To many, the words ‘good’ and ‘divorce’ don’t sit well next to each other. The idea of ripping up a marriage certificate and going back on those marriage vows is, at best, regrettable and to many, socially unacceptable.
Whatever your stance on divorce, chances are you know someone who’s been through a bad divorce. A spiteful and angry split, fuelled by divorce lawyers who leave the former couple virtually unable to communicate pleasantly with each other, and significantly financially less well off for the experience. Divorce has failed these people, because they remain tied to each other, and they cannot get on with their own lives.
But, as with most things in life, there is good and bad, even when we talk about divorce. And good divorces, with amicable separation agreements that leave partners able to live their new lives while looking after their children and finances, are perfectly achievable.
But you may be surprised to learn the size of the role that divorce lawyers play in good divorces, compared with their role in bad divorces.
What Does A Good Divorce Look Like?
ALL LOOSE ENDS ARE TIED UP
A good divorce will give each spouse emotional closure in the relationship. Conflicts will have been resolved and both former partners are ready to move on with their lives.
A NEW SOCIAL LIFE IS UNDERWAY
Each spouse has secured their own place in their community, having maintained or developed a network of friends, independent of their spouse. They may even have started dating again.
FINANCIAL MATTERS ARE SETTLED
There are no burning injustices festering inside either partner. Both feel that the financial agreements that have been made are fair. They might not be equal, but both sides can see the reasons behind what’s been agreed, and neither feels aggrieved or excessively out of pocket.
TRUST IN EACH OTHER HAS BEEN MAINTAINED THROUGHOUT
Throughout the separation negotiations, there has been very little, if any, animosity, bitterness or trying ‘to get one over’ on the other spouse. Any disputes have been amicably settled, usually with the help of a mediator.
LINES OF COMMUNICATION HAVE BEEN KEPT OPEN
Both partners have been able to talk and listen to each other during the separation, keeping relations conducive to getting compromises made and decisions reached.
A SPIRIT OF GOODWILL HAS PERVADED
For the sake of the children, or for each other’s well-being, both spouses have kept their relationship civil. Of course, one or other might not like some aspects of any new arrangements, but they have been willing to accept them.
A MEDIATOR HAS PLAYED A KEY ROLE
Even a good divorce will generate areas of conflict, and that’s where the skills and experience of a trained divorce mediator can really make all the difference.
The One Key Factor That Links All Good Divorces
Crucially, the key factor behind the vast majority of good divorces is that they are arrived at BEFORE trial, WITHOUT divorce lawyers getting involved, through a carefully negotiated and amicably arrived at settlement agreement.
The Importance Of Separation Agreements To Good Divorces
The purpose of the separation agreement is to put down in writing the terms in which the spouses agree to separate. In short, it’s an economic blueprint for the family’s future. It lays out each partner’s rights and responsibilities towards any children they might have. It details what is to happen to the property the former couple owned or shared, how the finances will be divided, and it decides which spouse will pay spousal support and/or child support.
This may sound like a completely foreign idea of a divorce to those of you who have experienced a bad divorce. But such amicable divorces are possible, not unrealistic. They are within your reach, not pie in the sky.
Good Divorces And Divorce Lawyers
You will probably have noticed already that not one of the factors common to a good divorce mentioned a divorce lawyer. And there’s good reason for that. Because when divorce lawyers become involved, the process of getting separated becomes adversarial. Like boxers in a ring, couples are set against each other with lawyers egging them on from their corner, never likely to throw in the towel.
Causing damage and hurt to each other, taking cheap shots at each other are all fair game in adversarial divorces. Your lawyer will try to terrorize your partner into conceding this or that, prompting your partner’s lawyer to react in a tit-for-tat that sees the gloves come off and plenty of hits below the belt.
This is the bitter divorce of the movies, with the anger and conflict fuelled by lawyers who will generate animosity between former partners to such an extent that any amicable outcome to the separation becomes virtually impossible.
A good divorce is far more likely when you restrict the role of divorce lawyers and the court process to an absolute minimum. You and your partner need to maintain control of your separation, not hand it over to confrontational lawyers who thrive in the ‘them versus us’ adversarial system.
What You Can Do To Help Ensure A Good Divorce
Keep your feelings in check, however strong.
