Dear Abby, we’ve been married for 25 years and have two kids who are now both in college. I think we’ve both been waiting until now, until the kids got through high school, to make this decision. Since our kids are older, what can a Collaborative Divorce do for us that litigation can’t?
It’s a great question – how to handle your divorce when your children are grown and out of the house. Many people think that a Collaborative Divorce is just for people who have children under the age of 18. Yes, a Collaborative Divorce provides added value for those families because of the increased number of issues to resolve, particularly with regard to a parenting time schedule, but a Collaborative Divorce can provide a number of benefits for divorcing couples with older children that they just can’t get from a case resolved through the traditional litigation process.
Couples who have been married 25 years or more are in their forties or older. They tend to have established jobs and are well into their retirement planning. They have plans to visit their college-aged children or to go spend time with the grandchildren. If their divorce is handled in the traditional court system, the judge who decides when issues will be resolved – when hearings will take place, when a final trial will occur. It is driven by the judge’s schedule and specific rules that allow for little flexibility. Contrast that to a Collaborative Divorce, in which (a) all meetings are scheduled around the divorcing couple’s calendars; (b) the case moves at a pace at which both the husband and wife are comfortable; and (c) provides for a process that eliminates unnecessary formality to reduce legal costs.
If you’ve been married for 25 years, you have likely accumulated somewhat substantial assets. You may have a home, retirement accounts, investment accounts, savings. If you choose to divorce using a traditional litigation process, you run the risk that much or all of your personal wealth information becomes public. You may have the best of intentions to resolve your case in as amicable a way as possible, but in litigation, it only takes one to decide to fight. If your spouse decides to make a fight out of it, you will be sitting on a witness stand testifying in a public courtroom with friends and strangers watching the whole thing. With a Collaborative Divorce, all of your discussions and negotiations remain private, staying within the four walls of the conference room in which you have your collaborative meetings.
Respect and Dignity
You have had a long marriage, most of which has been a happy one. You have beautiful children who you raised together and despite the ending of your marriage, you will always be parents together. There will be graduations and weddings and births of new grandbabies. And then you will always be grandparents together. There will be birthday parties, soccer and baseball games that you secretly missed and are thrilled to attend, school plays, and then more graduations and weddings. How do you want to honor your marriage, the partner that you chose, and the family you made together? A contentious litigation case can tear the fabric of that family apart in what can feel like a millisecond – a stranger in a black robe who may hear your life story in three short hours and then be required to decide what your future looks like for you.
In a Collaborative Divorce, you decide. With that decision, you have the opening to respect and recognize the positive contributions each of you made to your marriage. You have the possibility to apologize, forgive, and be forgiven for errors in judgment. You have the opportunity to preserve your family, restructured somewhat, for the benefit of your children and grandchildren. And in all of it, you preserve your own dignity by refusing to focus on the negative, as is often the case in litigation, and instead focus on the future, creating a better outcome for both of you.
In short, just because your children are grown doesn’t mean that you can’t benefit from a Collaborative Divorce. With such a long marriage, you have just as much to gain as if you still had small children. It’s your choice.
About the Author: Rhonda Cleaves began practicing law in 1995. She left a successful civil trial practice in 2005 to concentrate on family law—specifically, helping families transition to post divorce life. She now practices exclusively at her firm, Cleaves Family Law.
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