IT TAKES TWO TO TANGO – ENGAGING YOUR SPOUSE IN A NON-ADVERSARIAL DIVORCE PROCESS

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Website: http://amatofamilylaw.com

Why Won't My Divorce Case Settle?

PROBLEM:  My divorce has been going on for months.  I want it over.  Why won’t my case settle?

Those involved in a family law litigation matter, are generally eager for their case to be “over” so that they can move on with life plans with some degree of certainty.  If your attorney has told you that very few cases go to trial before a judge, “settlement” becomes the primary focus of the litigation, yet at times can seem impossible to achieve.  Why?  The short answer is that there has been no agreement reached.  What are some of the impediments to reaching an agreement? This article addresses property issues, and not child support, spousal support (maintenance in Missouri) or child custody.

Addressing The Divorce Issues

Missing Information: Divorce Courts in Missouri are required to divide all property and debt, as well as set aside to the appropriate party any separate non-marital property. Without complete information on all the property and debt (do not forget frequent flyer miles and other awards points), there is no way to assess the options for the division of property and debt. Sometimes the information can be obtained easily.  Account statements and car titles are usually obtained easily.  When you need an appraisal of a home or a business interest valued, this information is more difficult to come by. If one party cooperates and the other doesn’t, it can take long months instead of a few weeks to obtain the necessary information in order to look at the options for the division of property and debt.

Disagreements on Values. Competing assessments as to what the worth of cars and homes can make a meeting of the minds on property settlement difficult.  This is often due to each party going online and determining what the cars are worth, or each party to a case paying several hundred dollars to have different appraisals as to the value of the marital residence.

Attorneys with different approaches. When the parties to a family law matter select their attorneys, they are usually not doing this together. They are each consulting with friends, family and colleagues or going online without checking in with each other.  Their selections are often personal and most often fail to take into consideration how their attorney views the work ahead.  Is the attorney going to acknowledge that there are paths to settlement than can circumvent some of the negative fallout of traditional litigation?  Is the attorney one who encourages open sharing of information or assists his or her client in making the other attorney and party get information the hard way with costly subpoenas, depositions and motions before the court?  The selection of attorneys can set the course for a good resolution without undue delay or protracted process ending with a less than satisfactory settlement for both parties—often because the fees to the attorneys took much of the martial assets.

Lack of a joint commitment to resolution. Too often, the parties have not made a firm commitment to each other to work toward a resolution that they both can live with.  Without this commitment early on, it is easy to spend time and energy disputing the other person’s point of view rather than working to find common ground.

SOLUTION:  Before you begin the divorce process, consider how best to commit to resolving the issues and following through on the commitment. This may mean that you and the other party may have to put aside some serious differences of opinion as to the how and why of the break up.  It may mean that you determine the process that you want to use BEFORE finding attorneys.  You may start with a mediator and then select attorneys to assist you in the mediation process. You may want to explore the option of the collaborative process, with its team of financial, mental health and legal professionals.  If you commit to an approach that is settlement rather than litigation-oriented, you may find you save money that enables you to move forward with less stress, as well as save your emotional energy for that next phase of your life.

Talking to Your Spouse About Separation and Divorce

You’re not happy in your marriage and haven’t been for quite some time.  You’re ready to tell your spouse how you feel and wonder how to do it.  How you begin this conversation can have an impact on whether your separation or divorce will be friendly and civil or ugly and contested.  There are a number of ways to approach this difficult conversation and to some degree which way works best for you depends on your situation.

The Do Nots

But first what not to do:  hand your spouse an attorney’s business card and say have your lawyer contact my lawyer. Do not say, "You need to move out because I’m filing for divorce." Do not announce in front of the children that daddy and mommy are getting a divorce. And do not have your spouse served with divorce papers as the first indication to your spouse that you're asking for a divorce.  These are examples of only a few of the do nots, the essence of which is to not embarrass your spouse or make your spouse angry before the process even begins.  As the saying goes, first impressions are important and the way you begin can have a tremendous effect on what is a difficult and emotional process for many people.

Mental health professionals will tell you for some people getting a divorce is like experiencing a death of a spouse.  If you’ve ever known someone who has lost a spouse, particularly if it was sudden or unexpected, the surviving spouse needs time to heal.  That doesn’t mean they get to a point where they forget their spouse, but many people need time to be able to move forward with their lives.   A person who is not aware that their spouse is ready to be divorced also needs time to adjust to be able to move forward with his or her life.  If the notion of being divorced is sprung on them it can have the same effect as a sudden death.

