© 2010 David T. Mayes
originally published at http://www.seacoastonline.com; reprinted with permission
team approach for divorcing couples
by David T. Mayes, CFP®
Ending a marriage, especially when children are involved, undoubtedly ranks as one of life's most difficult events.
Divorce forces many changes: New parenting plans must be devised, children are confronted with new challenges, assets and debts must be divided, income redistributed and often new careers started so family financial stability can be maintained after the split. While effects of divorce on the family and children are certainly the greatest concern for most couples, the financial impacts can be devastating and, if not understood or handled well in the beginning, can induce a hangover of resentment that lingers long after the emotional sting of the breakup has subsided.
Without a doubt, obtaining a traditional divorce where the courts are involved can be a costly process. For many couples, the mere thought of a drawn-out battle with their spouse leads them toward a quick settlement just to have things finalized as soon as possible. This short-term thinking can lead to poor outcomes because the long-run financial impacts of the settlement have been ignored.
Divorce forces a couple to make numerous complex, far-reaching decisions when they are least capable of clear thinking. While the short-run financial impact of divorce can be minimized if the couple is able to reach an agreement without court intervention, high levels of emotional stress and communication roadblocks make such a favorable, cooperative outcome unlikely for most couples.
To avoid costly court battles, many couples turn to mediation as an alternative. Mediation offers the promise of a less adversarial process and can lead to better family outcomes because the parents acknowledge their life-long commitment to working together in raising their kids. Using this approach, couples rely on an impartial third party to facilitate communication allowing them to reach an agreement on their own regarding the key issues of parenting and the division of assets, debts and income.
Mediators, however, cannot provide legal counsel and do not have the authority of a judge behind them. As a result, the success of mediation depends critically on each spouse's commitment to the process and cooperation in disclosing financial and other important information. Because a mediator cannot provide legal guidance, it is important that any mediated settlement be reviewed by an attorney for each party. Consequently, while mediation may ultimately lead to a better long-term outcome for the family, it may not be less expensive than going to court.
Collaborative divorce has recently emerged as another option that strikes a middle ground between battling lawyers and impartial mediators. At its core, collaborative divorce recognizes every divorcing couple must deal with important emotional, financial and legal issues. While the courts are designed to handle the legal aspects, and financial issues are dealt with using formulas defined in state law, there is often little emotional support for couples at a time when they need it most to make good decisions.
Rather than deal with each of these issues separately, collaborative divorce takes a coordinated approach by integrating mental health, child development and financial planning professionals into the process, along with an attorney for each party. By assembling a team of skilled professionals from the outset, this approach has the potential to achieve better family outcomes because support is built-in to the process rather than sought-out when the inevitable sticking points arise.
With this support, couples are better equipped to manage their emotions and communicate effectively and they have a better understanding of their financial situation so that they can reach an agreement designed to best meet each spouse's long-term needs. Because each party has legal representation in the process, it is less likely legal rights will be unwittingly given up in the final settlement.
While collaborative divorce will certainly not work for all divorcing couples, it can be a good option for spouses who want to retain control of the process rather than relying on the courts, and when both parties are committed to resolving their differences cooperatively. To lean more about collaborative divorce, visit the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals at http://www.collaborativepractice.com.
David T. Mayes is a certified financial planner professional and IRS enrolled agent at Mackensen & Company, Inc., a fee-only advisory firm in Hampton, New Hampshire. He can be reached by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting http://www.mackensen.com.
Information on this website should not be taken as legal advice. Laws change, situations differ, and there may be exceptions to general rules. Except as otherwise may be provided, this website and contents are © 2009 Collaborative Lawyers, Inc. Collaborative Lawyers, Inc., is a state-wide educational and professional development association and business directory of independent Florida licensed attorneys at law and law firms who practice in the areas of collaborative divorce and collaborative family law. It is not a law firm or attorney referral organization.