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By David H. Ebaugh, MA,LCPC,CCDC,CEAP

At NEW PERSPECTIVES we help people enrich and improve their marital relationships AND we help those couples whose marriages are beyond repair to take them apart with integrity, dignity and mutual respect.  There is no way to avoid the emotional pain of ending a marriage, but there are ways to divorce without destruction, losers and ugliness. 

In this month’s newsletter, we suggest options for taking apart a broken marriage that go beyond the ugliness fostered by the adversarial divorce court system in this country.  Using Mediation and Divorce Coaching in conjunction with attorneys who are trained in the Collaborative Law process, it is possible to divorce without destroying your spouse or being destroyed.  The fundamental goal is for everyone’s needs in the family circle to be addressed fairly.   At NEW PERSPECTIVES, we offer both options and a chance to create a humane divorce.
Let’s say you want to choose a non-adversarial court process to end your marriage. How do you decide which option is best for your situation, Mediation OR the Collaborative Law process.

Mediation and the Collaborative Law process share these similarities. Both allow the parties to be in charge of their outcomes, rather than an adversarial court system.  Both insure that the professionals will work to create a safe environment for the parties to do their work.   Both emphasize the participants’ responsibility for making decisions that affect their future lives.  Both focus on finding options and solutions, rather than dwelling on past problems.   Both work to reduce emotional conflict rather than perpetuate hurt and revengefulness. Both work to acknowledge feelings, strongly encourage understanding and manage emotional conflict between the parties so that the decisions are ultimately influenced more by reason than emotion.   Both provide a solid foundation for co-parenting children and require that the parents keep the children from getting into the middle of their dispute.  Both insure that neither party can win at the other’s expense.  Both are confidential and allow that the parties may withdraw from the process and/or go to court, if it does not work out, without being bound by the proposed agreements.

You may want to consider Mediation if you can answer true to most of these statements.   
The decision to divorce is mutual. 
We can both control our temper in the presence of the other.  
We both accept that reconciliation is not an option at this time.  
We want to stay on good terms with each other going forward, for the sake of the              children.  
We both understand our financial picture, complicated or not.  
We are not intimidated by each other and there is no history of verbal or physical               abuse or any active alcohol or drug abuse.  
Your spouse has not lied to you about important things and you can trust that                   he/she will be truthful and sincere in Mediation. 
You each believe the other is a good parent and you want to talk, parent to parent,             about what is best for your children rather than leaving the decisions to a stranger.  

You will need to consider the Collaborative Law framework, including divorce coaching if you can answer true to one or more of these statements.  
The decision to divorce was totally one-sided.  
One of the two of you is not prepared emotionally or financially to divorce.  
Animosity towards the other is persistently high and your rage is out of control.  
You would like your own personal advocate to teach you some coping skills to help            you hold your animosity in check during the problem solving and decision making              meetings.  
You seriously want revenge for his/her wrong doing in the form of the bulk of the                 marital property.  
You need someone like an advocate to balance the disadvantage you feel because            you know little and your spouse is very knowledgeable about your joint finances.  
Your spouse has lied to you about property or financial matters to the point that you           do not trust a voluntary exchange of information.  
You suspect some form of child abuse by your spouse.

Deciding to divorce is a major life decision.  So is the process you choose to achieve your goals.  Basically, you have two options, the traditional court route with adversarial attorneys trying to each present the winning character assassination case to the judge for his decision.  Secondly, there is the non-adversarial route which allows couples to respectfully be in charge of their process and the outcomes.  So you may ask; what does a non-adversarial process look like either in the form of Mediation or Collaborative Law? 

