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Divorce and the Collaborative Process

I’ve been watching the show “Divorce” on HBO (Sarah Jessica Parker) fairly religiously because I like HBO and SJP and I also practice family law.

[Spoiler Alert!!]  In the first couple of episodes after divorce became a likely option for the characters, they started down what is often a common way of handling the conflict.    First, they went to mediation and tried to work things out without lawyers.  This show subscribes to a traditional stereotype of a lawyer – that they make everything worse and more expensive. So the characters opted not to go that route “to keep things amicable”. All things I’ve heard before.  Things were going well with mediation.  But then the husband talked to a friend who said he should “lawyer up” to make sure his interests are protected.   So he did that without telling his wife.  When the wife got wind of the husband getting a lawyer, she went for the best, most expensive lawyer in town to one up the husband and make sure her interests were protected.   This caused the husband to panic and decide he needed a “better” lawyer, so he went and hired the dirtiest meanest women-hating lawyer in town to protect his rights.   Then, the wife determined her lawyer was not getting the job done  so she fired him and hired the dirtiest, meanest man-hating lawyer in town to protect her rights.  Meanwhile, the parties were able to co-parent, deal with each other and parties of common friends and go to visit wife’s family for the holidays without the help of their lawyers.   The last scene was the husband being served divorce papers in the middle of coaching his daughter’s basketball game to wife’s surprise.   A recipe for disaster.

We are talking about a TV show so of course there is the usual bit of Hollywood dramatization and exaggeration. However, I would say its a fairly accurate portrayal of how things can go when starting the divorce process.  If these parties had been introduced to the Collaborative Process in the beginning, they may never have completely cut off their chance at an amicable resolution of their issues. Instead, they are spending their hard earned money “one-upping” each other with their lawyers and entering into the process using fear as a tactic.  Wife also managed to humiliate her husband and children in public as icing on the cake.

This is definitely one way to handle your divorce and there are lawyers out there willing to take your money to do it that way.  But usually the end result is not good for either party, especially if children are involved.

By contrast, the Collaborative Process insists that each party has the chance to hire a lawyer of their choice who is trained in the Collaborative Process before any sort of negotiation begins.  The parties hire their lawyers at the outset and can set the tone of their process.   Then, depending on the distinct issues in the case, the attorneys may recommend hiring a family relations specialist and a financial expert to help move the process along.  The process is meant to be a team approach and the lawyers advise on what the party’s interests are so that the party has a frame of reference as to whether they are agreeing to something for or against his/her interest.  Your lawyer is still fully on your side in an advisory position.     If you are interested in this approach to ending your marriage vs. the one described at the beginning of this blog,  contact me to set up a consultation to discuss your options.

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