Think of the word divorce. What comes to mind?
The idea of divorce is loaded with negative societal stereotypes such as traumatised children, heart-wrenching court cases, and families broken in two. What if a healthier, respectful, dignified, non-toxic simpler divorce was possible?
Going through a divorce is by no means easy. It’s expensive, time-consuming, and requires a major shift in the family dynamic. However, collaborative divorce makes this unpleasant situation a little more bearable for everyone involved.
I always get told by most lawyers, judges, and court personnel that couples going through separation/ divorce should do their best to stay out of court. Out of court options for settlement of children and financial issues are Mediation and Collaborative Practice.
What Is Collaborative Divorce?
Divorce doesn’t have to be a disaster. It can be achieved with dignity and respect. Collaborative Practice is a structured resolution pathway where you stay out of court and the focus is on being open, transparent and looking at options that meet the needs of each member of the family. Trained collaborative professionals guide the parties through the process in a safe and supported way. In turn, children don’t have to bear the weight of seeing two people they love attack one another.
How Does Collaborative Divorce Work?
First and foremost, both parties need to agree to separate civilly and respectfully in order for a collaborative divorce to work. If either party is set on revenge or hurting the other, this process is not for them.
Next, each spouse needs to find a lawyer and it’s important to select one with experience in collaborative divorce. Each partner then meets with their respective collaboratively-trained lawyer to discuss the collaborative process and identify the issues that are important to them.
If both partners agree to use the collaborative process, both partners as well as the collaborative lawyers sign a participation agreement or collaborative contract, which requires the parties to:
- Behave in a respectful manner towards each other
- Exchange complete financial information
- Maintain absolute confidentiality throughout the process enabling one another to frankly express their needs and concerns
- Reach written agreement without the threat of court proceedings
To reach agreement, the partners and their lawyers and team of professionals including a mental health professional who acts as neutral party to keep the process on track, if needed a child specialist, and financial neutral professional are employed. In these meetings, the partners honestly and openly discuss all issues in a non-confrontational manner.
How Does Divorce’ Hurt Children?
Any child that has to witness their parents separating is at risk of being hurt. However during adversarial divorce cases that involve high conflict custody battles and abusive behaviours between spouses can impact children psychologically and emotionally leading to:
- Adjustment disorders
- Conflict with peers
- Impulsive behaviours
- Risky behaviours
- Poor academic performance
- Changes in sleep or diet
The conflict that comes along with high conflict divorce battles does impact the most vulnerable “the children” and most times without even realising it, your children can bear the pain and burden caused by a toxic divorce.
How Collaborative Divorce Protects Children:
The worse the conflict, the more of a negative impact divorce has on children. This is exactly why collaborative divorce is a healthier option for a family to separate.
Instead of putting children in the middle of a custody battle, kids are kept in the loop with any changes that may be happening to their family or living situation. This prevents children from any sudden unexpected changes that may cause emotional or behavioural issues.
In addition, children can witness their parents overcome quite possibly one of the biggest obstacles in life in a dignified and respectful and healthy way. This sets them up for a future of better conflict resolution and emotional regulation.
Children that are a direct product of amicable separation and divorce have been shown to have greater resilience and higher self-esteem when it comes to dealing with life stressors as adults. Problem-solving skills and cognitive restructuring skills were also shown to be sharper in children that experienced honourable divorces rather than emotionally draining ones.
Deciding if collaborative divorce is right for you and your family comes down to you and your spouse’s ability to work together in the best interest of your children. If you’re both willing to set aside your differences and work through this separation in a respectful, dignified way with honesty it’s not only likely to be a shorter process, it’s going to get you and your children back to a safer and secure emotional state much quicker.
Collaborative Practice is suitable for cases where both partners are invested in solving the dispute in a way that minimises conflict, where both parties can discuss their needs in an open manner.
However, there are some cases where collaborative practice is not suitable. If one party does not want to disclose information or wants to use the process to pressure the other into agreeing to their terms, they should not pursue collaborative practice. If there has been a history of abuse or domestic violence, collaborative practice may not be appropriate. A lawyer may be needed to determine if it can or should be used, and to ensure that your interests are protected.