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A Healing Approach

by Maura Brennan

Peace and happiness often seem like impossible goals at the time of divorce. Once a decision to divorce has been made; many people drop into the chair opposite a lawyer, in deep grief, exhausted from a sometimes decade-long battle to save their marriage. Some charge in, fueled by anger and blame, determined to keep revenge as their guiding force. This is a terrible place from which to make major life decisions.

An estimated 95 percent of divorces eventually settle before the case goes to trial. Too often, however, rage, jealousy, hurt, guilt and blame guide the process and have taken their toll by the time a divorce is final.

When children are involved, they are in the center of this maelstrom and suffer greatly for it. Couples may never move beyond their anger, and it continues to affect their wellbeing long after the divorce papers are signed. Ongoing legal battles and recurring scenes between ex-spouses are all too common. Lisa Franseen, a local psychologist in private practice, has noticed that “years, even decades, after a divorce, a person is sometimes still emotionally married to their ex-spouse, although long divorced legally and financially. As a result, they haven’t let go of their anger and bitterness.”

What is collaborative divorce?
It doesn’t have to be this way. More and more couples are opting for “collaborative divorce” as an alternative to traditional divorce. The “collaborative” process provides a healing approach to divorce. It recognizes that divorce is more than a division of assets; it is a very personal and emotionally charged time, and this makes it ill-suited to the adversarial legal process.

In the collaborative process, each party retains a collaborative attorney. However, instead of an adversarial lawsuit, the process involves a series of “four-way” meetings between the couple and their attorneys, during which all of the issues of separating the couple’s lives are resolved in a respectful and safe environment.

Collaborative attorneys have been trained to help guide the couple’ toward better communication skills and identify their real goals and interests. The process involves open disclosure of information and direct communication between the spouses, which helps to temper fear and distrust.

The collaborative team often includes a divorce coach, who is a mental health· professional trained to help the parties navigate the emotional aspects of the divorce.

It may also involve a child specialist who can help bring the child’s voice into the process. A neutral financial specialist may be consulted who helps the parties work creatively on a property division that considers each person’s interests.

The initial goal is to provide a process in which both parties feel safe, allowing them to set aside their fears and anger and work together instead of against each other. The end goal is to achieve a win-win settlement agreement and, more importantly, to 1eave couples with a healthy, cooperative relationship after the divorce. This allows them to Continue to co-parent effectively when children are involved. Ideally, the collaborative process helps a couple resolve their issues on a deeper level, allowing each of them to truly move on with their lives in peace.

How much does it cost?
Because a collaborative case uses a team approach, many people assume it is more expensive than traditional divorce. While this may be true, it is not necessarily so.

The cost of any divorce process will depend on factors such as the difficulty of the issues involved, the hourly rate of the attorneys and, most importantly, the level of conflict between the spouses and how quickly they are able to reach agreement.

Collaborative professionals believe that the comprehensive approach of a collaborative divorce provides long-term value that cannot be underestimated.

In addition to saving money by avoiding post-divorce legal and mental health fees, the collaborative process may save even more by avoiding the emotional costs  of ongoing conflict.

One local woman, who wished to. remain anonymous to protect her privacy, said that she ~hose the collaborative process because “it is more civilized than the traditional route and more practical and dignified. That is crucial when there are children involved,” she said.

Because collaborative divorce is a voluntary alternative dispute resolution process, both spouses must agree to take part.

If you are contemplating divorce and want’ to know more about this option, visit the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals’ at www.collaborativepractice.com:

To find a collaborative professional in Northern Michigan, visit www.collaborativepracticemi.org. Maura brennan is a collaborative attorney and mediator. She can be reached at  231-421-5580 or visit www.MauraBrennanlaw.com.

This article is from the Grand Traverse Woman publication.