Divorce is challenging, even under the best of circumstances. It stretches the emotional limits of parents to the extreme. Emotions, stress, hurt, and fear can easily hijack parents’ solid and rational decision making. This can have unintended, devastating and long-lasting consequences for children. Without the support of a professional team and the collaborative divorce process, parents are left alone at sea, without a lifeboat or even a life jacket to help themselves and their children.
THE COLLABORATIVE DIVORCE PROFESSIONAL TEAM
The collaborative divorce team is often the lifeboat and the life jacket needed by the entire family. It can include child specialists, divorce coaches, financial neutrals and, of course, attorneys.
The support of collaborative divorce: a combination of these professionals allows the love of the parents for their children to shine through.
They provide the safety net and backstop for loving, thoughtful and mindful decisions that especially impact the children; the ones who typically cannot make current and long-term decisions for themselves.
The difference for children between litigation and a collaborative divorce is nothing less than a HUGE OCEAN. The term “in the best interest of the children” is so often used and thrown around, but what is IN THE BEST INTEREST OF THE CHILDREN? How is that actually addressed in real-time life situations and hundreds of decisions that need to be made, not only post-divorce, but throughout the entire divorce process?
The collaborative divorce approach allows for a team of professionals to engage parents in conversations regarding their children, emotions their children may be experiencing and how to handle difficult questions the children might have during the process.
The team and parents are able to collectively establish a foundation of open yet moderated conversations, and receive professional support and guidance throughout all discussions and problem-solving. This approach truly establishes the “best interest of the children” by contemplating ideas and solutions throughout the entire process.
At the beginning of the a collaborative divorce, usually during the first meeting with the entire team, the clients discuss each of their goals and concerns regarding the divorce process. Most often, these goals and concerns are centered around the children’s well-being and wanting to ensure the children’s best interest is the main factor when making decisions.
By laying out these goals and concerns at the onset, they often serve as constant reminders throughout the process and allow professionals to help their clients focus on what they believe is in the children’s best interest, especially when discussions and decisions are difficult.
The team of professionals facilitate open and thoughtful discussions and problem-solving for couples. Most couples, divorcing or not, do not always see eye-to-eye about child rearing and children’s expenses.
The collaborative divorce process allows them to speak more openly about future family and children’s needs, such as housing, extracurricular activities, public/private education and college/education expenses. The child specialist and financial neutral can be especially helpful in quantifying and qualifying needs of the children, and creatively helping the couple identify solid solutions and reasonable compromises.
Future planning is a crucial step for effectively managing long-term needs. The collaborative divorce process allows parents to analyze and plan for the children’s future and emotional needs so that they will be handled with the best possible outcome and the children will feel secure. The team helps parents think through the future, helps plan for expenses and helps brainstorm different ways to save effectively by analyzing different financial scenarios of asset division and funds allocations for each parent and each child.
The collaborative divorce process is a more cost-efficient and cost-effective approach to divorce, which means more income and/or assets are available for the children’s needs and the parents’ needs as well. Family dollars are spent on problem-solving and creating solutions, rather than fighting it out and having a win/lose result.
The overall goal from an emotional and financial perspective during the divorce is often to make the transition as seamless as possible for the children. The collaborative team can often help provide stability from a financial and emotional perspective to ensure their needs are met and allow them to carry on with their lives as normally as possible both during and after the divorce process.
During the collaborative divorce process, the team approach is to work with clients to develop budgets and other needs for themselves and their children. We then incorporate these needs into current income and lifestyle realities and, work with the clients to determine how these needs will be met. When new realities are different than “how it was in the past,” several minds, all of whom are interested in the children’s and parents’ collective well-being, can join the discussion to creatively and realistically problem solve and identify other reasonable and acceptable options.
In this way, collective decisions are reached for the family; one spouse isn’t viewed as the “poor” or “lesser parent” and the other spouse as “wealthy” or the “decision-making” parent. It ensures children do not view one parent as “advantaged” and the other parent as “disadvantaged” as a result of the divorce process.
By using a collaborative approach to divorce, rather than focusing on what guidelines may or may not state (as often may be the focus during litigation), families are able to make joint agreements regarding current and future life plans that support, rather than break down, the children’s emotional and financial well-being. The collaborative team and process provides the safety of both a life jacket and lifeboat, where most needed, so that the children and the parents can have the best life possible when reaching the shores of the new family unit during the process and post-divorce.
Christiana Zouzias, CPA, Kimberly Grady, CPA, CDFA and Katie Maxwell, CPA are fellows of the Collaborative Law Institute of Illinois.
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