1. Privacy – Most people don’t realize that divorce files are public record and all court appearances are open to the public. In a typical litigated divorce, the court file will contain specific information about your income, your retirement funds, the value of your home, your mortgage balance, all of your debts, the value and type of any investments, the names and ages of your children, your age, status of your health, documentation of any drug or alcohol issues, allegations, if any, about your parenting, marital misconduct, credit worthiness etc. The only local county that seals divorce records is Montgomery County. You may recall that’s where Jon and Kate Gosselin of Berks County filed for divorce. They did this by agreement so their information was protected. In Collaborative Divorce, all of the above information is shared only with the people directly involved in the case and only upon agreement of both parties. The paperwork filed is what is necessary to process the divorce and document the agreement of the parties.
2. Control – Nothing is out of the clients’ control in Collaborative Divorce. Each party sets goals. Ways to meet those goals are discussed and professionals who can help are added as needed, but only with consent of the client. At 50 or older, most clients have significant retirement assets. In Collaborative Divorce, clients can get an idea of what the future looks like as a result of a division of retirement or investment funds through the use of a financial advisor. Parenting decisions are made by the parents with the advice of a child specialist and not a judge. Support and alimony are determined, not by a chart or formula, but through an honest discussion about the financial reality of the situation. Couples are not forced by a court order to sell their home in a dismal real estate market!
3. Decisions don’t come from Emotion – People going through a divorce typically suffer emotionally. It’s funny, when I meet a couple contemplating Collaborative Divorce my natural inclination is to say “Hello, how are you?” Well, it’s become sort of a running joke because obviously if they are meeting about a divorce (Bucks County) they are not doing so well! Anger, bitterness, grief and guilt are all common, natural and expected emotions seen in divorcing parties. In a litigated divorce, these emotions are ignored (or lead to increased billing) and the attorneys plow through the legal process based upon often irrational direction from the client which is rooted in emotion. In Collaborative Divorce, we have the ability to bring in a Divorce Coach who assists the parties in managing the stress and emotion that come with divorce. This allows parties to make clear-headed forward thinking decisions instead of critical financial or personal decisions based on the heat of the moment. Invariably, decisions made from emotion turn out to be a person’s biggest regret.
4. Less Emotional Trauma to Children – Many couples in their 50s have children. For younger children, divorce can be a very scary thing leading to anxiety and worry. Research has shown that how a couple conducts themselves during a divorce has a far greater impact on their children than the actual divorce. The all out battle approach to custody, asset distribution and support often leaves couples in financial and emotional shambles. Children are put in the middle and family friends are forced to pick a side. None of this is good for children. Couples should be able to cooperate with each other, look for opportunities for resolution instead of revenge – this is what is good for children. There is a sense of integrity and mutual respect and from that children benefit.
5. Cost Effective – My personal view has always been that divorcing couples need their money. There will be two households and two sets of expenses. Traditional divorce attorneys don’t really focus on preserving the client’s cash, they focus on getting the “best” result at whatever the cost. Collaborative financial cost is about one third of a litigated divorce. Focusing on conflict resolution in a series of meetings with direct communication between the parties and attorneys makes the process go smoother and faster and since time is billed hourly the cost is lower. Emotional cost – well you know the saying – Priceless!
– By Tracy Timby who is a partner at Timby Hunt Attorneys at Law and specializes in Collaborative Divorce and Divorce Mediation in Bucks and Montgomery Counties (Pennsylvania.)