Skip to main content

How does a Divorce end? 😑, ☹️, or πŸ™‚

There are three typical ways a divorce process can end: Reconciliation, Judgment, or Settlement.  Very few cases reconcile once a divorce process is started, and very few cases go all the way to Judgment.  In other words, most divorce cases settle, either before going to court, or at some time during the court process.  But settlement takes lots of different forms, and those different forms can have a significant impact on whether people feel good about their settlement or not.

Many clients and potential clients have asked me if there is any statistical research on outcomes for different processes, or even whether there is any data on whether a particular process is considered more "successful" than other options.  Unfortunately, I am not aware of any large scale study comparing Mediation, Collaborative Law, Arbitration, Self-Help Negotiation and Litigation, or even anything close to comprehensive.  There is some research comparing mediation and litigation, but not much else.

In the absence of analytical data, all I can share with clients and potential clients is my own experience working with divorcing clients.  I have helped people divorce through litigation, through negotiated settlement, through mediation, and through the collaborative law process.   I can state with certainty that in my experience clients who settled via mediation and collaborative law were more satisfied with their outcomes than my litigation clients, and it is the primary reason we have transitioned our primary practice areas to these dispute resolution processes.

I think one recent story about a Collaborative Divorce case I was involved in, highlights this difference:

I recently attended an uncontested divorce hearing with my client to present to the court a settlement agreement reached through the collaborative process, and something amazing happened after the hearing.  This was a very complicated case and the client had first entered my office three years before.  He knew from the start that he wanted to work outside of court to reach a settlement with his wife, but that doesn't mean it was easy.

The case involved very complicated assets, legally and financially complicated issues over inheritance, and many emotional ups-and-downs between the clients.  We had over 30 different revision versions of a separation agreement.  Despite all of that, we did reach a final settlement, and all this history made what happened after the hearing all the more surprising.

The Collaborative team involved numerous people throughout the process, including a financial adviser, a separation therapist, a collaborative business attorney, and two different divorce attorneys for the wife.  While it is typical to use other professionals to help throughout the Collaborative process, for over two years much of the work in this case was done with just the two attorneys and the spouses.  We had many settlement meetings and shared numerous lunches together.  We were adversaries but working towards a common goal, and all of that led up to the postscript to our hearing.

The hearing itself was uneventful and the Judge approved the agreement with a minimal amount of questions about its content.  She commended the parties on reaching agreement with such complicated issues involved.  Outside the courtroom we shook hands as is typical after reaching a settlement, and then something else happened.  My client reached out and hugged his wife's attorney.  She smiled, and surprised, she said "I don't think I've ever been hugged by an opposing party in a case before."  At the same time, her client did the same, reaching out and hugging me.  This wasn't my first time.

Though it is unusual, I have had other collaborative cases where the counsel and/or the clients ended the case with a hug.  This is the what can happen when you pay attention to how you divorce, and how you resolve conflict, as much or more than what you get or give in the divorce.  I can feel good (and so can my clients) about choosing to resolve conflict in a process that recognizes the humanity and dignity of every person involved.    I don't expect (or even want) a hug in all of my cases, but I can feel good about participating in a process where that is even a possibility.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

What is the purpose of the Divorce Nisi waiting period?

In Massachusetts the statutory waiting period after a Judgment of Divorce and before the divorce becomes final (or absolute) is called the Nisi period. After a divorce case settles or goes to trial, a Judgment of Divorce Nisi will issue and it will become Absolute after a further ninety (90) days. This waiting period serves the purpose of allowing parties to change their mind before the divorce becomes final. If the Judgment of Divorce Nisi has issued but not become final yet, and you and your spouse decide you don't want to get divorced, then you can file a Motion to Dismiss and the Judgment will be undone. Although many of my clients who are getting divorced think the idea of getting back together with their ex sounds crazy, I have had cases where this happened. In addition to offering a grace period to change your mind, the Nisi period has three other legal effects: 1. The most obvious effect of the waiting period is that you cannot remarry during the Nisi period, be

Does a Criminal Record affect Child Custody?

If one of the parents in a custody case has a criminal record, the types of crimes on their record could have an effect on their chances of obtaining custody. In custody cases the issue is always going to come down to whether or not the best interests of the child might be affected. In the most extreme case, in which one parent has been convicted of first degree murder of the other parent, the law specifically prohibits visitation with the children until they are of a suitable age to assent. Similarly, but to a less serious degree, in making custody and visitation determinations the court will consider crimes that would cause one to question the fitness of a parent. These types of crimes would obviously include any violent crime convictions which could call into question whether the children would be in danger around a parent who has shown themselves to resort to violence when faced with conflict. In addition, drug and alcohol abuse offenses would call into question a parent&#

The Questions that Lawyers and Mediators aren't asking but should: Let's talk about Pronouns

I recently had the opportunity to train with two of the most prominent mediators in Massachusetts: John Fiske and Diane Neumann . Each time they run a training, John and Diane share what they think is the most important question for a client to answer to have an effective mediation. John says that he thought the most important question is "What do I want?" But then he will tell you, with a knowing smile, that Diane disagreed with him and she would say that the most important question for a client to answer is "Who am I?" I agree with Diane. The best lawyers and mediators ask their clients not just about what they want, but also deep questions about the clients' identity, goals, and values in order to help the clients resolve conflict in the most effective way possible. Despite knowing this, we often fail to ask clients the simplest questions when we first meet them or have them fill out an intake. We fail to give them an opportunity to answer the question “W