I often hear this from prospective clients, usually in relation to the anticipated cost of getting divorced. As in, “how much will it cost me for a simple divorce?” My answer is normally, “it depends,” and that begins a rather lengthy conversation about what, exactly it depends on.
In my experience, there are several things that can contribute to making a “simple” divorce complicated. At times, we’re dealing with complex issues, like sorting out the value of a business, separating marital assets from non-marital assets, or spousal support. In other situations, the issues may be rather straightforward, but one party may not be emotionally ready to get divorced. It’s not at all unusual for parties in a divorce to be at different stages of readiness in relation to the divorce. Often, one party may have been ready to leave the marriage six months, or even a year ago. Sometimes even longer than that. So, it can take the other spouse a bit of time to get up to speed.
If one spouse is still grieving the loss of the marriage, he or she may not be anxious to get to the finish line. The reluctant spouse may, wittingly or unwittingly, create obstacles that make it more difficult to finish the process, and that can frustrate the spouse who was ready to be divorced on Day 1.
Let’s look at the constants first: You can’t change the situation itself. It is what it is. You can’t change the issues that need to be resolved. The same issues must be dealt with, one way or the other. You can’t change your spouse, although you certainly may have tried. Let’s face it, if you could change your spouse, you probably wouldn’t be looking for a divorce attorney.
You can determine how you will conduct yourself during the divorce proceedings and how you will interact with your spouse. Making a good faith effort to act according to your own values and integrity can go a long way in keeping matters simple and minimizing the stress and drama that can often accompany a divorce.
You also have the ability to select the divorce process you would prefer to use to resolve the issues in your divorce. In some cases, when the issues are simple and both parties are emotionally ready to do so, parties are able to sit down together and discuss the issues in a reasonable, rational way. That is usually called the kitchen table process. Most divorcing couples need a bit more support than that, however, so many couples elect to use mediation or the collaborative process.
In mediation, the parties use the services of a neutral mediator to guide them through their negotiations to reach a settlement. The parties have attorneys to give them legal advice, but the attorneys aren’t usually directly involved in the settlement negotiations. In the collaborative process, each party works with their own collaboratively-trained attorney, and other team members, including a neutral mental health coach to assist the couple in their communication during the settlement negotiations. If one party is angry or sad about their spouse’s decision to leave the marriage, the involvement of a coach can be invaluable in helping the reluctant party deal with his or her emotions sensitively and therapeutically. That can pave the way for more focused and productive settlement negotiations. Many collaborative teams also include a neutral financial specialist to assist them in negotiating the financial settlement including the division of property, spousal support, child support, valuation of separate and marital property, and other complex financial issues.
If your goal is to have a “simple divorce,” the key is to find the best fit, for you and your spouse, in terms of the process you choose, and in the divorce professionals you select. Review the St. Louis Collaborative Family Law website for more information, and a list of family law attorneys trained in mediation and the collaborative process. Many attorneys in the St. Louis Collaborative Family Law Association offer an initial consultation at no charge, so you will have an opportunity to determine the best fit for you, in the divorce process and in your choice of an attorney.
About The Author: Marjorie Carter
Marjorie is an attorney and former member of CFLA.