I applaud Nanci A. Smith’s new book. With the release of Untangling Your Marriage: A Guide to Collaborative Divorce, she lays out the groundwork for what I would argue is one of the most humane, sound, and effective strategies to realize one’s divorce with a little dignity. The bar even recognizes the methodology, so that should say something! With the way Smith writes, things feel matter-of-fact and to-the-point. “How long this process takes depends on whether you and your spouse are both ‘psychologically ready’ to be divorced. Most couples can complete their collaborative divorce in between six months and year. It can be more or less, depending on your needs. We talk about this early in the process. What is your preferred time line? Does your spouse agree? This process is designed for efficiency,” she states, in aforementioned vein.
“It is generally less expensive than litigation. The cost of any divorce is directly related to the level of conflict and your willingness to work through the emotional issues before you tackle the legal and financial issues. More conflict and the lack of readiness to move on increase costs. If you wanted the divorce done yesterday, but your spouse just found out you want a divorce, you will be counseled to slow down and let your spouse catch up. The spouse on the receiving end is usually shocked at first but can quickly adapt to the new reality with the correct support. This requires using empathy.”
“The end goal of the process is a divorce agreement that is sustainable and about which you feel OK,” she adds in the following passage, seeming to almost act as something akin to an ideological footnote. “…Divorce and separation affect people on many different levels—legal, financial, emotional, spiritual, physical, and psychological…Your lawyer will advocate for you without being a bully. Your lawyer makes sure that your interests are identified and heard. In addition, your lawyer provides you legal counsel throughout the process and is there to be helpful, not to make a difficult situation worse.
The lawyer is there to answer all your questions about how to dissolve your marriage, legally. Your lawyer is your advocate, your guide and adviser. Your lawyer will analyze the data and help you generate ideas, make informed decisions, and draft agreements.” Like anything that works, however, it isn’t something that is one size fits all. Collaborative divorce techniques will not necessarily work for everyone. And for the people who it does work for, to a certain extent the process must be tailored to their individualized situation – on a case-by-case basis. “No hard and fast rules make you eligible for a collaborative divorce, except that you both need to be able to communicate with each other directly and follow through on basic assignments and agreements,” Smith writes. “It is important to screen yourselves honestly to ensure that this process will work for you. If you are a victim of domestic violence or if there is active, untreated addiction or other mental health issues, you want to be up front about those issues so the team can honestly assess whether we all agree that this process will be safe and effective. Serious mental health issues or prior domestic violence does not automatically disqualify a couple.”