outcome by working together. The Collaborative process can be used in post-dissolution cases as well. Just because people litigated before does not prevent them from pursuing a Collaborative resolution for post decree matters. Any issues ranging from contribution to college expenses, to changes in the allocation of parenting time and responsibilities, or modification of spousal support can be approached from the Collaborative prospective.
As each new year reminds us, there is always an opportunity to try something new or to make a change for the better. We do not have to wait for January 1st to take that opportunity.
Anique K. Drouin is a family law attorney at Sullivan Taylor & Gumina, P.C. She is a fellow of the Collaborative Institute of Illinois, as well as a mediator. You can find more information at www.stglaw.com/attorneys/anique-drouin