The statistical needle hasn’t moved much over the past few decades. The divorce rate in America continues to hover around 50%. I wish this were not the case and I would strongly urge any couple to attempt any and all means to resolve their conflict through other means. Of all the divorces I’ve witnessed, most are messy, painful and expensive often creating emotional scars that last a lifetime. However, the reality is that divorces still happen every day and if you, or someone you know, are considering divorce, you should be clear on your options.
- Uncontested divorce– Years ago, I had a client couple who decided to divorce. They had children together, were both professionals and had accumulated a fair amount of wealth. We pitched the idea of working through an equitable split of their financial assets and custody issues and avoiding the traditional divorce process (litigation). They agreed and as a result this divorce was handled for less than $3,000 within a few weeks. It worked because they were able to set aside their emotions and focus on what was best for their children. This was what I call a successful divorce because they are still friends today and have both continued to thrive both personally and financially. One of the primary keys to a successful uncontested divorce is that both parties are knowledgeable of the family financial facts. Often a financial advisor can be instrumental in helping provide clarity and fairness around splitting up financial assets.
- Litigation– At the opposite end of the divorce spectrum, you have litigation. Here, one person files for divorce and both hire their own lawyer. Each lawyer’s job is to represent their client and get them the very best result whether it be related to custody, division of property, financial settlement, or other issues important to their client. It is often contentious and often expensive. Years ago I counselled one couple who had very little in the way of financial assets to at least try mediation. Unfortunately, they placed a higher value on punishing each other and as a result spent over $80,000 in lawyer’s fees. This was more than they had so they walked away with more debt than when they started.
- Mediation– This process has become much more popular in recent years. With mediation, you can either jointly hire one mediation lawyer to resolve the divorce related issues for both parties or each of the couple has their own lawyer plus there is a lawyer who specializes in the mediation process. With the latter, the mediation lawyer moves back and forth between the two parties and their lawyer resolving a list of issues including property settlement, alimony, child support and custody. The down side is that you have three lawyers to pay but often agreements can be reached in days or weeks rather than months or years.
- Collaborative divorce– This newer strategy takes a fresh approach to divorce by bringing together a team of professionals, each of whom has specialized training in the collaborative divorce process. This team typically includes one attorney for each of the couple, a mental health professional who helps deal with the emotional issues for the children and parents, and a financial advisor who is responsible for dealing with the financial issues. If this process fails to reach an agreement, none of the professionals are allowed to represent either party in subsequent divorce proceedings. The goal of the process is to ‘ease the tension’ that typically accompanies the divorce process by providing professional support on multiple levels. This is a thorough and involved process so be sure you understand the potential costs and timeline to reach a settlement.
If you’re considering divorce, understand that you do have options and consider which option is best for you and your family.