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Wednesday, Jul 18 2012 11:07 PM

Litigated divorces can be hard, but there's another alternative

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    Laurelyn Irving

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By LAURELYN IRVING

Divorce is probably one of life's most painful transitions. There are several ways to approach divorce, however, and how you do it can make it easier on all concerned or more painful. You can try and figure out the court system and the paperwork on your own in the interest of saving money. You can both hire attorneys and fight it out in court. You can also work with a mediator. Or, you can try a relatively new process called collaborative law.

How is a collaborative law divorce different? The name gives you the first hint. It is collaborative. In other words, both parties and their attorneys work together to make decisions about the family's future, if there are children, and about how best to settle the financial arrangements to position both spouses for the long run.

Since it is a type of law, it means the attorneys on each side have a special training that involves considering the best interests of each side when it comes to their legal rights in California. The attorneys are negotiating with each other to find a solution similar to mediation where they find a win-win resolution. Instead of leaving the decisions up to a judge, the spouses and their attorneys make a plan for the future that incorporates both preferences and the best interests of the children.

The way a collaborative divorce maximizes the long-range interests of the spouses is that a financial consultant is involved in the process. Ideally, the financial consultant is a certified divorce financial analyst with specialized training in divorce law and asset division. The analyst can create graphs and charts to show the parties how various decisions will fare over time based on financial markets, inflation, etc. The parties benefit from the help of a neutral analyst in terms of making rational financial decisions at an often highly emotional time in their lives.

Sometimes a collaborative law divorce involves divorce coaches for each party to help them deal with their emotions or the reactions of the children. A divorce coach helps people anticipate what to deal with next and provides encouragement along the way.

If other professionals are needed to help the spouses make decisions, they can be invited into the process. For example, sometimes a family-owned business or some properties need to be appraised. It is often important to get accurate estimates of value when dividing assets.

A family counselor might be important for helping everyone adjust to a new way of life as well as dealing with feelings such as anger, loss, resentment and fear. How a divorce is handled can make a big difference in how well children adjust to the change in their lives. Having someone help them deal with their emotions and having an opportunity to discuss their feelings and fears can help start the healing process.

Expediency is another advantage of a collaborative law divorce. Instead of taking months or sometimes years in the court system, the process can be completed in a matter of weeks in most cases.

For some people, privacy is a priority. They do not want a courtroom and a judge to hear all the details of their private life and financial situation. A collaborative divorce is private and confidential. Discussion between the spouses and their attorneys take place in a private office, not in a courtroom. If you wonder why the newspapers were not full of information about the divorce of Kobe Bryant or of Robin Williams, it is because they both chose to have collaborative divorces.

Other reasons to choose a collaborative divorce are when the parties want to remain friends or at least maintain a good working relationship for the sake of raising children, or when they will be continuing to work together. A litigated divorce can have the affect of splitting people further apart due to the result of a battle in court. Whenever there is a battle, usually one person wins and the other loses. The impact of that loss can be felt for years. For the sake of any children involved, finding a cooperative way to work with each other can improve the security children feel.

If you or someone you know is facing divorce, this is an option worth considering.

Laurelyn Irving of Bakersfield is the executive director of Mediation Affiliates, a nonprofit that offers alternative dispute resolution services in such cases as contracts, personal injury, employment, real estate, wills and trusts, divorce, landlord/tenant relations, and collections.

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