The Dos

So that brings us to how can you tell your spouse.  What can you do?  First, before saying anything to your spouse review the Collaborative Family Law webpage.  See that the approach is to resolve your issues prior to filing anything in court.  Understand that the benefit is to have a process whereby you and your spouse can deal with all of the issues in a controlled environment with all participants working to reach a resolution that works for both parties.  In that way when issues arise following your divorce you’ll hopefully be able to resolve them in a problem-solving manner rather than as adversaries.  Once you are comfortable in understanding the process, approach your spouse and tell him or her that you feel your marriage is no longer working.  Let your spouse know that there is a process you’re aware of that will allow you to resolve all of your issues before anything is filed in court and suggest that he or she review the webpage and speak with a professional listed in the member directory.  Should you have further questions before approaching your spouse don’t hesitate to contact someone on the member directory for additional information.

About the Author : Leonard Frankel

Leonard is an attorney and former member of CFLA.

The Collaborative Process is The Kumbaya Divorce

It is likely that you either have a friend or a family member who experienced a divorce and barely exchange their children without a fight.  You go through life saying that will never be your situation. Then you are sitting at the table having “that” conversation with your spouse. A divorce is now imminent.  How do you make sure that your family dynamic does not rip apart at the seam?  The divorce process is known to destroy the family dynamic through mudslinging, positional bargaining, and refusal to compromise with each other.  To start the process the other party has to be served.  It seems odd to have a third party go to your spouse and hand them papers stating that you want to end the life you built together.

As the Discovery process starts, you will find yourself answering meddlesome, private and probing questions, producing private documents, and feeling interrogated during depositions.  During Trial, you may likely feel nervous, scared, and hesitant to answer questions on the witness stand.  At the conclusion of the case, you will anxiously await a Judgment entered by an individual who doesn’t know anything about your family.  The end result will generally leave both parties feeling violated, sad, and angry.

Alternative to Litigated Divorce

If the above process sounds like a nightmare, then you are not alone.  A procedure known as a Collaborative Divorce is available to anyone who will like to bypass the contentious litigated divorce process and, instead, aim to reach an amicable and practical settlement agreement resulting in a non-contested divorce.  To get started, both parties must have a desire to use this process.  Both parties must agree to compromise, act ethically, show respect for one another, focus on the future, negotiate in good faith, and, among other things, cooperate to prepare a comprehensive settlement agreement.

If successful, the benefits of doing the Collaborative Divorce process will allow each party to make choices in a safe and private environment that will work for your family because after all, you are the expert of your family, not the professionals.  At the conclusion, you should find yourself feeling satisfied, ready to move forward, and maintain a desire to co-parent, cooperate, and continue the family dynamic for the sake of your children.  In spite of everything, it really is about your family and how you can move forward.  With the tools and ability to co-parent, this allows for minor issues that come up as time goes on to be settled by the family without having to involve the court for modifications to the Judgment.  Choosing a Collaborative Divorce will not only help you bypass the often nasty, litigated divorce process, but it will also help alleviate many of the future issues that may arise years after a divorce has concluded.

Take Control of Your Divorce

Overall, a Collaborative Divorce puts both parties in the driver seat of their own divorce.  It puts the decisions for the family back in the hands of the family, with tools and assistance from coaches and advisors to not just help make decisions now, but also help with the difficult decisions to come.

About the Author : Kelly Davidzuk

Kelly Davidzuk is a Regional Team Leader managing the St. Charles, Troy, Lee's Summit and Kansas City (by appointment only) offices of the firm. To help out families with their legal needs, Kelly is also a trained mediator and collaborative law attorney. Kelly earned her Juris Doctorate degree from the Appalachian School of Law in Virginia.

Kelly has received many awards for her diligent experience in Family Law over the years, including: The National Advocates - Top 40 Under 40 in Missouri, 2015 – Present, AVVO Superb Rating, 2015-Present, 10 Best Family Law Attorney in Missouri for Client Satisfaction, American Institute of Family Law Attorneys, 2016, Lead Counsel Rated for Family Law, Lead Counsel, 2016, 10 Best Female Family Law Attorneys in the State of Missouri, American Institute of Legal Counsel, 2016 and Top 10 Family Law Attorneys Under 40 in Missouri, National Academy of Family Law Attorneys, 2016.

