Case Study: One Fictional Couple’s Journey Through Traditional and Collaborative Divorce

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The world of family law can be a mysterious one to outsiders.  Even if you have been through a divorce, your knowledge and experience is limited to your unique encounter with the family law system.  However, once you’ve seen the process play out time and time again, you begin to see patterns and similarities.  Below is a fictional example of how one couple, “John” and “Betty,” navigate the family law system through the traditional litigation method and the collaborative divorce method.  While this is by no means a representation of how every divorce unfolds, either traditionally or collaboratively, it is emblematic of the key differences between the two methods and showcases how the collaborative method can de-escalate problems while traditional litigation can often make matters worse.

Events Traditional Litigation Divorce Collaborative Divorce
Initial Filing John and Betty’s marriage had reached a breaking point, and they decided to end their relationship. However, they took separate paths in their divorce approach. John hired an aggressive attorney focused on winning the case, while Betty chose a lawyer who believed in a collaborative approach to conflict resolution. This difference in approach set the tone for the entire divorce process, leading to an adversarial environment from the start. Despite their many differences, John and Betty recognized the importance of resolving their issues amicably, especially for the sake of their children. They jointly decided to pursue a collaborative divorce, where they committed to working together respectfully and openly, seeking solutions that benefit both of them. This joint decision fostered an atmosphere of cooperation and respect throughout the process.
Temporary Time-Sharing (Custody) As John and Betty couldn’t agree on temporary time-sharing arrangements during the divorce process, the court had to step in to determine a schedule. This resulted in multiple court hearings, escalating tensions, and emotional strain on both parents and the children. The prolonged legal battle took a significant toll on the family, affecting the children’s well-being and causing financial stress due to increased legal fees. Opting for a collaborative approach, John and Betty engaged in a series of meetings with their collaborative attorneys and a child specialist. These discussions allowed them to understand the children’s needs better and craft a temporary time-sharing arrangement that considered their schedules, preferences, and emotional needs. By avoiding court intervention, they reduced stress on the children and preserved their sense of stability during the divorce.  This issue also resolved much faster than waiting on a court to have hearing availability and to issue a ruling.
Division of Assets During the traditional litigation divorce, John and Betty’s lawyers engaged in aggressive negotiations over asset division. Each party aimed to secure the most favorable outcome, leading to bitterness and hostility. The lack of open communication and trust resulted in a prolonged discovery process, with both sides refusing to share critical financial information willingly. In contrast, the collaborative divorce process embraced transparency. John and Betty, along with their joint financial specialist, shared their financial information openly and honestly. This allowed both parties to gain a comprehensive understanding of the family’s financial situation and work together to divide assets fairly.
Time-Sharing (Custody) In the traditional litigation divorce, disagreements over time-sharing (custody) were at the center of the conflict. John and Betty viewed their children’s future living arrangements differently, leading to contentious court battles. The children, caught in the middle, suffered emotionally from the constant tension and uncertainty. By choosing collaborative, John and Betty focused on the best interests of their children. They participated in joint sessions with a child specialist, who helped them understand the impact of divorce on their children’s lives. This deeper understanding allowed John and Betty to develop a comprehensive parenting plan that addressed the children’s emotional, academic, and social needs. The collaborative approach emphasized co-parenting, promoting a healthier and more stable environment for the children during and after the divorce.
Spousal Support The contentious nature of the traditional litigation divorce extended to spousal support. John and Betty disagreed on the amount and duration of support, leading to mediation failures. As a result, the court had to intervene and impose a spousal support decision, leaving both parties dissatisfied with the outcome. In the collaborative model, John and Betty engaged in a series of discussions facilitated by their attorneys and financial specialist. They openly discussed their financial circumstances, future financial goals, and individual needs. Through empathy and compromise, they reached a fair spousal support agreement that considered their respective abilities to support themselves post-divorce. The collaborative negotiations allowed both John and Betty to feel heard and respected, leading to a mutually agreeable arrangement.
Communication Issues In the traditional litigation divorce, the lack of communication between John’s attorney and Betty’s attorney often led to misunderstandings. This communication breakdown resulted in unnecessary conflicts and fueled distrust between the parties. The attorneys became a barrier to communication, heightening emotions and preventing any meaningful resolution. Recognizing the significance of effective communication, the collaborative attorneys encouraged direct communication between John and Betty. Through joint meetings and regular check-ins, John and Betty were able to express their concerns, share their perspectives, and find common ground. The collaborative attorneys acted as facilitators, ensuring that the conversations remained constructive and respectful. This improved communication helped build trust and cooperation between John and Betty, setting a positive tone for the entire process.
Discovery Process The formal discovery process in the traditional litigation divorce required an overwhelming exchange of documents, contributing to a contentious atmosphere. John and Betty’s attorneys engaged in extensive requests for information and documentation, leading to increased legal fees and delaying the resolution of the divorce. In the collaborative model, the financial specialist played a vital role in the exchange of information. The specialist guided John and Betty through the process of gathering relevant financial documents efficiently. By focusing on the necessary information and employing open communication, the collaborative process streamlined the discovery phase, saving time and reducing costs. This allowed John and Betty to concentrate on resolving their issues rather than getting bogged down in extensive paperwork.
Court Delays The traditional litigation divorce faced delays due to court backlogs and scheduling conflicts, further prolonging the emotional strain on John and Betty. The uncertainty caused by these delays intensified their anxieties, making it challenging for them to move forward. By choosing a collaborative approach, John and Betty were able to control the timeline of their divorce. They held meetings and discussions on their terms, without waiting for court dates. This efficient resolution allowed them to process their emotions and begin their post-divorce lives sooner. The reduced waiting time contributed to a smoother transition for everyone involved.
 Trial In the traditional litigation divorce, the trial turned into a battle of accusations, as each party tried to paint the other in a negative light. The children were caught in the crossfire, witnessing their parents’ hostility and experiencing emotional turmoil. In the collaborative approach, John and Betty avoided a contentious trial. Instead, they worked together with the child specialist to ensure the children’s well-being remained the top priority. The specialist provided guidance on how to communicate effectively with the children about the divorce, minimizing the emotional impact. This cooperative approach allowed the children to feel supported and loved, even as their parents went through the divorce process.
Final Resolution The traditional litigation divorce ended with a final divorce decree handed down by the judge, a stranger to the family. The contentious and emotionally draining process left John and Betty with long-lasting resentment towards each other, making it challenging for them to co-parent effectively.  Both spent enormous sums of money to litigate their divorce for well over a year, possibly years.  And even when the final judgment was handed down, both John and Betty appealed because of issues each of them had with the decisions of the judge.  The appellate process took another year to resolve and cost a hefty amount of money for both John and Betty.  And still, neither John nor Better were satisfied with the outcome. The collaborative divorce concluded with John and Betty reaching a respectful closure. They mutually agreed on all aspects of their divorce, fostering a sense of understanding and empathy for each other’s perspectives. This amicable agreement allowed them to transition into their new roles as co-parents with a foundation of respect and cooperation. The collaborative process empowered John and Betty to communicate openly and work together in the best interests of their children, facilitating a healthier post-divorce relationship.

We know this is a lot of information to process.  Your situation is unique and should be treated as such.  We welcome the opportunity to discuss your divorce options, both traditional and collaborative, so please schedule a consultation with us today.

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