With Mediation, you would begin by calling the mediator for a free half-hour introductory appointment which both parties would attend.  Since you are the framers of your process we will start by getting clear about your goals in mediation.  Also in the introductory session, the guidelines regarding the voluntary nature of your decisions will be discussed.  The concept of confidentiality as it applies to mediation will be explained, as well as the fact that legal advice or representation is not a part of the mediation service. However, you are free to consult with an attorney at any point during the mediation process.   When you are ready, you will commit to the mediation process by signing an agreement to mediate which includes your financial responsibility to the mediator and the mediator’s responsibilities to you.  We will discuss what you can expect to see in the final written agreement which the mediator will prepare for you and which can be filed with the court after review by your attorney(s) for legal sufficiency.  While the mediator’s fees are dependant upon time spent in mediation and agreement preparation, most couples are completing the mediation process at NEW PERSPECTIVES for $1500 to $3000.   The mediation process will take at least one to two month or longer to complete, depending on your tempo.   We will work in two hour blocks of time and each party will bring payment for one hour to each session. 
Since the Collaborative Law process is new to the divorce world, you may want to begin by reading the book Collaborative Divorce, The Revolutionary New Way to Restructure Your Family, Resolve Legal Issues, and Move on with Your Life, by Pauline H. Tesler, M.A.,J.D., & Peggy Thompson, Ph.D.  Or, you may want to interview and each hire a collaboratively trained attorney.  (An attorney options list is available from NEW PERSPECTIVES or the website - https://www.collaborativepractice.com, on the left, click on locate collaborative professional).   The collaborative law attorneys coordinate and guide the process based on your case needs.  In addition to your attorneys, you should each expect to hire a divorce coach and share the cost of a child specialist, if needed, and financial planner.
The Collaborative Law process is different from the adversarial court process in that all parties agree to settle out of court.  That is, in an out of court settlement the Collaborative Law team works to build a consensus that addresses the needs of everyone who will be affected by the divorce.  The parties agree to put the truth on the table without assessment of consequences, legal or otherwise.  The initial goal is to search for options and then, to problem solve all issues. This empowers the parties and positions them squarely in the role of decision maker.  While each party is accompanied and supported by personal advocates, your collaborative law attorney (legal issues), your divorce coach (emotional issues), child specialist and financial planner, the goal of ALL is to seek a fair and equitable settlement. 
If the Collaborative Law process fails, or reaches an impasse, then the parties may still go to court but the Collaborative Law team will never represent you in litigation.

A Divorce Coach helps you process the loss of your marriage and teaches you coping skills to help you manage your emotions outside of the decision making meetings.  By addressing your emotions outside of the “all-way” meetings (includes both parties, both attorneys, both divorce coaches, child specialist and financial planner) you can more effectively focus on reviewing options and problem solving each topic needed to complete the separation and divorce agreement and resolve your dispute.  In an “all-way” meeting the divorce coaches address emotional issues that surface and the attorneys address legal issues.   You set the agenda for the meeting, i.e. the house, child custody, child visitation, etc. and make the decisions.

Finally, the cost of the collaborative law process is more than mediation and potentially, far less expensive than the adversarial process.  Research suggests that the average costs for a Collaborative Law divorce could range from $14,000 to $20,000.   While the Collaborative Law process is not for every client or every case, it is a viable alternative for many who seek to end conflict and reach resolution through means other than costly litigation.

In summary, either the Mediation or Collaborative Law process is a loving, respectful 
and cost effective way to end a marriage without perpetuating suffering or collateral damage.  Both Mediation and the Collaborative Law process give the individuals the opportunity and permission to heal their emotional bodies and stop their engagement in self destructive behavior.  The adversarial court system often costs more and avoids people taking responsibility for their own healing by perpetuating anger and defining winners and losers with a judge’s court order.

Got Questions?  Feel free to contact David H. Ebaugh, MA,LCPC,CCDC,CEAP, MEDIATOR & DIVORCE COACH at NEW PERSPECTIVES, in Owings Mills or Westminster, 410/356-3344, Ext. 101 or Email at DEbaugh@nperspectives.com                                                   

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Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, Certified Chemical Dependency Counselor