Few things are more disappointing than finding out that your divorce really didn’t solve very much. You have endured all the changes required, adapted to smaller housing, not seeing your kids every day, tighter budgets, fewer resources and the rigors of trying to rebuild a social life. At a minimum you thought that all this agony would at least buy you some peace. You had thought that the daily fights, sarcasm and the sense of despair that you feel when  you have, once again, talked yourself to stalemate with your now ex-spouse would have gone away and that , at least would have made it seem sort of worth it. But alas, you still don’t have peace. Each exchange with your spouse is loaded with tension and the anxiety of anticipating the next unpleasant exchange makes you feel even more conflict avoidant than before. But if you duck the fight, when it inevitably comes, is even worse. And it is probably no better for your ex who looks forward to talking to you with the same dread that you look forward to talking to her. How can this be? Divorce is supposed to let you start a new life. The two of you have managed to retain the worst aspects of marriage and combine them with the worst aspects of divorce.

First, the more contact you have with lawyers and courts the worse will be your divorce and your life after divorce. The best divorces in which the partners wish each other well, achieve a fair economic settlement and work out a cooperative nurturing relationship for the children are those that have a MINIMAL amount of contact with the courts.

Second, almost 99% of divorces are resolved by a negotiated settlement which is best achieved before ANYTHING is filed with the court. But most couples are put through years of expensive and emotionally draining litigation before the lawyers are ready to negotiate the settlement. Thirty years in the field have proved to me that the same settlement could have been negotiated in the first month or two if only the couple had stayed in charge instead of turning their lives over to their lawyers.

Third, there are two aspects of divorce. The actual dissolution of the marriage, the divorce, is done by the court. But the most important part is the settlement agreement that resolves issues of children, support and property division. If you have completed and signed such an agreement, the divorce itself goes easily through the court, a simple procedure that in many states can be done by mail. Your focus should be on negotiating a good separation agreement because it, not the divorce, is what will shape your life. This critical agreement can be negotiated before anything is filed in the court.  Moreover, most couples can negotiate the agreement with a minimum of help from a good mediator. You should only pay for the professional help you need to do a good job. In most cases your need for a lawyer is far less than you think. They can tell you about the settlement norms that prevail in your community and can clarify the law if there are any tricky legal issues. When the agreement is negotiated they can draw it up in proper legalese so it is an enforceable contract once signed. Most middle class couples need no more than that from lawyers. Remember, few lawyers have received ANY training in negotiation and there is no reason to assume that your lawyer is a better negotiator than you. In fact, there are lawyers who adhere to destructive negotiating strategies that result in a much worse negotiation that you can do yourself. Also remember that few lawyers have received any training in psychology and know no more about the needs of your children than you do. Finally, I know of few lawyers who have had any training in philosophy or who possess any remarkable degree of wisdom. Letting lawyers make important decisions about your life produces completely unpredictable results. So use lawyers for advice about the law when you need it and as scriveners and technicians after you and your spouse have negotiated the agreement, probably with the assistance of a mediator. The great majority of the cases I mediate are resolved in less than eight hours of work over a one or two month period. These are the same divorces that can take years in the courts at a cost of fifty thousand dollars and up. And it is not because I am any genius but, rather, because conventional adversary divorce is so grossly inefficient, wasteful and ultimately destructive.

So before you get hooked up with lawyers who rush to get you into litigation, first thoroughly research alternate and amicable methods of negotiating your own agreement first using a mediator or, if mediation is not for you, finding two lawyers committed to practicing “collaborative law” in which they commit not to go to court until all issues are settled. It will save you years of stress, many thousands of dollars and very messed up kids.

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