Every divorce has three facets: emotional, financial and legal. A failure to adequately address any of the three facets will make any resolution (whether by agreement or court order) more likely to fail.
A good, effective and lasting solution to divorce issues between clients has to be based on the successful resolution of all three facets of the divorce. Like a tripod, if one leg of the divorce solution is missing, then the solution itself becomes unstable.
Every seasoned family lawyer has experienced the result of a partial solution. They have handled cases where a neat and clean solution to the legal and financial issues fell apart because of unresolved emotional issues in and between the clients. They have seen otherwise effective resolutions of the emotional and legal issues dissolve in the wake of unforeseen financial issues. The end result is often one client’s failure to meet support or financial obligations. Or, the clients become unable to effectively co-parent. This in turn leads the parties to (or back to) court on issues that they thought they had already resolved.
The best solution that I know to this problem is to invovle mental health and financial professionals in the divorce resolution process. I refer most, if not all clients to a mental health professional and a financial professional from the beginning of my involvement. I intentionally screen the professionals to make sure that they have experience working with the special situations of divorcing couples and their families. Knowing that the emotional and financial aspects of the case are being handled by the most qualified professional available gives me the opportunity to focus on what my client hired me to do: Work on the legal issues.
Many traditional divorce processes such as litigation and mediation can use these collateral professionals. However, in those processes these professionals are brought on as “hired guns” to help one side against the other. In the Collaborative Divorce process, these professionals are integrated as members of the divorce team to help not one, but both clients. Each client has their own lawyer and a mental health professional to coach them through the divorce. The clients hire one financial neutral and one child specialist together to be a part of the team. The financial neutral helps the parties identify and resolve the financial issues of the divorce. The child specialist brings the voice of the child to the divorce without directly involving the child. Only the lawyers advocate for their clients. And even that advocacy is reshaped by the involvement of the other professionals.
Lawyers have traditionally seen divorce as a strictly legal matter. But as modern lawyers are learning from mental health and financial experts, there are many layers to the onion. Clients who understand and address all three facets of their divorce create more satisfying, effective and durable resolutions of their conflict.