Act rationally, not emotionally
Maintain a healthy respect for your partner
Seek compromise ahead of confrontation
Get the help of a Divorce Mediator before a Divorce Lawyer
How You Start Shapes Your Divorce
In most relationships, it’s one partner who initiates divorce proceedings. They’ve decided the marriage is over and that they don’t want to continue with the way things are. It’s likely they’ve thought about getting divorced for a while and have had time to get used to the idea, even begun planning for a life away from their spouse. They have also had time to weigh up the pros and cons of getting separated.
It follows that the other partner, the one who is about to receive the news that their spouse wants a divorce, has most likely not had time for all these thoughts and preparations. While this spouse may agree the marriage needs to end, the divorce request can still seem like a bolt out of the blue. They are going to need time to adjust and come to terms with the new reality.
The Best to Start Your Separation
How both partners manage this disparity is crucial to a good divorce.
If you’re the initiator, and you think this gives you the right to control and define the terms of the divorce, you won’t have a good divorce.
If either spouse tells the other it’s all their fault, you won’t have a good divorce.
If one spouse puts pressure on the other to make decisions they’re not happy with, you won’t have a good divorce.
If you use your divorce as a way to get one over on your partner, you won’t have a good divorce.
Instead, you will almost certainly have to each employ the services of a divorce lawyer and enter the adversarial system with all the emotional and financial strains that entails.
How You Can Have A Successful Divorce
Accept that your divorce is a sad but inevitable result of the breakdown of your marriage
Realise that both partners have contributed to this situation
If you are the divorce initiator, give your partner time to get used to the idea
Negotiate all aspects of the separation in good faith
Minimize the role divorce lawyers and adversarial courts play in your divorce
Use the services of a professional divorce mediator
The Problem With Divorce Lawyers
The obvious problem with divorce lawyers is their expense, and the fact that you and your partner will have to raid the family’s savings to hire one each.
With divorce lawyers, you risk losing thousands on long and drawn out divorce battles. And taking your divorce to the courts increases the chances of your separation being filled with anger, suffering and emotional stress. Don’t succumb to the clichéd image of a divorce:
YOUR DIVORCE DOESN’T NEED TO BE ALL-OUT WARFARE
The adversarial court room based system of divorce ‘resolution’ as practiced by divorce lawyers is the prime reason why divorces can get bitter, twisted and downright ugly. As Alex Baldwin said in his book: ‘A Promise To Ourselves’, a family court is like a Las Vegas casino. The judges are the casino pit bosses who are there to keep the dealers (divorce lawyers) in line to ensure the suckers stay at the table, losing money. And the suckers? That’s you and your partner.
Divorce lawyers will play to your fears and fire up your rage to keep you coming to their office and paying their fees. They’ll make you believe that a trial judge is the only person who can make everything better. But it’s not true. It’s an expensive fallacy. You and your partner, when assisted by a skilled and considerably less expensive divorce mediator, can resolve your issues and divorce amicably without draining your resources and testing the emotions of yourselves and your children.
YOUR DIVORCE DOESN’T NEED TO BE RESOLVED BY A JUDGE IN COURT
Only about 4% of divorces go to trial. Many cases that look like they’re headed in that direction actually get resolved on the ‘courthouse steps’ with last minute negotiations, avoiding the extra hassle and expense of getting a judge involved. Yet many spouses hope by going to trial, they’re going to get a judge to punish their partner’s bad behaviour. In reality, judges usually just make rulings about who gets custody, or how the finances should be fairly divided.
YOUR DIVORCE DOESN’T HAVE TO TAKE FOREVER
Let a divorce lawyer take control of your divorce, and it really could take a long time. The legal system is notoriously slow with conversations between lawyers and arranging court dates taking weeks to organise, if not months. If you want your divorce to drag on and on, go ahead and hand over control to a divorce lawyer. If you’re looking for a more cost effective and time efficient way to separate, keep divorce lawyers away for as long as you can, and negotiate your own separation agreement with the help of a mediator, and you could be done in 4 to 8 weeks.
YOUR DIVORCE DOESN’T NEED TO PIT YOU AGAINST YOUR PARTNER
Stories of one partner looting the savings or safety deposit box during divorces do the rounds and can be the cause of hostility between spouses. But if you enter mediation in a spirit of good faith, both of you can avoid the nasty, combative side of divorce, and instead resolve your differences quickly and amicably.
