There have been many clients who have come to my office and said, “Our divorce is going to be contested, so I don’t think we can use the Collaborative process.” Those same clients then went on to settle their divorce – in the Collaborative Divorce Process.
Almost all divorce cases are “contested.” Uncontested means that you and your spouse agree on every detail of your divorce. Those uncontested cases are very few and far between. For a couple with children, their divorce decree will typically be anywhere from 60 to 80 pages long. The odds of you and your spouse agreeing to every detail in that 60 to 80 pages are pretty slim. But keep in mind that “contested” does not have to mean “contentious.” Just because you disagree doesn’t mean you have to hire a pitbull to tear your spouse apart to get what you want. You can still have respectful negotiations to reach an agreement that is acceptable to both of you. (Remember the old adage – you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.)
For couples with truly uncontested cases, or even close, they don’t need the Collaborative process. They don’t need the hearings, mediations, or trials of a litigated case either. They can likely manage to finalize their divorce in an amicable way with the help of lawyers to draft the divorce decree for them. But for contested cases, which again is most cases, couples have options. Their options boil down to three: (1) litigation, which may or may not include hearings and a trial; (2) arbitration, which is similar to traditional litigation but with a jointly paid “judge”; and (3) Collaborative Divorce, a private process where the clients control the time and the outcome. Mediation can occur within any one of these different processes at any point in the legal timeline.
If I were a client, which process would I choose? Think about it as you would when hiring a financial planner. Do you want your financial planner investing their own money in something different than where her or she is investing your money? How well do they trust their own decisions? There is no question that I would choose the Collaborative Divorce process for myself. I would want to stay out of the public forum of a courtroom. I would want to avoid the unnecessary cost associated with formal discovery, hearings, and trial preparation. I would want the ability to control the dates and times of the meetings and the speed of the process. I would want to avoid animosity created by a court-driven process for many reasons, not the least of which is that we will be parents together forever.
Divorce is hard. And people are angry in the moment, or sad, or hurt. Those feelings create points of disagreement when it comes to ending a marriage. In other words, your divorce is contested. But it doesn’t mean you can’t choose a better way to end the marriage, keeping your dignity intact and for those couples with children, protecting the most important gift of their marriage.
Rhonda Cleaves is a Credentialed Collaborative Divorce Attorney, representing clients throughout the DFW metroplex, including Collin County, Dallas County, Denton County, and Tarrant County. For more information, call (972) 403-0333.