You may have decided to divorce, done your own research and determined that the best path forward for you and your family is a non-adversarial divorce process such as mediation or a collaborative divorce. Unlike divorce litigation, which you can begin without the cooperation of your spouse, a non-adversarial divorce requires the commitment of both of you to work towards an agreement outside of the courtroom. If your spouse has only consulted with a litigation lawyer, friends and family, or has not thought about the divorce at all, s/he may be far from on the same page with you in thinking about a cooperative process. Before you give up hope and proceed to litigation, you may try the following tips to encourage your spouse to consider working with you towards the best outcome for all in your family.
- Don’t try to negotiate the substance of the issues with your spouse. It’s not unusual to want to jump to the finish line, of decision making, what will the custody schedule be, who will keep the house, etc. This can lead to an immediate impasse and the impression that you will be unable to reach agreements outside of court. Instead, focus only on making the decision of how you will get divorced, whether that be negoti ating on your own, mediation or a collaborative process. Wait until you have that process firmly in place before proceeding to substantive negotiations.
- Don’t do anything that might alarm your spouse. Making threats, moving assets, cutting off access to funds, are steps that are sometimes taken out of fear, but which increase distrust and can lead to a snowball of adversarial actions. Try to maintain an even keel and the status quo while you make these important decisions. You may want to discuss with your own lawyer in advance the pros and cons of taking any action that might appear draconian to your spouse, before doing so.
- Share information. There are a number of good resources, which your collaborative lawyer can provide, to give to your spouse that outline the divorce options and pros and cons of each. These include materials that you can find on websites such as mediate.com, collaborativepractice.com and https://stlouiscollaborativelaw.com. Give your spouse time to do his/her own research after providing this information.
- Encourage a consultation with a collaborative lawyer, collaborative coach, or a mediator. Your spouse does not have to agree to use mediation or the collaborative process. S/he only needs to agree to make an initial appointment to take the first positive steps in that direction. In an initial mediation appointment, which both of you attend, the mediator generally outlines the mediation process, provides you with details about how the process works, and allows you the option of then making the decision to proceed with scheduling additional mediation sessions at that time, or going home to think about it. This is a relatively inexpensive and non-threatening way to introduce non-adversarial processes. Similarly, your spouse could make an appointment on his/her own for an initial consultation with a collaborative lawyer. While many litigation lawyers do not take the time to do so, most collaborative lawyers spend time in the initial consultation helping the client understand and evaluate the non-adversarial options. An initial meeting with the two of you and a collaborative divorce coach can also serve this purpose and is a non-threatening way to begin a divorce process.
- Enlist the aid of other trusted professionals. If you have a marriage counselor, therapist, financial consultant or other trusted advisor who is familiar with the divorce process options, that person may help your spouse to evaluate whether any of the non-adversarial options are advisable for him/her. If the advisor is not familiar with the options, your own collaborative lawyer may be willing to talk with the advisor to education him/her in the process options in order to assist you.
It is difficult to make decisions when emotions are high, and trust is low. By providing your spouse with the resources to support him/her as s/he evaluates the options, you may be able to reach an agreement on the most effective and efficient process for both of you in moving through the divorce in as healthy a way as possible for your family.
Collaborative divorce is one of several non-adversarial divorce options. Explore our site to learn more about this process. You may also want to learn about the difference between collaborative divorce and litigation.
Sue Amato is a collaboratively trained family law attorney and she is available to discuss your Missouri divorce options. Sue can be reached at (314) 727-7122.