Note: The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely upon advertisements. Kelly Davidzuk is responsible for the content. Principal place of business 120 South Central Ave, Suite 450, Clayton, MO 63105.

How to Have an Inexpensive Divorce

No one wants a long, expensive, and contentious divorce.  While sometimes unavoidable, there are many things that you and your soon-to-be former spouse can do to keep the process of the dissolution of your marriage as civil and efficient as possible.

7 Tips to Lower Your Divorce Costs

1. Understand Your “Process Options”

Most divorces end with an agreement not a trial, but the path to the agreement can look very different depending on the process you follow.  It’s important to choose a process that gives you and your spouse as much help as you need to reach an agreement, not more and not less. Do your homework so that you understand the differences between traditional litigation, a collaborative process, mediation and a simple non-contested divorce, before you dive in to the legal process and substantive negotiations. Choose a process that is most likely to work for your situation.  A meeting with your spouse and a mediator or divorce coach can help you to assess what path may work best for your family.

2. Be Organized

Regardless of the process you use, your lawyer will need detailed financial and other information from you throughout your case. Giving your lawyer the needed information in a timely and organized way will help your lawyer to be more efficient.  Follow up phone calls and the need for multiple edits will add to the cost of your legal bills.

3. Try not to Scare Each Other

Often during a divorce process, trust is low and anxiety is high.  Making unanticipated financial moves or taking unilateral action regarding your children can set off an adversarial snowball which can be difficult to stop.  If you and your spouse can manage finances wisely and treat each other fairly while your marriage is unwinding you will avoid expensive interventions by your lawyers and the court while you are making your final decisions.

4. Manage Your Emotions

Strong emotions are normal during a divorce process but they can get in the way of making good business and financial decisions.  Working with a therapist as you move through this transition can help you to keep your cool during a difficult time.

5. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Disagreements over household goods, furnishings or personal items can take on emotional significance well beyond their financial value.  Talk with your mediator, lawyer or therapist about ways to approach division of these items in an orderly way without involving your lawyers in those negotiations.

6. Minimize New Relationships

Even though your marriage is ending, the introduction of a new person in your life before things are finalized can cause strong emotional reactions in your spouse.  This is can be even more so if children are introduced to new relationships.  Extra marital relationships can sometimes impact your financial settlement, but even when that is not the case, these relationships can make your divorce more contentious and expensive.  Waiting to move on until your marriage has ended will help the dissolution go more smoothly.

7. Say Yes When You Can

When dealing with your custody arrangements, if your spouse needs accommodation, whether to reschedule a weekend, or have a child for a special occasion, say yes if you can.  This will set the groundwork for a cooperative co-parenting relationship rather than starting things off on an adversarial track.

It takes two to keep things from escalating from a problem to be solved to a war to be waged, but if you follow the above steps you will increase the chances that the dissolution of your marriage, while tough territory under any circumstances, will be as civil and efficient as possible.

Collaborative Divorce: How Do You Know It’s Right For You?

How you divorce greatly impacts your children’s well-being and your own ability to move forward in life. There are many different methods to complete a divorce. So how do you choose the right method? Collaborative divorce is best suited for people who understand the value of divorcing well. Here are some questions you can ask yourself and if you answer yes to most of these questions then collaborative divorce may be a good fit for you.

  1. Do you wish to make life changing decisions from a place of peace and consideration, even though you might be feeling angry or scared now?
  2. Do you want the focus of your divorce to be on future solutions for you and your children rather than past disagreements?
  3. Do you want your children to be at the center of your decisions about separation rather than in the middle?
  4. Do you want a comfortable co-parenting relationship with your spouse?
  5. Do you want an attorney who is trained in interest-based problem solving and focused on settlement rather than an attorney who acts as a hired gun?
  6. Are you able to be in the same room as your spouse to speak about your own legitimate self-interests with the assistance of collaborative professionals?
  7. Do you want to play an active role in creating the outcome of your divorce?
  8. Do you wish to craft a divorce agreement that is tailored to you and your family’s needs?
  9. Do you value privacy in your personal affairs and wish to resolve your divorce outside of a public courtroom?
  10. Do you wish to use a divorce approach that supports and advocates for realistic settlements and transitions?
  11. After your divorce is completed, do you want to be able to look back and feel good about the outcome and how you handled yourself throughout the process?

