Divorce is tough. In midst of the turmoil, the last thing most people want to think about is cold hard numbers and paperwork.
However, managing the divorce process properly can save a great deal in the long run - both financially and emotionally. It’s vital for parties to understand the options available outside the courtroom, such as mediation, divorce coaching and collaborative divorce.
It is equally important for new and aspiring family practitioners - and anyone interested in divorce disputes - to understand these alternatives and how they relate. Many of them can be used to complement eachother. Furthermore, different processes are appropriate for different circumstances. Knowing the suitability of a dispute for a process can make all the difference when advising clients and advertising your services.
Litigation in most English-speaking countries is an adversarial process. This means that the two parties are pitted against each other in direct conflict.
In most cases, this means that litigation is riskier, costlier and more time-consuming than the alternatives. Moreover, it fuels the conflict and can pile on the stress, pain and misery.
Experienced professionals will advise that this should be a last resort. It is only really appropriate at first instance for the most difficult cases such as those involving allegations of domestic abuse or mental health issues. In most cases, it is best to try and resolve some or all of the parties' differences before the dispute reaches this stage.
Despite the common name of 'alternative dispute resolution', other options such as mediation can be used to support the litigation process and not just as a replacement. If negotiations fail, the parties can still continue at court. Furthermore, alternative processes can be used to decide specific issues, saving only the most difficult ones for court.
On the other end of the spectrum is divorce mediation. In divorce mediation, an independent mediator helps the parties to negotiate a solution to the practical and financial arrangements that need to be made after a divorce. It is entirely confidential, and the parties need to voluntarily agree to any solution that is proposed.
Extensive research in this area has shown that even where two parties can’t agree on anything by themselves, the presence of an experienced third party can make an enormous difference.
In England and Wales, new law in 2014 requires divorcing parties to attend a ‘Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting’ to consider mediation before they can go to court. As such, many more people are trying mediation and the results are encouraging. Statistics from the National Family Mediation organisation show that 89% of its 16,000 annual mediations were successful on some or all issues.
The savings can be substantial. The UK government has reported that the average legal aid cost for mediation is £500 per couple, compared with £4,000 per person for issues settled through the courts. These savings are likely to be reflected in privately funded proceedings.
It’s also faster, more amicable and allows room for more creative arrangements that satisfy the needs of everyone involved.
There are a lot of advantages to mediation. However, it ultimately relies on the parties being open to negotiation and discussion. In some cases where there is a starker absence of trust and good faith, a more formal process may be more appropriate.
Somewhere in between mediation and litigation lies a relatively new process called Collaborative Divorce. Divorce mediators, coaches and anyone looking to enter this space should be aware of this increasingly prevalent practice.
Collaborative divorce is a more complex process than typical mediation, and requires formal financial disclosure and greater involvement from professionals and lawyers.
In many collaborative practices, the parties are asked to hire divorce coaches, a neutral financial specialist and, if there are children, a neutral child specialist, who can provide their expert advice.
The collaborative divorce lawyers then use this information to help the parties negotiate a fair solution. If the parties do go to court in the end, they generally have to start over with a whole new team. This provides an incentive to stay on course and reach an agreement.
Although, there are more professionals involved (with costs attached), the process is still typically significantly cheaper than full-blown litigation because of the increased likelihood of reaching an early, fair and satisfactory settlement.
Regardless of the route chosen, parties to divorce should often consider getting a divorce coach. Divorce coaching is much more established across the pond, however it is making strides in the UK.
A divorce coach is there to stand by the party's side and to help them make these tough decisions, which can often be very intimidating. It is recommended that parties hire a professional coach, who will have been trained extensively to deal with these delicate situations and who has previous experience in difficult divorces. In principle, however, a friend or family member can play a similar role. Divorce coaches can be used in addition to any of the processes above.
Ariana Jeret is a Collaborative Divorce practitioner and also a Certified Divorce Coach from California. Listen to her explain the role of a divorce coach in the video below:
These resources and options are there to help people in this difficult time and to get them through to the other side of the process in the best way possible.
So what actionable steps can aspiring family practitioners take to use this information and help serve their clients more effectively?
1. Learn about the different processes - add another string to your bow. This post offers a basic introduction. Book yourself into a local training course in an alternative discipline or trawl the web to learn more. There are many transferrable skills to learn from related fields which can enrich your own practice. You can check out the rest of the Ariana Jeret interview above for a start.
2. Network with professionals from these closely-related practices. Many of the principles underlying these practices overlap and there is a great deal one can learn from these alternative perspectives on family conflict. Furthermore, knowing appropriate professionals to recommend when needed can benefit everyone involved.
3. Put Yourself in the Clients Shoes. Remember, divorce is often an extremely emotional and difficult experience for clients. For anyone acting in an advisory capacity, make sure to consider all the alternatives available to the client so they can choose the process that is best for them. This enlightened approach is likely to lead to greater client satisfaction and more business in the long run