This post is from Julian N. Schwartz, a collaboratively-trained family law attorney working for the Law Offices of Sam C. Bashara, P.C. in San Antonio, Texas. He is the President-Elect of the Collaborative Law Institute of Texas and a founding member and Past President of the Collaborative Professionals’ Association of San Antonio.
“Divorce.” This one word conjures up a variety of unpleasant images, feelings and memories for most people who hear it. Going through a divorce can be one of the most stressful, traumatic and difficult experiences a person can have in his or her lifetime. When we hear of someone going through a divorce, we often think of the pain they may be experiencing, the tough times their children must be going through, and the financial and legal expenses that are involved. But divorce can often have other collateral consequences too. The stresses of a divorce can destroy one or both of the spouses’ relationships with extended family, friends and even with their faith community. All too often, not only does the time with children and the martial property get divided, but friendships, social relationships, and even the church, synagogue or mosque that the married couple attended are somehow “allocated” to one spouse or the other. The loss of close relationships and the community in which a spouse practices their faith only serves to increase the destructive nature of the divorcing experience. I have observed this time and again in my practices as a family law attorney and also with close friends and family members who have gone through a divorce.
Collaborative family law is a process that is often particularly well suited to divorcing couples who have decided that the relationship they have with one another, with their children, with friends and with others in their faith community after the divorce is over is an important consideration. Having to testify before a Judge or jury almost always assures the degrading, if not outright destruction, of the remaining relationship between a divorcing couple. Asking friends, business associates, family members and members of one’s faith community to testify often leads to relationship damage that can never be repaired. Not only does the collaborative process include a formal commitment to stay out of the courthouse, its very nature gives divorcing couples the opportunity to work through difficult child and financial issues privately and with the aid of professionals who have been specifically hired to help guide the couple away from potential minefields. This means a divorcing couple does not have to rely on public hearings in which they feel compelled to resort to attacking each other’s characters and assessing blame in hopes of achieving their desired outcomes. The collaborative process increases the chances of settling a divorce in a way that is the least damaging to not only the family, but also to social and faith community relationships.
For almost all couples who choose to end their marriage, the experience of divorce represents an unhappy time in their lives. The collaborative law process is an alternative to the traditional method of “battling out” a divorce in court. For divorcing couples who want to preserve their dignity, who want privacy, who are willing to commit to candid disclosure of all necessary information and who share the belief that the condition of their relationship with one another, their children, extended family, friends and their faith community is important, the collaborative law process offers a unique opportunity that is generally unavailable through court or other dispute resolution processes.