YOUR DIVORCE NEEDN’T COST A FORTUNE
When divorce lawyers get involved, the cost of divorce immediately goes up. But by using a good divorce mediator, you can avoid those astronomical legal fees and resolve your divorce issues for a few thousand dollars.
Getting two lawyers to talk to each other on a phone? That’s $200 of your money gone.
Getting two lawyers in a court room. That’s another $5000 gone.
Getting a lawyer to sign a retainer? That could cost you $2,500-$15,000 each.
Alternatively, a divorce mediator can resolve in an hour what could take two lawyers months to sort out.
YOUR DIVORCE DOESN’T NEED TO RELY ON AN AGGRESSIVE LAWYER
Many divorcing couples want to see their lawyer taking their spouse to the cleaners in court, ensuring they get all the money, property and the access they want to their children.
But only 4% of divorces end in a trial, the rest are negotiated, and many decisions aren’t down to lawyers or judges anyway. They have to abide by the Federal Child Support Guidelines which decide the level of child support, or the level of access you get to your children. So paying for that so-called ‘killer’ divorce lawyer is an expensive mistake with no guarantee you’ll get the results you want. It will also almost certainly poison the relationship with your former partner forever, damaging the role you can both play in your children’s future.
If you do need a divorce lawyer, you’re much better off hiring a well-respected lawyer who knows the law and respects the psychological needs of separating families. And such lawyers DO exist.
The Best Divorce Advice
You will have gathered from this that by far the best tip or strategy to follow if you want a good divorce is to secure the services of a good divorce mediator.
You will certainly need to secure the services of a divorce professional, as you’re unlikely to know enough about the technical aspects of getting divorced to get by without expert help.
But a mediator has the following advantages over a divorce lawyer:
You only need to hire one between you, not one each as you would with divorce lawyers
You negotiate your divorce in mediation, you don’t fight over it
You can resolve your differences way more cheaply in mediation than with litigation
Mediation is far quicker than taking your divorce through the cumbersome court system
You’re hiring a lawyer to represent you in court. Yet only 4% of divorces end in court. The vast majority are settled by negotiation. So get a good negotiator. Get a mediator.
The average divorce mediation is resolved in under 8 hours. And with mediators typically charging around the $200 per hour mark, you can get your divorce issues resolved for under $2000.
As a Divorce Mediator myself, I can give you an example of how much my clients typically pay.
For mediation sessions, independent legal advice and the preparation of your final separation agreement, you can expect to pay $4000 to $8000 less than you would just for your lawyers’ initial retainer fees.
So a divorce conducted through mediation rather than litigation saves most couples between $20,000 and $32,000.
Still Not Convinced That You Don’t Need A Divorce Lawyer?
Here’s a startling fact: about 50% of all lawyer-negotiated divorce settlements break down within 2 years. That means you’ll be back in court, starting a new fight over access to the children and/or finances, pouring more money down the drain and opening up old wounds that have barely had time to heal.
And why do divorce lawyer created settlements crack under pressure? Because they aren’t real agreements that both partners have had a role in forming. They’ve been created by lawyers to paper over the cracks. Neither partner is really committed to them, increasing the likelihood of a breach of contract.
Mediation, on the other hand, requires both spouses’ full involvement, and direct negotiation with each other until amicable agreement is reached. This usually means both spouses are more committed to honoring the terms of the settlement. It’s why a mere 5% of couples who use mediation to come to a separation agreement end up in court within 2 years.
If that’s not a clear and unequivocal reason for you to enter mediation rather than hire divorce lawyers, I don’t know what is. Thanks for reading.
Ken S. Maynard is one of the most experienced and passionate mediators in the Greater Toronto area. He is motivated by the opportunity his skills give him to improve people’s lives, and has a long history of successful mediations. Ken is certified by the Institute of Divorce Financial Analysts and is an Accredited Family Mediator.
Ken S. Maynard is an Ontario Accredited Divorce Mediator (Acc.FM) and a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA). He is a specialist in comprehensive divorce mediation services resulting in a separation agreement. You can meet with Ken at any of the 6 DTSW Greater Toronto mediation centres including | Aurora | Barrie | North York | Vaughan | Mississauga | Scarborough