This article was written by Tracy Stewart, a College-Station based financial planner, a Brazos Valley Collaborative Divorce Alliance founding member, and a former Collaborative Law Institute of Texas board member specializing in collaborative divorce.
Yes. Get a collaborative divorce. Steer clear of a court-system divorce. Avoid draining your savings. Side step family squabbles. Enjoy your holidays.
How Does Collaborative Divorce Get You Happy Holidays?
In a Collaborative Divorce, you learn from a collaborative divorce family therapist how to avoid disagreements during and after your divorce. If a struggle slips through, you will know how to resolve it. And if that doesn’t work, you get to return to your divorce family therapist for a jointly agreeable solution to the dispute. While you are there, you get a booster shot on how to skillfully communicate.
Faith Wilson, MA, LPC, describes a familiar holiday situation for families who chose a court-system divorce. “One parent wants to do the holidays like they always have. But they forgot about the new spouse or the new girlfriend or boyfriend. They don’t think about how they will get the unhappy in-laws together. This wonderful blended idea blows up.” The scenes have such impressionable consequences that family members suffer in the future. “People think they can just throw everyone together and everything will be just wonderful. But instead, they cannot forget the pain when holidays come around.”
College Station family law attorney Randy Michel relies on Wilson to teach his clients “how to anticipate the many nuances and issues that will come up in the future. During a Collaborative Divorce, she teaches both parents how to clearly communicate needs and desires plus how to continue that path in the post-divorce years. I have never heard of a child support or visitation modification after a Collaborative Divorce.”
How Does Collaborative Divorce Help You Retain Savings?
Parents who divorce in a litigated setting are more likely to use the litigated system to seek changes to visitation and child support. These are called modifications or “going back to court.” Modifications are every bit as complex as the original divorce. With the passage of time, there are more facts to consider and often more hostility than in the divorce. Family law attorney Wendy Wood Hencerling explains, “people who go back to court have an axe to grind and the litigation makes everything worse. Modifications are expensive. Wounds go deeper. Children are polarized. In-laws are polarized. Everyone takes a side.”
Just how expensive is a modification? According to Kassi Horner, family law attorney with Peterson Law Group, “It depends on the nature of the case, but on average, you are looking at a minimum of $5,000 per parent.” Michel has seen costs climb up to “the price of a new car.” Horner has had a parent who went back to court for modifications three times in three years, while Hencerling has a client who took five trips back to court. The failure to communicate can seriously erode college savings and retirement nest eggs.
For parents who cannot prevent divorce, the way to keep your savings is to avoid court-system modifications. Choose to get a Collaborative Divorce. Wilson says the parenting plan worked out in a Collaborative Divorce will be crafted for the individual needs of the family members. In her 38 years, she has never seen a parenting plan in a litigation case where the attorneys customized it to the family. When Wilson helps parents create a parenting plan in a Collaborative Divorce, she asks Mom and Dad a lot of what-if questions. “I try to design the parenting plan for today and for the future. This decreases the amount of conflict they might otherwise experience. And if they need help in the years after the divorce, they can return to the Collaborative setting. They can meet with a Collaborative child specialist who will help them reach agreements by reminding Mom and Dad how to work together in a safe, supportive environment.”
Hencerling knows that “even the most litigious couples would have benefited had they started out in the Collaborative Divorce process. Litigation makes everything worse.” Parents are at the mercy of the Court to get a hearing date for a visitation modification before the holidays. “Collaborative Divorce moves at the couple’s pace. You want a resolution now? We will make it happen. You want to meet at 2:00 am? We will do it. The Judge won’t do that.”
I asked Ms. Horner if the Collaborative Divorce process could have prevented those expensive modification hearings. “Absolutely. The collaborative approach would have allowed these parents to take the time and make use of professionals to work through the hurt and anger. They would focus on their long term goals instead of using the adversarial court system and their children to hurt each other.”
Horner has words of advice for divorcing couples with children. “You had children together. You owe it to them to engage in the calm and supportive atmosphere of the Collaborative Divorce approach instead of the atmosphere of conflict, anxiety, and stress inherent in the traditional divorce litigation.”
Camille Milner says
Thank you for this wonderful article, Tracy and the other members of the Brazos Valley Collaborative Law Alliance, to help our clients have happier lives after their divorces. I just returned from the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals 16th Annual Educational Forum, and what I heard one participant say, “Litigation teaches clients how to litigate, and they end up doing it again and again (modifications), whereas the Collaborative Process of Divorce teaches clients how to resolve conflict and issues so that they can move on without having to “re-litigate” their issues for the remainder of their children’s lives. My advice to clients: spend your money on your children’s college education–not on re-litigating your divorce.
Tracy Stewart says
You are so right, Camille. If their children are out of college, they could invest their money for their own retirement years. I hear about divorced individuals from the litigation model who are forced to turn to their adult children for financial support later in life. The Collaborative Divorce process can include addressing long term financial planning. During the pending case, some of my clients have met with a collaboratively trained fee-only investment manager for long range projections. This enabled these clients to better see their future financial needs and get mutually agreed property division options that address those needs. Everyone wins.