Over 50% of all married couples will divorce. Over 60% of those who get divorced will divorce again. In Bucks County alone, almost 1,500 couples a year file for divorce. Divorce is, unfortunately, big business.
The current recession only makes matters worse. Financial problems are a leading cause of divorce. Couples who are in the midst of (or on the brink of) a divorce feel the financial crunch most acutely. The last thing they can afford is lengthy and costly litigation. As such, more couples are choosing collaborative divorce instead of traditional divorce litigation.
The keystone of collaborative divorce is an agreement by the parties not to go to court. As in a traditional divorce, each spouse hires an attorney as their advocate. The process typically involves numerous 4-way meetings with the couple and their attorneys. Depending on the case, additional professionals may be brought in. Child specialists, therapists or counselors may be employed. A financial expert is often used to act as a neutral. The financial neutral is not an advocate for either party, rather, their role is to ensure every financial card is on the table and the value of all assets and proposed distributions are understood. Educating clients and offering realistic solutions is a primary responsibility of the neutral. This enables parties to take greater control over their divorce and reduce the time, expense and stress typical in traditional divorces. Take a routine support scenario to highlight the differences between collaborative and traditional divorce. In a traditional divorce one party’s attorney drafts a motion, files it with the court and serves the other party. Four to six weeks later the parties attend a support conference, review income and expense documents, and a support recommendation is made. Unless both parties agree to the recommendation, the parties will be scheduled for a final hearing before a judge another four to six weeks later. A simple support request can typically take 3 to 4 months to resolve. Attorneys’ fees and costs will often exceed several months worth of support payments. Further, the process in-itself has a polarizing effect on the parties by ingraining a “win or lose” mentality.
By contrast, in collaborative divorce the parties exchange all income and expense information at the outset. Transparency and full disclosure are fundamental requirements. At the initial meeting the parties resolve how they will continue paying all immediate and necessary expenses. In one meeting a collaborative divorce can accomplish what takes the traditional divorce process 4 months to do. This results in considerably less cost and attorneys’ fees. And support is just a small part of divorce: equitable distribution, alimony and child custody may need to be resolved - and these issues often take years to be resolved in traditional litigation. Collaborative divorce can resolve them in a fraction of the time.
When conflict escalates in divorce so do legal fees. The longer it takes to resolve an issue, the greater the financial drain on the parties. In traditional divorce the parties usually end up waiting in a backlogged court room for a disinterested judge to eventually hear their case. The collaborative process avoids this financial drain and gives the parties greater privacy and control. Most of all, when children are involved, collaborative divorce minimizes the impact on them and preserves their relationships with their parents.
Joseph D. Visco is an attorney in the Divorce Group at Stark & Stark, P.C. in Yardley, Bucks County. Mr. Visco practices in Bucks, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties and New Jersey. He is a member of the Bucks County Collaborative Law Group and a member of Collaborative Family Law Affiliates and the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org