A divorce is a death of a relationship. It's like a death in the family. There is no process that is going to make it pleasant...
Trying to Divorce Amicably
Working Divorce: Couples Trying to Avoid Legal Battle through Negotiations
By MICHELE KIMBALL
The contentious process of litigated divorce forced one attorney to re-evaluate his part in it. He decided to take his divorce practice out of the courtroom. “I always saw myself in a helping profession. I wasn’t helping anybody. I wasn’t helping the client, I wasn’t helping myself. I just stopped taking those cases,” said Michael Stokamer, an attorney in private practice in New York and New Jersey.
He was frustrated that no one was satisfied by the ends results of the traditional divorce process – not even himself. “What made me switch, it just wasn’t working at the end of the process, nobody was happy,” he said. He couldn’t make his clients happy, and they were frustrated with the bills and negotiations. In the end, “the results were usually shoved down people’s throats by pressure,” from attorneys and judges, he said.
So he quit the courtroom and began practicing collaborative divorce and mediation in his company Divorce Mediation Solutions. It is there that he helps couples divorce in a respectful, non-threatening atmosphere, he said. The change is what he needed, he said. “I feel like I am doing a great service to my client and to my client’s family,” Stokamer said. “I feel like I am doing something worthwhile.”
ASSEMBLING A COLLABORATIVE DIVORCE TEAM
Collaborative divorce is a process in which a team gathers to help a couple dissolve their marriage. The team consists of an attorney to guide the legal negotiations, a financial specialist to consult on the financial divisions, a mental health professional to help the couple through the emotions of the divorce and a child specialist to help ensure that the process, including custody negotiations are conducted in a way that is healthy and supportive of the children involved.
Both spouses must commit to the process in the beginning if collaborative divorce is going to work, said Susan Hansen, an attorney in private practice at Hansen and Hildebrand S.C. in Wisconsin and the past president of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals. “I think that anyone who wants to try and work toward a healthy outcome for themselves and their family can benefit from collaborative divorce,” Hansen said.
All participants, including the divorcing couple, promise to negotiate the issues that arise in the divorce with compassion, open communication and respect. If they can’t help the couple resolve the issues of the divorce, they will leave the team before taking the process into the courtroom. In a collaborative divorce, all of the negotiations take place privately with the relevant specialists. There are no adversarial pleadings, motions, or court papers. “There’s not a public dispute in which judges make decisions abut people’s lives,” Hansen said.
While it takes work and commitment to submit to a team process to dissolve a marriage, Hansen said, the process offers some practicality for people who want a sense of privacy or control over the process. The negotiations take place in specialists’ offices, among the team members and the clients. “It does not happen in the public paperwork or open court dispute,” Hansen said.
The couple is responsible for assembling the team. They secure the experts with a participation agreement, then each specialist does his or her job to get the couple through the divorce. Couples intending to put together a collaborative divorce team can look online for information about people who are qualified to participate in the teams. Then, they can interview those with whom they feel a sense of report, Hansen said.
Interview professionals in the process and be sure they are selecting individuals with whom they have good communication and report. “You are talking about the most personal and important details of your life with someone, and there needs to be that trust and report,” Hansen said.
She recommends that couples meet face-to-face with the professionals they are considering adding to the team. It is imperative that they can effectively communicate with each team member, Hansen said. “Divorce is a difficult life transition,” Hansen said. “The last thing anyone needs is a difficult or adversarial relationship with their divorce professionals.”
The legal member of the team is responsible for handling all aspects of the law for the divorce. He or she may act as a liaison between the couple and the court system. The financial specialist is a neutral person on the team who works with both parties to assess the future financial needs for all parties, including the children in the family. The specialist may educate one or both parties about the finances, and help each party understand what the finances will look like once the marriage is dissolved.