Do you believe that sorting out the legal and financial matters of your separation or divorce needs to involve letters being fired from your lawyer to your ex’s?
Perhaps you’re already in that mode and are familiar with the feeling of dread in your core every time a letter from your lawyer’s ex comes your way?
Maybe you haven’t seen a lawyer yet but have witnessed enough of your friends’s separations to be worried that going to see one is going to lead to nastiness with your ex, stress and cost that you don’t want.
Maybe you have a lawyer and are feeling dazed, wondering how on earth things between you and your ex got so inflamed?
It doesn’t have to be this way!
You have more choices than ever before for how you sort through the legal and financial issues in your separation. A while back, I wrote about the factors to consider when choosing between all the different processes that are available to you. Today, let’s explore one process that will have your separation a lawyers’-letters-free zone.
What does getting rid of the lawyers’ letters do for you? Without the lawyers’ letters:
there’s no more angst and dread in your heart each time you receive a letter from your ex’s lawyer.
there’s no more letters being used to jostle between each of your legal positions, trying to get the “win” (which often doesn’t look like anything that really serves you for the future!).
there’s no more having to deal with an upset ex who has misinterpreted the letter from your lawyer as being far more hostile than was intended by you when it was drafted.
you have greater control over the communications with your ex.
you avoid the delays and costs involved with numerous draft letters being prepared and reviewed before they are sent out.
there’s greater scope to have more personalised, constructive and meaningful attempts at problem solving the issues in your separation!
So, what is this process that does away with all those lawyers’ letters? Collaborative Process. It’s also known as Collaborative Law or Collaborative Practice.
In the Collaborative Process, you and your ex will work towards reaching agreements by:
engaging specially trained lawyers so you each have independent legal advice and support throughout the process. The lawyers are specially trained as Collaborative Process requires lawyers to think and problem solve in ways that are different to how they have been taught. They also get greater understanding of the psychological effects of separation and what this means for you when it comes to making important decisions.
having your collaborative lawyers and, possibly, other professionals work as a team to guide you through the process. Many of my clients, having watched a lot of The Good Wife and Boston Legal, have been surprised to see how respectful and cooperative the lawyers are with one another while still being able to support their client during the meeting.
Agreeing you won’t go to Court while the process is afoot – no more direct or implicit threats of court! It is amazing how much more constructive and less defensive discussions can be when the potential for things to end up in Court is removed.
Holding a series of meetings in which issues to do with the legal, parenting and financial matters in your separation are worked through together by you and the professional team. You’re present, doing the work alongside your lawyer.
Exploring during the meetings what is important to each of you moving forward and considering the different options for how those interests may be best met.
Having a strong focus on open and transparent yet respectful communication throughout the process.
When I speak with my 1:1 clients about Collaborative Process, they invariably sound relieved when they tell me it sounds like “common sense”.
How may Collaborative Process help you? In my experience of working through the process with my clients, I have seen the following benefits play out time and time again:
You control the pace and time frame for getting issues resolved. No more frustrating court delays or the lags that can occur when lawyers’ letters are being used to negotiate matters. During lockdown, Courts everywhere have been challenged to provide service to families. Those clients of mine in Collaborative Process have simply got on with their process, using online conferencing, to make real progress while the rest of the world has ground to a halt.
Costs are contained and less than in litigation and, often, less than in other resolution processes. Better still, you see how the costs are being incurred because you are working in the process alongside your lawyer. A lot of clients also tell me they see the costs they spend as an investment because of the immeasurable value of the benefits they and their family have got from using the process.
The potential for conflict is reduced. I have had Collaborative Process cases where the couple could not come up to the first meeting in the same elevator but have left the process, not only in the same elevator, but going for a coffee afterwards! How great would that be?! In the past when I have worked with clients using litigation-based negotiation practices, I have seen the mechanisms of that process fan the flames of conflict, despite everyone’s best intentions to avoid that. In such processes, you can end up feeling pitted against one another, having to prove the rightness of your view and the wrongness of the other person’s. It’s almost a super-human feat to read a letter or affidavit that is rooted in this and then go and be pleasant with your ex at a changeover in your children’s care!
With the collaborative lawyers and other professionals using their skills to reduce the potential for conflict between you, you and your ex are set up to leave the process with a stronger basis for future cooperation. This is particularly important if you have children – having a solid foundation for positive co-parenting is invaluable when considering their future emotional wellbeing.
You have greater input into the outcome. The solution that is landed upon is not one decided by a Judge or that your lawyer drives. It isn’t one that you feel is confined to being the best of a lot of a bad lot or that you just concede to in order to bring an end to the unpleasantness. You are involved directly in considering the creating different options and carefully considering those before agreeing to a solution.
The outcomes can be very creative and suited to your individual circumstances. For clients who use litigation or litigation-based negotiations by lawyers, the range of outcomes are confined to a few usual options. With Collaborative Process, we aren’t so confined and there is no “normal” outcome. Each solution is as individual as the individuals and families using the process. While the law is one factor in the decisions reached in Collaborative Process, it is only one small factor among all of the other considerations that are really important for you and your family moving forward.
Can you see how moving to a process that avoids the lawyer’s letters can bring valuable benefits to you and your family?
Right about now you may be thinking Collaborative Law won't work for you and your ex. You may be thinking Collaborative Practice may work well for exes who get along together better than you and your ex or those who aren't already in the midst of court or acrimonious negotiations. You'd be surprised at what is possible. Tell me this - if a fire broke out in your kitchen and you were able to safely use an extinguisher that could minimise its spread (or even put it out entirely) or you could grab a tea towel and fan the flames meaning it was likely to grow, which would you choose? Thought so. A call to a trained collaborative lawyer may just be the extinguisher you need!
There it is - a way to divorce differently! Was this useful? Let me know in the comments below or over on Facebook at The Divorce Lighthouse Group. If you think a friend may find this useful, share the love and forward this to them!