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October 14, 2013

Changing Course (in your divorce)

Changing Course (in your divorce) by Andrea VaccaIf you're in the middle of a litigated divorce and are unhappy with the way things are going, you can change course.

You might have started the divorce process with the goal of ending the marriage quickly and feeling as financially secure as possible at the end. You might have hired the first attorney who came highly recommended from a friend or relative who has been through their own divorce. And all seemed fine in the beginning. Your attorney said she understood that you didn't want to make your divorce World War III. She understood that you wanted to remain friends for the sake of your children. But as soon as it became clear that you and your spouse saw things differently, and conflict arose, the battle was on. Your attorney told you the judge is likely to see it your way and may have even encouraged you to write down all the divisive and emotionally painful issues between you and your spouse that would help you score points in court. And of course, your spouse's attorney told him or her the same thing.

Now, 6 months or 1 year later, you see how combative and unproductive the legal proceedings actually are, you're feeling more anger toward your spouse than ever and you're wondering, "How did I get here? This isn't how I wanted my divorce to go."

It's not too late to change course. For parting spouses who find themselves in an unwanted battle, turning away from litigation and toward a less adversarial approach to their divorce is still possible.

Some recent experiences with couples who moved from traditional (and costly) litigation to mediation or collaborative law have provided me with insights that I would like to share with you, or anyone you might know who is going through a divorce:

  • If you don't like the way things are going, explore a different approach: If you feel that the original process you chose for your divorce was a mistake, make a change as soon as possible. The longer a divorce continues in court, the more positional each side becomes. Things are said in court that cannot be "unsaid." Emotional damage can be done in the process that could make it more difficult for you and your spouse to ever come to a resolution or to be cooperative when living your post-divorce lives.
  • Your divorce lawyer is unlikely to be supportive of you trying a different process: He may tell you that he does not believe your spouse is capable of being reasonable and you need the "protection" that a court can provide. What he may not tell you is that he doesn't want to lose you as a client. This may be especially true if you still have a robust sum in your checking account. All attorneys hate to lose a client, but this is especially true when the client can afford to pay legal fees. If your attorney attempts to dissuade you from trying mediation or collaborative divorce, certainly listen to what he is saying, but remember that you are the one going through the divorce - not your attorney. The choice of process needs to be up to you and your spouse.
  • It takes two reasonable people to move away from litigation and toward a non-adversarial process: You may need to be the brave one who initiates a conversation with your spouse to find out if he or she is also unhappy with the litigation process. If you haven't had a civil conversation with your spouse in months, this can feel pretty scary. In that case, you may need some outside advice about how to facilitate the conversation. There are excellent divorce coaches who can help you get clear about what isn't working for you in the current process, what your true goals are for this divorce and how to explain all of this to your spouse in a way that feels safe.
If you have questions about divorce mediation and collaborative law and how they can change the tone of your divorce into one characterized by cooperation, call me at 212-768-1115 or visit my website.


Vacca - image - headshot - skt - apr 18 2013.jpg

Andrea Vacca
570 Lexington Avenue
Suite 1600
New York, NY 10022
avacca@vaccalaw.com

August 12, 2010

Why I Practice Collaborative Law

On August 11, 2010, I was a presenter at a CLE entitled "Why Would An Attorney Want to Practice Collaborative Law?", which was presented by the New York Association of Collaborative Professionals and sponsored by Moses & Singer, LLP. The matrimonial litigators in attendance asked many good questions about the process itself and about the kinds of cases that are handled collaboratively. After the program ended, I continued to think about all the reasons that I personally choose to practice collaborative law and keep my clients and their families out of court whenever possible. There are many articles and blog posts touting the benefits to clients, but not necessarily the benefits that the attorneys receive. So I thought I'd share a few of mine:

1. I'm Helping My Clients Move Forward With Their Lives - Divorce is never easy. The emotions that come up and financial decisions that need to be resolved are difficult. But by removing the time, stress and expense of preparing a case for trial, I can better help my clients create a better future rather than rehash the past.

2. I'm Involved In Good Faith Negotiations Rather Than Game Playing - Collaborative negotiations are taking place in good faith and I can trust that my collaborative colleague and I have the same goal - to find a solution that works for everyone. Win/Lose is not acceptable. Any agreement we reach must be a Win/Win.

3. I Can Be More Creative - By staying out of court, my collaborative colleague and I are better able to help our clients creatively structure an agreement that meets both parties' particular interests and goals.

4. I Have Better Relationships With My Clients - My collaborative clients know that I'm working to help them meet their and their spouse's interests and goals and they see that their spouse's attorney is doing the same thing. This team approach is more satisfying than an "us versus them" approach. And this satisfaction translates to more positive attorney/client relationship.