If you answered yes to the above questions, collaborative divorce may be a good fit for you and you should consider meeting with a collaborative divorce attorney. Divorce is never easy, but when you choose the collaborative approach, you can divorce well and transition into a healthier future.

Jennifer Rench is an experienced collaborative divorce lawyer and mediator handling cases in St. Louis, Missouri.  She offers divorce mediation and collaborative divorce to individuals that want to divorce without going to war.

Reach out to Jennifer to discuss your collaborative approach to a more amicable divorce.  Jennifer can be reached by phone at 314-725-4000, or by email at jennifer@jrenchlaw.com. You can also schedule a free divorce consultation with Jennifer Rench at https://STLDivorceandMediation.com.

Differences Between Collaborative Divorce and Traditional Divorce

The primary reason why some parties choose collaborative divorce rather than the traditional route is to minimize the hard feelings and emotions involved in contested litigation. Collaborative divorce is a viable option when you and your spouse are able to find a way to work out issues together.

This brings us to the questions on which approach is better? Ultimately, a party going through a divorce has to decide. After all, you are the person who knows your spouse and you know yourself even better. Thus, you would have to analyze whether you think an amicable resolution is possible.

Collaborative divorce is non-adversarial. This means that you are not fighting with your spouse to win an advantage over the other. The main purpose of collaborative law is to help you and your spouse find a solution without getting a judge involved.

While experts, including accountants or appraisers, may be used in a regular divorce, in collaborative divorce these experts are generally neutrals.  This means that any information these professionals share during the collaborative process is confidential and can’t be used later in court if the case does not settle in the collaborative divorce process.

There are circumstances where a collaborative divorce may not work, including where there is a major power imbalance, if there has been domestic violence or where the positions of the parties are diametrically opposed. It also depends on whether you believe you and your soon-to-be ex are truly sincere about getting along.  It takes a certain amount of maturity to face your ex and talk things out and it may also be a painful process.

If collaborative divorce is an option for you, it can alleviate negative feelings and make for a better relationship between you and your ex in the long run. This is especially helpful when spouses share joint custody and co-parenting becomes essential.  Studies have shown that kids do better overall when parents can co-parent and get along after divorce.

About the Author : Kirk Stange

Kirk Stange founded Stange Law Firm, PC in 2007 with wife Paola. Since the first location in 2007, Kirk has dedicated himself to flourishing the family law firm into what it is today. In addition to being a Founding Partner of the firm, Kirk also enjoys spending time educating attorneys and other law professionals at CLE Seminars through NBI, the Missouri Bar, and many other organizations. Additionally, Kirk serves as an adjunct professor in the role of a trial skills instructor. Kirk obtained his Juris Doctor from the University of Missouri – Columbia School of Law. Kirk is licensed to practice in the state of Missouri, Illinois, Kansas, and the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. Notably, Kirk has been recognized for his hard work and dedication to the practice of family law. These awards range from: Super Lawyers for Missouri and Kansas Super Lawyers for Family Law Magazine, Top 10 Family Law Attorney in Missouri by National Academy of Family Law Attorneys, Lead Counsel Rated for Divorce/Family Law, and many more accolades. The Founding Partner has also been a published author on multiple different occasions. Kirk authored a chapter in a book through Thomson Reuters (Aspatore Publishing) in 2012 titled: Strategies for Military Family Law: Leading Lawyers on Navigating Family Law in the Armed Forces (Inside the Minds). Kirk published a full-length book through Thomson Reuters (Aspatore Publishing) in 2014 titled: Prenuptial Agreements Line by Line. Further, in 2015, Kirk authored another chapter in a book through Thomson Reuters (Aspatore Published) titled: Strategies for Illinois Family Law: Leading Lawyers on Leveraging Alternative Dispute Resolution, Negotiating Alimony and Child Support, and Managing Client Expectations (Inside the Minds). Note: The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely upon advertisements. Kirk Stange is responsible for the content. Principal place of business 120 South Central Ave, Suite 450, Clayton, MO 63105.