The primary function of a consulting attorney is to provide advice and counsel during the mediation process and provide the support you need to advocate for yourself. This is different from a “review attorney” whose primary job is to review the agreement that has been drafted after the mediation process is over. These are 2 very different roles. If you took my previous advice and are interviewing consulting attorneys, these are 3 important questions to ask.
One of the weaknesses of litigated divorce is that it encourages rigid thinking that stands in the way of compromise.
Choosing your battles wisely is an important strategy in all areas of life, including if you are in the process of divorce. Unfortunately, traditional divorce attorneys often neglect to give their clients this advice, encouraging them to fight for everything they say they want, regardless of how impractical, impossible or destructive it may be. And when the other spouse inevitably takes opposite positions on those same issues, there’s nowhere to go but to the courthouse where both parties will be subjected to the slow-moving and very public litigation process.
People going through divorce often feel angry, confused, and alone.
They turn to their friends and family when they are contemplating divorce, in the middle of a divorce and all throughout the process. In fact, I often get calls from family members or friends inquiring about the legal services that I can provide to their loved one.
Supportive friends or family members instinctively seek to protect a person they love by saying negative things about his or her spouse.
A high-net-worth couple going through a divorce can benefit greatly by staying out of court.
Couples with considerable assets (which I will define here as more than $5 million) are often lead to believe that their divorce will be a “no holds barred,” brutal, lengthy process with astronomical legal bills and complicated offers and counter-offers. Because of this belief, many high-net-worth couples assume that mediation or the collaborative law process will not work for them.
They couldn’t be more mistaken. In my experience, the opposite is true; high-net-worth families have more to gain by keeping things civil and private. Unfortunately, many attorneys who practice litigation harbor a killer instinct that grows along with their clients’ assets, and they see a litigated divorce as the only way to satisfy that instinct.
Even when spouses are trying to have a non-adversarial divorce, the emotions that arise can hijack innocent intentions and get in the way of achieving the bigger goals such as the children’s well being, future financial security for one another and children, and an outcome that feels fair. Resentment, regret, anger and sadness about the past are just a few of the difficult emotions that divorcing clients need to deal with while simultaneously trying to make very difficult financial and parenting decisions that will have long term consequences in the future.
If you’re finding it hard to bring your best self to the negotiating table and keep the focus on the future, try a little compassion: for yourself as well as your soon-to-be-ex. When you’re criticizing yourself or others all you can think about is punishment. Will punishment really help you reach your long term goals? On the other hand, when you’re being compassionate, you’re looking at ways to improve and make things better. I’ve come to realize that compassion is perhaps one of the most important ingredients to an amicable divorce, and, sadly, it is often missing.
Nelson Mandela once said “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”
I recently read an article on The New York Times wellness blog by Tara Parker-Pope called ‘The Decisive Marriage.’ In it, Parker-Pope explores the research gathered through The National Marriage Project and asks how does being decisive – or not – affect a marriage? Though it is not mentioned in the article, I thought some of the points would be especially helpful for people considering a prenuptial agreement. Parker-Pope writes:
Couples should make active decisions about their relationships and major life events. Showing intent in some form — from planning the first date, to living together, to the wedding and beyond — can help improve the quality of a marriage over all.
Prenuptial agreements are, by definition, a written agreement reflecting the intentions of the parties regarding their marital rights and obligations. By looking together toward the future, prenuptial agreements can help the couple to purposefully plan for this important, next stage of their relationship. Questions can be discussed and answered such as:
- How will property be divided upon death or divorce?
- Will spousal support be paid? If so, under what conditions?
- How will household expenses be paid during the marriage?
- Will having children result in different financial terms?
Working outside of the court system allows divorcing parents of the boomerang generation to consider, discuss and plan for when their adult children return home.
In the New York Times Magazine, there was recently an article about the boomerang generation. Kids are coming out of college and moving back home with their parents, perhaps after unsuccessfully trying to live on their own.
Regardless of whether this is a savvy way for kids to save money without sacrificing a certain lifestyle, or a sign that they are just not able to take care of themselves in this economy, the fact is that these boomerang kids aren’t a temporary phenomenon. They appear to represent a new life stage. The article states:
Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin have made the news lately with their “conscious uncoupling” – a new term for a mindful divorce that is an excellent example for separating couples to learn from.
Like most people, I had never heard of this term until it was talked about in the media. As it turns out, whether I knew the term for it or not, the philosophy behind conscious uncoupling is exactly why I encourage my clients to use the collaborative law process or mediation when they are ending their marriages. It is also the reason why I use these non-adversarial processes to help couples enter into prenuptial agreements; it’s what I call conscious coupling.
Conscious coupling – as opposed to Paltrow’s and Martin’s uncoupling – is best embodied in a well thought-out and fair prenuptial agreement. Instead of focusing on keeping as much of a party’s income and assets out of the hands of the other spouse in the event of divorce, a prenuptial agreement that is entered into consciously will focus more on:
The Hippocratic Oath, which reads in part: I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel, is often summarized by the phrase “Do no harm.” This simple yet powerful credo is an excellent approach for solving problems in many situations, including divorce.
Contrary to the approach of traditional divorce litigation, which often serves as a poison pill, the approach of collaborative lawyers is to do no harm. When our divorcing clients come to us, they are scared, angry, and confused. Our job is not to instigate and play on those fears and anxieties. Our job is to help calm them down by helping them to find their voice and get their needs met in a way that will help them move forward with their lives. It is for this reason that I choose to collaborate, rather than litigate divorce and family law cases.
Not every attorney sees things this way. An example is a conversation I recently had with a woman just starting the divorce process. She told me that although she wanted her divorce to be as amicable as possible, the last attorney she had called immediately told her he would file motions with the court to “scare” her husband. He bragged of his experience using the courts to intimidate people, and he promised her that he would win her as much money as he could. He basically said, “We’ll go after your husband with no holds barred.”
It is possible to make the divorce process more time- and cost-effective?
When potential clients consult with me in connection with their divorce, one of the first questions they ask is, “How much do you expect this to cost?” and one of the second questions is, “How long do you expect this to take?” Time and money are, understandably, major concerns of anyone entering the divorce process, so I know that these clients want to hear answers that reflect a best case scenario. I can never predict the exact end date or the costs involved, but I can tell these clients that the more of these tips they follow, the more likely their divorce process will run smoother and be more cost-efficient:
1. Make sure your spouse knows that you want to end the marriage. It’s understood that asking a spouse for a divorce can be difficult, emotional and frightening, but try to find a way to broach the subject before you retain an attorney. Perhaps you can engage a therapist, marriage counselor or trusted friend to help you have this conversation. One of the least productive ways to start the conversation is to have an attorney send a letter to your spouse announcing your intention to divorce him or her. Remember, your spouse will have to first get over the emotional shock before any productive discussions can take place.