Collaborating in an Amicable Divorce

This example case illustrates how the constructive aspect of Collaborative Divorce can lead to a more amicable divorce.

Mary and Arthur – Constructive

When a collaborative divorce has everything working in its favor, it can be an amazingly smooth process. This story truly demonstrates that.

First, Mary and Arthur both wanted the divorce. Mary came to that conclusion about six months before Arthur, but it took her that full six months from initial interview with her collaborative attorney to actually move forward. By the time the CL process began, both were on the same page. (This can often be a critical component that affects the pace and level of cooperation in a negotiation.)

Second, both clients were exceptionally well-organized and financially-savvy people. They readily assembled the necessary financial information, and Mary organized it into a series of spreadsheets. After negotiating a moderately complex parenting schedule, Arthur organized it into a computer-readable calendar that each of them could email or print out as needed.

Third, Mary and Arthur had similar values and goals. Both were experienced computer professionals with good incomes, and both were very devoted to their children. They respected each other as people and were both very confident in each other’s abilities as parents. Unlike many of our clients, Mary and Arthur were very successful at saving money, so their finances were in good shape. In short, they had the material and emotional resources needed to make the transition from marriage to divorce.

Finally, they communicated effectively, collaboratively, and in a focused way. The four-way meetings went smoothly because Mary and Arthur were comfortable sticking with the agenda for each meeting. They kept their promises and completed their homework on time or ahead of schedule. Arthur moved out of the marital home, as agreed, and then cooperated with Mary when she refinanced the mortgage on that home. At no time in any of the five four-way meetings, or in the preparation for them, did either Mary or Arthur get involved in accusations or other incivilities; indeed, they were so completely focused on resolution, in spite of some inevitable differences of opinion regarding money or children, that their attorneys were simply astonished by their efficiency.

With all of this resourcefulness, cooperation, and mutual respect, one might wonder how their attorneys added value, if at all. Our view is that the CL process created a safe container in which Mary and Arthur could take the risk of trusting each other. They knew, from the start, that their two lawyers liked and respected each other but at the same time could and would maintain appropriate professional boundaries. They knew that they would have opportunities for separate consultation with counsel, but in reality, they did almost all of the work in four-way meetings.

The level of trust reached such a point that Mary and Arthur began sending emails to all four-participants in the process, and their attorneys consented to direct four-way communications via email. The feeling of safety that was created by the process came, in part, from adhering to practices that have become customary in CL: taking turns meeting at each attorney’s office and alternating in the preparation of a memo summarizing the discussions at each meeting. Mary and Arthur were given a separation agreement checklist, which helped to structure the negotiations. One attorney drafted the Separation Agreement; the other edited. The division of labor felt balanced, and Mary and Arthur felt they knew what to expect.

Mary and Arthur might have had a very amicable divorce even without CL – we will never know. However, it is clear that CL provided a supportive framework that kept the process on track. Their two young children will benefit from the wise decision these two parents made to collaborate.

This story was edited from an original article written by: David Hoffman and Paula Noe

David Hoffman is an attorney, mediator, and arbitrator at Boston Law Collaborative, LLC. He is chair of the ABA Section of Dispute Resolution. Paula H. Noe practices Collaborative Family Law in Brookline, Massachusetts. She is president-elect of the Massachusetts Collaborative Law Council.