by Maria P. Imbalzano, Esq.
Over the past few months, Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin have been in the news and celebrity magazines because of their announced separation. Although they never used the word “divorce” in their statement to the public, it would appear that’s where they are heading. Their announcement stressed that they will always be a family, that they are parents first and foremost, and even while they consciously uncouple, they will continue to co-parent respectfully and privately.
Since I am a divorce attorney and not a psychologist, I will not delve into the psychology behind the term “conscious uncoupling.” I can, however, speak to a more practical way to divorce, which not only takes into consideration the best interests of the children, but also allows you, the parties, to avoid the drama of divorce apparent in every litigated divorce case.
The demise of a marriage brings with it many emotions: sadness, anger, hurt, betrayal, guilt, regret — the list goes on. Depending upon the circumstances, those emotions may lead to resentment, and the very human way of dealing with that resentment is to blame the other spouse. Divorce litigation provides the legal means to allow one spouse to attack the other, starting with the complaint for divorce, proceeding through motions filed with the court in which each spouse certifies what an awful person the other spouse is, and ending with a trial giving each party the opportunity to drag the other through the mud. All the while this is going on, you and your children are suffering.
Taking a tip from Ms. Paltrow and Mr. Martin, you may wish to conduct your divorce with respect, integrity, and in privacy, where you can put forth your goals and interests and reach agreements that not only benefit both parties, but your children. This way of divorcing is called a collaborative divorce. It is quicker, less expensive, more productive, and much less harmful to the children and the parties.
So why doesn’t everyone divorcing choose the collaborative process? Because not everyone is willing to consider the other party’s point of view or work toward common interests, rather than simply argue in favor of their own position.
If you think you are a candidate for the collaborative divorce process, the first thing to do is to hire a collaboratively trained lawyer. Once both parties have hired their lawyers, a first meeting will be held among the four of you where the process will be explained further. Both parties must agree that they will not file a complaint for divorce while they are in the process, and if one party decides to do so at any point, then both attorneys must be replaced for the parties to move forward in court.
Right up front, it will be determined which other professionals should be part of the team to work through the issues. For example, a counselor will be suggested to help deal with custody and parenting issues (including when and how to tell the children about the divorce), an accountant will be provided to put together a marital balance sheet (assets and debts subject to equitable distribution) and budgets going forward for each party. Other professionals may be necessary for the issues involved in your specific case (i.e., therapists, financial planners, house appraisers, business evaluators, etc.) Even though you may have several professional members as part of the team, you are using one professional in each category as a neutral. When meeting with other team members, your attorneys do not need to be present. This saves money, time, and duplicative effort.
One of the best features of the collaborative divorce process is its flexibility. The parties and their attorneys can meet at a series of conferences at any time on any day (within reason), and you are not beholden to court schedules wherein you must be present on a certain date and time, only to pace the hallways for hours waiting your turn. Every meeting in the collaborative process is productive, and you need only meet until an agreement is reached on all issues. Once a marital settlement agreement is executed, then either party can file for divorce and obtain a judgment.
While no divorce is simple, and the emotions brought on by a breakup may still need to be tended to by an appropriate professional, if you can set aside those emotions or vent them in the proper place, then a collaborative divorce may allow you to get divorced in a nicer way.
Maria P. Imbalzano is a shareholder and member of Stark & Stark’s Divorce Group. www.stark-stark.com.