How are Collaborative Divorce Attorneys Different?

Frequently, people think of all divorce attorneys as being the same.  Most people assume that we all do the same thing, the same way.  In fact, most people I come across assume that all divorce attorneys are out for blood and live to take everything we possibly can (kids, money, houses, hope, joy, the will to carry on, the right to breathe, etc…) away from the other spouse so that our client can have it.  

I’ve met some of those attorneys.  Their mentality is designed to fit a divorce in court where fighting is the way to a resolution. But, luckily for families that are looking at the very real possibility of a divorce, not all attorneys fit this bill. 

Here are some important ways that Collaborative Divorce attorneys are similar to traditional divorce attorneys:

  • They have all graduated from the same law schools and passed the same Bar Exams
  • They all have the same license to practice law
  • They are familiar with the statutes and case decisions that may influence your case
  • Most currently do, or have practiced in traditional divorce cases prior to adopting the Collaborative Divorce negotiation process
  • They can draft Separation Agreements, Consent Orders and other documents necessary to formalize a divorce agreement
  • They can represent you in getting an actual divorce judgment from the court

But, obviously, there are differences.  So, here are some of the most important ones:

  • Collaborative attorneys are specially trained to administer and carry out the Collaborative Divorce negotiation process
  • Collaborative attorneys are trained to both listen and communicate differently than traditional attorneys
  • Collaborative Divorce attorneys are specifically trained to work with mental health professionals and financial neutrals to create the optimal divorce resolution for each individual family
  • Collaborative attorneys are specially trained to identify and manage (but not treat) the emotional issues in a divorce, instead of ignoring them or making them worse
  • Collaborative Divorce attorneys, by law in North Carolina, cannot go to court with you once you have begun the Collaborative Divorce Process (except for obtaining an actual divorce judgment).
  • Collaborative Divorce attorneys believe that the best way to get their client what they need is to also work towards getting their client’s spouse what that spouse needs
  • Collaborative attorneys will not threaten, leverage, coerce or demean your spouse or their attorney
  • Collaborative Divorce attorneys do not look for “evidence” to “nail somebody to the wall”; they look for data to help clients make informed decisions
  • Collaborative attorneys work with an eye toward preserving the family’s financial resources in the divorce, not just one person’s
  • Collaborative attorneys work with the goal of preserving the family’s ability to function effectively after the divorce, especially when children are involved

There are other important differences between traditional divorce attorneys and Collaborative Divorce attorneys.  But, these lists should give you a good summary of how working with a Collaborative Divorce attorney is different than working with a traditional divorce attorney 

If you want to learn more about the differences between Collaborative Divorce and a traditional divorce, contact me or call me at 919-573-4860.  

Making Divorce Decisions in the Face of Uncertainty

“How Do I Know if I’m Making the Right Decision?”

This is one of the most common dilemmas that people face in negotiating divorce, custody, alimony, equitable distribution and child support issues.  In fact, the fear of making the wrong decision can paralyze people and prevent them from making any decisions.  

In my last blog post, I talked about the negative impact of indecision.  The fear of making the wrong decision is one powerful fear that feeds indecision. 

However, in a divorce context or any other, making decisions in the face of uncertainty it is critical. 

The fact of the matter is that there are poor, better and best decisions.  But, there are rarely right and wrong decisions.  There are great decisions that turn out poorly and terrible decisions that work out well.  No one has a crystal ball, and even the best analysis and prediction can be laid waste by future events.  Life, as they say, is uncertain. 

Nonetheless, decisions must be made.  The best way that I know to handle the discomfort of making difficult decisions in the face of uncertain outcomes is from the book Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen of the Harvard Negotiation Project. 

These authors give the following advice: 

Don’t spend your time looking for the one right answer about what to do.  It’s not only a useless standard, it’s crippling.  Instead, hold as your goal to think clearly as you take on the task of making a considered choice.  That is as good as any of us can do.

That is tremendous advice in both divorce and life.


In Divorce, Indecision is a Decision

Not making a decision is a decision.  In a divorce context, not making a decision about how you want to resolve alimony, child support, equitable distribution and custody issues is a decision to let your spouse decide how that will happen.  And, it is frequently a decision to go to court, whether you intended that or not.

Take this common scenario:  A Wife (or Husband) tells her Husband (or Wife) that she wants a divorce, and suggests that they use the collaborative process because it will protect the kids and their finances.

In some cases, the Husband’s reaction is to do nothing, and not make a decision on how to proceed.  Essentially, stonewalling. 

Sometimes this happens because people think that the divorce won’t happen if they don’t participate. They think, “If I don’t pick a process, then a divorce cannot or will not happen”.  The truth is that it will happen with or without them. But, it will happen in a public courtroom instead of a private conference room.   And, the parties will have lost most, if not all influence over the process and outcomes for their children and their financial lives. 

Other people in this situation think that agreeing to a process means that they are agreeing with the divorce.  That causes them to avoid choosing a process as a means of voicing their protest of their spouse’s decision to be divorced.  This is a self-defeating approach.  It is possible, and very common, to both disagree with the divorce and participate in the collaborative divorce process. 

Many people operate under the false belief that they have to agree to a divorce.  In North Carolina, a party can obtain a divorce without their spouse’s consent.    So, if your spouse tells you that they want a divorce, they can get one whether you agree or not.  You might be able to delay it, but you cannot prevent it. 

Further, failing to choose a divorce process forces the other spouse to go to court.  A courtroom divorce process is the only process that one party can force the other into.  So, if one spouse refuses to choose collaborative divorce, mediation or another process, then the other spouse has no choice but to seek the help of a court.  Therefore, refusing to make a decision is often a decision to go to court.  That option is typically the opposite of what both spouses wanted. 

So, if your spouse has told you that they want a divorce, then you need to investigate your process options.  And then you need to participate in choosing a process.  If you don’t, you will be making an unintentional decision, and that may well be choosing a battle in court.