4 Reasons (Otherwise) Perfectly Rational Couples Choose to Litigate Rather Than Collaborate During Divorce.
Divorcing couples confront many difficult choices: Where to live, how to parent, what to communicate, whether to forgive, and so on. Ironically, one of the choices given the shortest shrift is also one of the most important ones: “How to Get Divorced.” Yes, just as there is more than one route to get you from Point A to Point B, there is more than one way to get divorced.
One alternative route is called “Collaborative Divorce”. Using this method, the spouses contractually agree to keep the discussions in a conference room rather than a courtroom. Specially-trained attorneys guide the spouses through a series of pre-planned, structured negotiations that cover all issues to be resolved. Highly-skilled neutrals, such as child specialists, financial professionals, and coaches can help address special situations that are unique to the specific family.
So, if there is more than one way to get divorced, why do the vast majority of couples wind up choosing to litigate like three-year-old kids flinging mashed potatoes at each other around the dinner table? I can think of four reasons off-the-cuff that couple choose to litigate:
Most people don’t know what they don’t know when it comes to divorce. That is why it is so critically important to educate yourself. Speak with more than one family law attorney before choosing to hire one. Attorneys are people too, contrary to popular opinion. As such, individual attorneys have individual knowledge bases, biases, and opinions. Many attorneys do not adequately discuss alternative methods of resolving family law conflicts because they either do not know about them or do not believe in them. By interviewing two or more attorneys you will gain differing perspectives, which can provide you with a clearer picture of your options.
Divorce is said to be the third most stressful experience in adulthood, right behind death and public speaking; and the most stressful part of divorce usually occurs at the very beginning. There is a lot of uncertainty about the future, which is often compounded by negative interactions with the other spouse. These stressors can lead someone to make short-sighted choices — including a choice to litigate rather than collaborate.
Anger, like fear, runs rampant in divorce. Unfortunately, it almost always undermines clear thinking. People who otherwise make rational choices frequently make very foolish ones when angry. Spouses who have been hurt by their loved ones often believe that putting the other side through the meat grinder of divorce litigation will bring themselves a measure of peace. The reality is that a pound of flesh usually costs both sides the same while bringing neither side any peace. Instead, seek out a counselor to help with the anger, and consider choosing a divorce process that allows both sides to make and achieve constructive goals.
Remember the childhood game, “Hungry, Hungry Hippos”? The object of the game was to use your hippo to scoop up as many marbles as possible. That’s the metaphor to divorce litigation today: “I want the house, the kids, and the 401(k). You can have the tools, the debt, and the girlfriend.” This kind of distributive bargaining (think “zero sum”) almost never results in a win for either side. There are other, better ways to achieve your goals. Collaborative Divorce attorneys are trained in integrative (“win-win”) negotiation strategies.
This list is, of course, not exhaustive. But the main point to consider is that just because “everybody’s doing it” the old way doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the best way. Collaborative Divorce is one alternative method among several that can help spouses resolve family law conflict in a more constructive, peaceful, and private way.