Imagine you receive an email from the forensic accountant you hired to assist in the divorce of Mary C. It included a string of emails between Mary and her husband Tom about the incredibly high American Express bill for the month of February. This had followed two months of bills that were thousands higher than before the parties had decided to divorce. The forensic accountant agreed that the wife appeared to be spending about $5,000 a month more over the past three months than in the prior six months. In an email to his wife, Tom had told her she would now be limited to $10,000 a month instead of the outrageous $15,000 she was spending.
If you are a litigator, your first reaction would be to fire off an inflammatory letter to the opposing counsel demanding that no limit be set on the account, arguing that the husband must maintain the status quo, and if the response isn’t immediate, “I’ll see you in Court!”
But this is a Collaborative Divorce, and the email from the forensic accountant was sent to both attorneys and the mental health facilitator. It was a plea for help from one member of the team to the others in settling this problem. What happened didn’t matter. It was our job to determine how to help this couple solve the problem without significant costs and with both parties satisfied. We weren’t there to fan the flames; we are the team of firefighters. On our phone conference, it was the husband’s attorney who suggested a way to solve the real underlying issue. The wife did not want to be limited in what she could spend (there is plenty of income), and the husband just gets agitated when he sees the spending. So, money would be pre-distributed for discretionary use of each of the parties, and spending paid for with marital funds would remain at status quo levels that were agreed upon. A win-win solution.
The Collaborative Divorce Process is an alternative dispute method in which the spouses and the professionals pledge in writing to the open sharing of information and ideas and not to go to court. The Collaborative team focuses on problem-solving and finding respectful resolutions based on the needs of the family. It is a cost-effective method that avoids a long, difficult, and expensive court battle. The Process is a respectful, private, and often economical way to help families preserve relationships.
I went to lunch with both lawyers and the facilitator in that completed Collaborative Case. It was a very successful collaboration. It took five months and probably cost the parties about one-half to one-third the cost of litigation.
Both parties leave the marriage with a part of their relationship still intact. The husband is even going to assist his now ex-wife with investing her funds. Their children have been spared any heartache.
So, what was strange about this lunch? It involved the attorney for the husband and the attorney for the wife at the same lunch celebrating their victory! They had BOTH achieved their client’s goals!