Breaking up the warm, fuzzy way?

One of the newest concepts out here in the world of divorce litigation is–not litigating.

Cooperative or collaborative divorce puts the separating couple on a path, together, to settle the issues involved in their separation. The cooperative process makes a lot of sense for most people, saving the money involved in formal discovery and court time as well as the emotional destruction that often accompanies the average divorce scenario. After all, these two people are going to be tied together in some manner forever, either through memories or more often, in dealing with children. Children grow up and then have their own weddings and graduations and children. Can you really expect to co-grandparent with someone you have thoroughly trashed earlier in life?

The process requires those involved to be open with information exchange and to discard any hidden agendas. Ideally, the parties and counsel work with financial and mental health advocates to craft something fair to all–a win-win outcome, if you will. In the event the matter is not settled, counsel is discharged, and the parties move on to hire litigators.

This sounds so hopeful to me, and I hope it comes to our area soon.  Several Pittsburgh attorneys are studying to be the sort of mediators who participate in cooperative divorce, so maybe it will.

But having actively dealt with a dozen families going through separation and divorce in the last week, I’ve got to admit I’m skeptical.  Sure, collaborative divorce doesn’t work for everyone–those with drug/alcohol or domestic violence issues aren’t playing on an even field, and so should be screened out.  I’m talking about ostensibly intelligent, capable people who would seem to be able to see where their hostility and long-term angst is taking them.

For example, the man whose wife has lived with another man for over two years, stealing all his money in the process …but he won’t even think about divorce because “she’s a great wife” some of the time.

Or the wife who went to pick up her belongings after she’d moved out and found the boxes her husband had packed full of her things–mixed with used cat litter.

Or the couple who both want the house neither can really afford–just because it’s the only asset the other wants. Each has spent well over $10,000 on the divorce so far, and have litigated through domestic violence court, criminal court, support court, custody court and now divorce court.

What about the husband who agreed he and his wife would split his pension, then retired without telling her, collecting his checks for years before she even found out she should be getting money?

It’s no wonder that lawyers, particularly in family law, get burnt out. I know when I came here to practice, there was a delighted rush through the ranks as so many of the general practitioners wanted out of marital law and referred cases to me.

Some days, after hours spent steeping in the bitter brew of family discord, it’s all I can do to come home to my own loved ones and remember I love them. But I’m grateful that they help me recharge those acid-soaked batteries and go out to–hopefully not fight–another day. Let’s hope more people jump on that wagon.


This week, I’m featured at the Carnival of Family Life; please come by and read some of our interesting posts! Also, this blog has received another award— thank you so much to Julie and also to Casdok, who made it possible by including Little Miss on the Faces of Autism blog!


8 thoughts on “Breaking up the warm, fuzzy way?

  1. Hello Barb,

    I have no doubt family law takes its toll in burnout. No doubt it at least makes you appreciate your loving, happy family that much more.

    Anything that can reduce the fallout from divorce can be a great thing. Keep up the good work!

    Jeff Deutsch

  2. What you’re talking about seems like it would make a lot of sense. I tried to get my former spouse to participate in something similar. At the core of it, though, each participating party has to choose to play nice rather than drag the other through the mud. If there’s no desire to be nice, there’s no incentive to avoid the court battles.

  3. I don’t think I have the personality to do what you do. It would be all I could do to not tell some of those people what idiots they are.

    I can understand your skepticism because so often people, in general, tend to be selfish.

    However, I know a couple going through some kind of divorce that sounds like to what you referred. They are in couseling, alone and together, still living in the same house (I’m assuming this is for financial reasons), for six months, and seem to be working things out pretty well. They aren’t trying to work on being together, but being apart nicely. All else aside, I have to think that is beneficial for the kids. The kids are middle school, high school, and college, and the high school is autistic. (Fragile X?) Although none of the kids love the idea, they don’t seem to be angry or anything else kids often do. I love that they’re trying to make the whole thing as painless as possible for all involved. But I do see how with the majority of people, that might not work so well.

  4. Have you ever received the email about the ex-husband’s house being so malodorous he can’t sell it to any qualified buyer’s, except for his ex-wife? The ex-wife buys the house for a steal….and is thrilled when ex-hubby moves out and takes the curtain rods with him, even though they’re filled with the decaying shrimp rinds his ex-wife filled them with before husband kept the house in the divorce!!!

    I’m not sure if the story is true, but I wouldn’t put it past some of my former divorce clients!!!

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