A divorce doesn’t necessarily mean that you and your significant other become enemies. After all, you once loved this person enough to marry him or to have a child with him. Can’t you at least end your romance as friends?
The answer may depend on the process that you choose to sever the threads of your relationship.
Did you know that you have a choice in how you divorce?
Most people don’t realize that there is any option other than litigation. But there are actually several ways to end your marriage more civilly than in litigation. But first, why is litigation so bad?
In litigation, exes are pitted against each other as adversaries. That’s just the nature of litigation. The trial environment encourages parties to take strong positions. But positions can only be either won or lost. Thus, when a fractured relationship is already tense and possibly hostile, litigation often transforms exes into enemies.
So, what are the alternatives? How can you turn your sour relationship into a sweet post-romance friendship?
It’s actually quite simple. You can choose a process for severing your relationship ties that focuses on kindness and friendship, and not on winning or losing. Respect can convert bitterness into cooperation.
Mediation is typically a respectful form of alternative dispute resolution.
And, while parties involved in litigation are often required to mediate, you can always mediate your divorce without ever being ordered to do so by a judge. You and your spouse can together retain a neutral mediator to facilitate your divorce negotiations. You don’t even need to be represented by attorneys, although you can be if it makes you more comfortable.
A good mediator will focus you both on your real goals and interests, rather than on any positions you may have taken in anger or fear. This “getting to ‘yes’” type of negotiating helps you to reach a resolution more easily because it allows for more settlement options that work for you both.
How does that work?
A simple example of “positions” versus “interests” is illustrated by the fable of the sisters fighting over the orange. Two sisters are arguing over who gets to use the only orange they have between them. They are both stuck in their positions. One needs the orange to make her orange rind candy; the other needs it to make her Mimosa. If they continue to quarrel, their Mom will have to make the decision and will eventually award one sister the orange. The other will lose.
If Mom sends her girls to mediation instead, their position-based dispute will unnecessarily delay their negotiations because neither sister will relinquish her claim to the orange. But, if the mediator explores with the two ladies why they each want the orange, she will discover that one sister wants the rind to make her candy, and the other just wants the juice. By exploring their interests in the orange, the mediator quickly helps them realize that they can both win.
The same type of interest-based negotiation takes place in collaborative practice, another type of alternative dispute resolution.
In this process, a team of professionals helps the clients reach an agreement based on their most important interests. The team usually includes an attorney for each spouse, a neutral facilitator, and a neutral financial professional. As needed, other experts may be included, such as a realtor, a business valuation expert, or a vocational counselor. By focusing on the clients’ interests, and because the team promotes cooperation and respectfulness, the clients are far more likely to reach an agreement, and to reach it more quickly and less expensively.
In these more respectful forms of dispute resolution, the clients are usually more satisfied with the agreements they reach, thereby resulting in less post-judgment litigation.
Cooperating doesn’t mean agreeing; it means respecting and caring. So turn your sour relationship into a sweet friendship. By being kind, you can transform your ex into your friend, someone with whom you can easily co-parent your kids.
And you can be proud of your behavior and the decisions you’ve made in your divorce.
LEARN MORE ABOUT COLLABORATIVE DIVORCE. FOLLOW OPEN PALM LAW.
About this week’s author Joryn Jenkins.
Joryn, attorney and Open Palm Founder, began her own firm here in Tampa after a 14-year career in law, two of which she served as a professor of law at Stetson University. She is a recipient of the prestigious A. Sherman Christensen Award, an honor bestowed upon those who have provided exceptional leadership in the American Inns of Court Movement. For more information on Joryn’s professional experience, take a look at her resume.