How to Have a More Peaceful Divorce or Post-Divorce
There are two options to divorce: The first is to lawyer up and hope it gets negotiated out or at least litigated successfully. The second is to approach an attorney for assistance in reviewing options to reach agreement on a variety of issues and creating an Agreement that works for both sides. The first option is expensive and painful so let’s look at how to make that second option happen since it will makes your future a lot more peaceful, is better for your kids and allows your money to be allocated to your future.
Here’s some tips: 1) Agree to tell friends and families a narrow range of information (example: “We’ve decided we need to separate. We appreciate your support and we are not going to discuss why or whose fault, because it’s mutual and we really want to keep things positive. We also don’t want to burden our friends and family by making them choose sides.”). 2) Agree that each person can pick two people to really share their feelings with and be completely candid but that those people need to be discreet and keep it confidential. Why are one and two so important? Because much of the damage that makes it very hard to reach resolution on big issues begins because feelings are raw and made much worse as the parties go for support and comfort to their friends and family who quickly become angry and defensive when negative things are said and their community takes sides. 3) Structure the separation by recognizing that both people need a reasonable place to live while things get sorted out in a deliberate and careful way. That’s hard to do if they’re trying to live under one roof or if one person is in a difficult living situation. 4) Figure out a budget and what’s practical to make both people as comfortable as possible.
1) Get assistance from a mediator or attorney before filing anything in court if you can avoid it. Why? Because it’s easiest to file a package in stages that begins with your petition, disclosures and other initial documents, followed by your agreement and parenting plan (if needed) to reduce your time in court and to make your own decisions rather than have a stranger in black robes make their best determination on what is fair and workable for you and your ex and kids. Even if that ideal can’t be reached, having some common ground and agreement gets the case off to a positive start and makes future agreements easier. 2) Negotiations need to be respectful, kind and have the goal that five years from now, both parties feel that the result was fair to them both, and worked well for them and their children. Your long term goal is that your kids don’t have to figure out who to invite to their weddings because the two of you can be in the same room, be civil and make family events a positive rather than dangerous territory. Even without kids, you want to be able to be welcome at all the events you’ve always attended because your friends don’t need to worry there will be conflict. How? Feelings are usually raw so enlist some help as noted below.
Affordable and Friendly Legal Options
Mediators can help according to what you ask them to do. One option is that the parties hire a Mediator that will listen to them describe their current situation, present to them how the law works in Colorado, answer questions and then present options on how to accomplish their goals in a way that sets up all the pieces of an agreement and is acceptable to a judge and will actually work. Each of these pieces is essential, since any plan has to reflect the needs of the parties and pass judicial review and it must be practical so that it works properly and avoids pitfalls that often result after divorce.
Plusses and Minuses of Mediators
The plus side is that the mediator is neutral and can present options to move things toward a practical and fair Agreement that a judge can accept and work out at a cost shared by both parties. The down side is that neither party is getting legal advice and they might well choose to run the proposed plan past an attorney to be sure that it will meet their needs and is fair to them as individuals. When I serve in this role, I am looking at it as a chance to preview how things actually work because it helps parties understand the whole process without the expense or pain of finding out through litigation. I get to be creative and offer options and problem solving so that the Agreement and Parenting Plan works for both parties and their kids. I can draft full or partial agreements for the parties’ use with the Court. The downside is that I can’t advise either party as to their best position or interests and if there isn’t a full agreement, they’ll need to each move forward on their own or hire counsel.
Hire an Attorney
Another option is that one party hires me, with the understanding that I can meet with both parties, if they’d like me to do an overview and even answer questions on some issues (how disclosures work, what a specific hearing is about, etc.).
Plusses and Minuses of Hiring Counsel
I can present options that might work on complex issues and be creative and explain why it specifically helps a party as well as work to make it also beneficial to the other party. On the negative side, I can advise one of the parties, but not the other. It must be understood that my duty is to one party, though that doesn’t keep me from representing that party with the understanding that the priority is to make the process as positive and fair to everyone as possible. Another negative is that one party is paying me unless the other party agrees to assist with the cost. Also, if there isn’t a full agreement, it has to be understood that I’m doing hearings as needed to reach resolution on behalf of my client. However, it’s best that the party without an attorney consult with one to make sure they also have legal advice and can provide input on proposed Agreements. This ensures that neither party feels they are at a disadvantage and may have missed something. It also reassures the Court that both sides have reached agreement fully understanding it and on advice of their own counsel. The best option is to pick an attorney who does amicable family law and then bring in a second attorney who also does friendly family law, once negotiations are underway. The idea is to hire attorneys with a collegial, problem-solving view of the case who can work together to solve problems.
Just Using a Free Consult
A final option is that the parties can do a consult and sort things out on their own. A free half-hour consult like the one I do is useful but it typically takes an hour or more to really understand the facts and issues in order to fully answer questions and propose workable solutions.
Free consults are useful but without follow-up, there is a danger that because the parties have no legal experience, important points in agreement that would have saved trouble aren’t included and impractical provisions that don’t work well are. That can result in a hearing to review the Agreement if the judge flags these problems. In some cases, a judge signs off but there are problems after the divorce. For example, I’ve seen parenting plans that kids react very poorly to and the parties blame each other when the problem was inexperience in drafting a workable transportation plan or parenting schedule.
Accountants, CPAs, Therapists and other professionals can often provide critical input during this process. Find a mediator or attorney who can assist in bringing in this kind of help if you don’t already have these contacts. Accountants and CPAs offer invaluable help on tax consequences of certain options. Therapists can help parties stay focussed and as positive as possible. Therapists can also assist the kids in adjusting to a new schedule and other issues arising from the divorce.
The above options also apply here and can be just as important as the parties lives change and their kids needs also change. Consider getting assistance if things change and you notice conflict arising before it becomes a full-fledged problem.