Divorce Consultation: A new paradigm
After practicing family law for over 25 years, I knew something was missing. The traditional legal process of divorce only deals with the legal issues. My clients not only needed legal advice, but life planning strategies, emotional support, and a basic financial overview. Those issues were not traditionally addressed in a lawyer’s office, leaving a gaping hole for the client not only through their divorce, but also once the divorce became final.
Ascribing to the theory that if we do things as we’ve always done them, we’ll get the results we’ve always got; I decided to deconstruct the process of how we approach divorce. Out of this came a new paradigm and my new service, Divorce Consultations.
Together we examine current family dynamics and a vision of your post divorce, restructured family. This process includes goal planning for before, during and after your divorce, as well as a pre-divorce financial review, and emotional support. For a more complete picture, the likely goals and visions of a client’s spouse are also reviewed. This process allows clients to understand both the strengths and weaknesses of their cases and ultimately, helps them to achieve their most favorable outcomes.
In order to help you understand how the Divorce Consultation process plays out, I’ll tell you about Holly. When she first came to see me she was paralyzed with fear at the thought of ending her marriage; sad because her dream marriage wasn’t at all what she’d hoped it would be; giddy at the prospect of creating a new and happy life; scared for her children’s happiness and financial future; petrified her husband’s rage and anger would be visited upon her and her children in a litany of ways.
I listened. I listened both as a lawyer, and as someone trained in counseling and consulting psychology. I listened with various hats; litigator, mediator, collaborative attorney, counselor. I observed. I tried to help her understand possibilities for herself, for her children, and yes, for her husband. Together we imagined where she wanted to be in a year, then three years, then five. I listened with the firm belief that if you first create a path, you’re much more likely to successfully navigate your journey.
I asked her how her kids doing? Not well. Was she happy? Not at all. Did she think her husband was happy? Certainly not. Had they together worked with a marriage therapist? He refused to go.
I educated her about Massachusetts law relative to a division of marital assets, alimony and child support. Two hours later she was better informed and better equipped to assess her options and evaluate her future realistically. She could allow herself the freedom to view her life through a different lens.
It was a number of months before she called me again. This time she had a different resolve. She was sure her marriage was over. She suspected her husband was having an affair. Her kids were in various states of psychological distress.
When she came to see me this time it was to discuss and process how she would proceed toward a divorce. What path should she take? Mediation? Litigation? Collaborative Law? What lawyer or law firm should she hire? How could she determine if her husband was having an affair? Did she really want to know? How would she tell her husband she wanted to divorce him? How would she tell her children their parents would be getting a divorce? And lastly, did I think it was odd that before she did any of this she wanted to take one last family trip to the south of France. She wanted to create a positive lasting family memory for her children. She was confident she had the strength to do it now that she had the clarity of mind and structure to move forward. I didn’t think it was odd. In fact, I thought with the right planning and foresight it had the potential as they moved into the divorce, to give their children confidence that their parents could work together for their benefit.
We went to work. I reviewed the parties’ finances. Together, we created a timeframe for when she would talk to her husband. I referred her to a therapist for herself and her oldest child who was in the most distress. We planned when she and her husband would together tell their children he would be moving out of their home, and that they would be getting a divorce. In fact, we wrote a script for her husband and her to review and agree on before talking to their children.
After evaluating the likely psychological and financial dynamics that would play themselves out during the course of their divorce, Holly and I discussed the processes of mediation, collaborative law and the more traditional litigation based model of divorce. As the trust she had once had in her husband had been eroded by a variety of deceits he’d visited upon her, Holly had no confidence in his ability or desire to be honest and forthcoming in their divorce. She could not imagine sitting in a room with him, even with the support of legal counsel, to discuss and resolve the dissolution of their marriage. In light of our conversation and her needs, I created a short list of attorneys for her to interview. I armed her with questions to ask relative to the handling of her case. She talked with the attorneys without any initial consultation fees and by her agreement with me, I provided the attorneys with a legal synopsis of her case. She was not financially beholden to anyone. We talked again after her meetings and my objectivity around the strengths and weaknesses of her case allowed her to make a better hire. The emotion of hiring a lawyer was taken away, since she was equipped with the knowledge and confidence that she was heading down the right path.
The lawyer she hired is savvy in the world of taxes and high finance and his expertise was necessary since her case involved a number of creative compensation schemes. She was confident the lawyer she hired was a man whom her husband would respect and see as a peer, and we had determined those were necessary factors for both her husband’s psyche and the case’s smooth progress. She believed he was the best “fit” for her and for her gaining a favorable settlement with her husband, but she didn’t believe his style was appropriate for their custody and parenting plan needs. With the agreement of her attorney, I agreed to remain available to work on custody and parenting issues as needed.
She started the journey down her path. Seeing her clarity and confidence, her husband looked at her and said, “Alright, now who do I hire?” She called to see if I could help. Although I could not ethically meet with him since she was my client, I gave him a list of attorneys to interview whom I thought would work well with her attorney. He hired one of the attorneys from that list.
Kid gloves and steel hands were called for to handle this case. It involved psychological abuse, an affair, many millions of dollars, young children with years of therapy, private education and college ahead of them, large personalities, shattered dreams, two homes, antiques and an art collection to divide, reputations to keep intact, and futures to envision. It was accomplished peacefully, not entirely without angst, and not without some bumps along the way but with clarity, resolve, and support.
She got a fair and just settlement. She stayed in the parties’ marital home with the children. He kept the parties’ vacation home. She had enough money from the settlement to purchase another vacation retreat, a result that at the outset of their divorce, she couldn’t imagine. Custody and child support were negotiated, and both parents were satisfied with the outcome. They were ready to move on to the next stage of their journeys.
I had the pleasure of seeing her recently. She exuded peace and relaxation. She was a far cry from the paralyzed, sad, and scared woman I had met only a few years ago. Her former husband and she are effectively parenting together. Her children seem to be thriving in school with the support of both of their parents. I think it is fair to say that having successfully navigated her journey, she can now look forward to new destinations. Divorce Consultations is a proven and effective model to help clients prioritize their goals and maintain stability for themselves and their families at a most vulnerable time in their lives.
The Key elements for a successful divorce are:
- Starting the process with a framework: legal, financial, emotional, and personal goal planning.
- Hiring the right counsel that is not based simply on reputation or word of mouth, but rather who is truly a match for your personal situation and the process or processes you decide to pursue.
- Pre-planning what aspects of your divorce might be best suited to which process (perhaps litigating one portion and mediating or arbitrating another) and “custom fitting” your case accordingly.
- Knowing the intricacies of finances not only for today, but also for three, five, or fifteen years from now.
- Creating an atmosphere where you and your children are well cared for emotionally throughout the process.
- Establishing attainable goals for your new life.
- Heidi R. Webb © 2013