One Woman’s Story of Her Collaborative Divorce
by Ronna Detrick
Divorce, whether initiated or demanded, is never easy. There is no way around either its heart-wrenching realities or the small minutiae (and loaded implications) that accompany every document, financial decision, and custody conversation. Mine was no exception. Emotions, deliberations, and details I hadn’t anticipated blindsided me. And the things I did expect hardly ever went the way I hoped. These truths seem to be the givens of divorce itself.
The “bright spot” in the midst, however, was the good fortune to have chosen Collaborative Divorce. Not all that intentional, I went online to find an attorney, stumbled across a website espousing the Collaborative process, and liked what I read. I located, contacted, then hired a Collaborative attorney in my local area. Over the brief tenure of our working relationship, she served as both advocate and advisor, facilitator and friend.
Collaborative Divorce can best be described as a method of practicing law in which the lawyers for both sides agree to assist their clients to resolve conflicts by employing cooperative techniques rather than adversarial strategies and litigation. Everyone involved commits to achieving a negotiated outcome.
I could not argue with such an approach. That, combined with two significant commitments both of us held – our children and cost – made Collaborative Divorce a relatively easy and ultimately excellent choice.
Because couples must work out the terms of their legal processes together – agreements are made mutually in order to proceed, and a promise of intent is signed to eliminate any court procedures – we knew that the best interests of our children would ultimately be served. We knew we needed to work through our ending in as cooperative a context as possible. As household goods, money, and even time with our kids was being divided, we were able to remain “together” (with the expected disagreements and bumps along the way) in nearly every decision. This was the only way we could ensure that we would learn and apply methods of communication and decision-making that would then carry themselves into our future styles of relating – again, on behalf of our children. Collaborative Divorce championed that commitment.
In addition, we were both committed to getting through the divorce process as inexpensively as possible. In talking to friends throughout the years, I’ve noted that their fear of Collaborative Divorce is that it will be more expensive than standard legal representation. On an hourly rate alone, that may be potentially true; but ultimately for us, given that my ex-husband and I, as well as our two attorneys, sat down together at the same table (with only three joint sessions to conclude all deliberations), we were able to significantly consolidate billed hours and lengthy processes. Further, given that no court time was involved, we saved even more money. But most importantly, we lessened as much emotional strain as possible. Amazingly, we collaborated.
Do not misunderstand me: the divorce itself was difficult, painful, and painstaking. But working together with Collaborative attorneys forced us to the table together, created the context for important conversations together, and enabled a settlement on which we came to terms together.
I would not wish divorce or its associated processes on anyone. That said, I cannot speak highly enough about the gift of Collaborative Divorce. Now, three years later, my ex and I have continued the patterns of collaboration learned during our divorce. We communicate efficiently and generatively (most of the time) and our highest shared priority remains that of our children. We are hopeful that their experience of watching us walk through an admittedly-excruciating process, but attempting to maintain respect and open communication, enabled them not only ongoing healing; but more, a model for what good, collaborative relationship can look like even when marriage ends.
Though hardly an advocate for divorce, I am an advocate for the Collaborative Law process. For all the angst and agony divorce can bring, working together made a profound difference.