Divorce: Collaborative vs. Court. The Winner Is Clear.

Cinderella could not have made it to the ball without the perfect gown and those famous glass slippers. Her usual attire of tattered work clothes, simple apron and kerchief, would not do. This is where her fairy Godmother came in. She swooped in and took Cinderella into a world of fantasy, waved her magic wand and the perfect glittering pale blue dress appeared. It took practically no time at all. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if that is really how things worked? Imagine if the Hollywood starlets who walk the red carpet for the annual Oscar Awards were able to conjure up such glorious fashions with a wave of the wand. In reality it takes a significant amount of skill, planning and execution in order to fashion a dress that is just right. From designers to tailors, to seamstresses and all of the support staff, these professionals work tirelessly to achieve a final product that the actresses are happy with.

Much the same as a gown cannot be created overnight, neither can a divorce agreement. At least not one that makes sense and one that the couple can live with, far into the future. The settlement agreement that is crafted for you, is the base of the entire divorce. It is the document that sets out your legal rights and obligations and it is essential that your agreement provide you with all the protections possible while also considering your future interests. And while I haven’t met anyone who said they enjoy going to court, I have heard many say that in order to move their case forward more quickly and get the agreement in place, that court is the way to go. The notion that you can get into court and tell your story to the judge and all be resolved, is complete fabrication - a fairy tale in itself. The courts are often viewed as an institution which encourages compromise and settlement, yet in reality it is the court that contributes to the delays in the process. From court calendars that are overloaded to the lack of experienced judges and support staff who can foster any meaningful discussions, there is no way for couples to get any timely recourse here. When you are working within the constraints of the court system, everything is limited - you cannot make your own schedule regarding the best time or day of the week you can appear, you cannot say that you would first like to handle child custody and then move onto financial disclosure, or vice versa. The court dictates when finances should be exchanged, when the next court appearance is and if/when your children should be brought into the case. And the courts are frustratingly and painfully slow. I have experienced cases which have taken more than three years before anything was agreed upon. Within that three-year window of court appearances, motion practice and tremendous amount of time and money spent, no progress was made at all. The spouses each lost three years of their lives because they relied on the court to set the pace and to keep them focused on the right path toward settlement. This is not what the courts do at all. And while there are always exceptions, courts are struggling to keep up with the overwhelming amount of cases that come before them. So, if you are one of those individuals who thought that getting your case into court would allow for expedited settlement talks, you will be sadly disappointed. 

In the Collaborative divorce process, no one will ever claim that you won’t be disappointed at times or that you will be able to settle things with the wave of a wand and have your divorce finalized within a short time period. What is certain is that you will have the opportunity to save a significant amount of time while participating in this process. Your time will be spent wisely and you will be able to set your own schedule without relying on the court’s calendar. If you are not able to come at 9am on a weekday then we will make the next meeting at lunchtime. If the middle of the day doesn’t work for you then we will arrange to meet in the early evening. You will be able to gather your financial documents on your time schedule and exchange anything that may still be needed, without the wasteful discovery process. You cannot locate those old bonds or your accountant is away on a two-week cruise and you need the tax returns? No problem. We can work with the other documents that we do have, start putting together an outline of what is still needed and remind each other to follow up accordingly. And best of all, you will not have to wait to resolve urgent issues that should take priority. Are the living conditions such that you cannot live under the same roof with your spouse? Has your spouse moved out but you are in desperate need of support? These are immediate concerns that must be addressed before a more comprehensive agreement can be reached. In the Collaborative setting this is exactly what we would do; address the issue head-on and develop a solution together. The entire team, by not being in court, has the flexibility to address any of your concerns right away and provide you with immediate relief. Once the immediacy has passed, we can start to focus on a more global settlement with an eye on your future.

Whether you are a fairy princess or a regular person like me, we all want to know that our time and energy is not being wasted. We all want a future that provides us with security and happiness. By relying on your Collaborative team, with a very specific skillset and experience level, and by learning to trust in yourself, you will be amazed at how quickly you can find that future. 

Elizabeth Vaz