Many of you have been in the position of either deciding to divorce or having been asked for a divorce. Either way, you will be making important emotional, legal, and financial decisions with a person with whom you are most likely in some kind of conflict.
As you consider how to go about setting the wheels in motion for the next stage of your life, balancing your needs with the needs of your soon-to-be ex-partner and your children can be challenging. This may be a time when you feel extreme fear, disappointment, and anger, as you set about the task of creating your post-divorce family.
The affects on children of divorce are well documented and we know one of the best indicators of resilience in children after a divorce is the absence of conflict between their parents. As you determine what your first steps are, consider the amount of help you need to manage any conflict you may experience. The well-being of your children depends on it.
There is an array of divorce models to choose from. The models are different in how they address conflict, the involvement of professionals, and the consideration of the needs of the children. The following is a list of various models to consider as you decide what divorce option is right for you.
THE KITCHEN TABLE DIVORCE
Many parties can to sit down together and work out a parenting plan and financial decisions with the help of a few books and documents. NoLo Press has many books that are helpful. These parties still have enough of a relationship to collaborate without needing the help of divorce professionals. Their children are not caught in the middle of their conflict and can depend on their parents to work together on their behalf.
Some parties opt to work with a mediator to determine how they will co-parent and decide their financial arrangements. They may opt to work with a mediating attorney for the financial decisions and a mental health mediator with an expertise in custody decisions. Often an attorney and mental health professional will team up to offer their services together. This helps in talking about the overlapping issues involved in co-parenting and financial arrangements. The parties may wish to have individual attorneys review their agreement after the mediation is completed. The impact on the children is fully discussed with the mental health mediator and incorporated into the parenting plan document.
This model was developed to explicitly help keep divorcing couples out of court. It is designed to be a transparent process predicated on the idea that the parties work with a team of professionals (attorneys, mental health, and financial specialists) to determine their post-divorce parenting and financial goals while working towards achieving them with a win-win frame of mind. Should either party decide to bring their differences to court, the team discontinues working with them, including their attorneys. The children, too, have a voice in this process as most teams include a child specialist to meet with the children and have their thoughts and feelings represented in the process. While children do not need the burden of deciding anything about their living arrangements, they benefit from feeling they are heard.
This may be the model most people are familiar with. Each party retains their own attorney, they work at making decisions through 4-way meetings with both attorneys and both parties. The information and positions regarding custody and financial arrangements are exchanged through paperwork. Within this model there are opportunities to work with a court mediator (usually 1.5-2 hours) or private mediator to try to resolve differences. In some states, and in some counties within those states, the mediator may be asked to make recommendations if the parties do not come to an agreement regarding the parenting plan. If needed, the recommending mediators might also meet with the children to help them offer the most appropriate custodial plan.
In some cases, the above court-based model does not help the parties reach resolution and may then moved to trial wherein a judge determines the final outcome. This may happen if there is substance abuse, domestic violence, one parent wanting to move away, etc.
This is a brief thumbnail sketch of the available choices and may not be representative or exhaustive from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Please consult a mental health professional with expertise in divorce or a family law attorney in your area.