My Women Belong circle has been a great source of strength and support during 2020. I’ve been grateful for our on-going connection and the generosity that professional referrals represent to me and my practice. Though I miss the in-person meetings I am appreciative of our virtual inter-connections that we have devised this year. Staying connected as we have done has been a true blessing.
Every day I work with clients undertaking divorce around the Chicagoland area. And every day I think about how each divorce is different and how each couple has specific needs that must be addressed through the process. Sometimes people are surprised when I tell them that, conservatively, 50-60% of the calls I receive from people looking to initiate a divorce are from women. Women seeking divorce often want to gain an initial understanding of what strategy they should take. As a member of Women Belong I want to always be a resource to our members. While I do not work exclusively with women seeking divorce, I do understand the issues that women face when considering divorce.
Divorce is rarely easy. Yet there are options, and it is possible that one approach might be better for a couple than another. Though there are definitely different ways to get divorced, three stand out as worthwhile options to consider. Which one is right for you and your spouse? It depends on your circumstances.
- A traditional litigated divorce the form of marriage dissolution that most people are familiar with. Each spouse retains legal counsel and the two “teams” work through the negotiation of the dissolution of the marriage. Some of the proceedings take place in a courtroom before a judge who decides the various factors that need to be considered. Often this is the best choice when one, or both of the spouses is struggling with the notion of the divorce, refuses to consider alternative dispute resolution options, like mediation or collaborative process, or when physical or psychological abuse is present. Sometimes one spouse is in denial about the prospect of divorce and the only way through the process is by using traditional litigation. Sometimes the spouses are unable to make the decisions and need the judge to decide. A litigated divorce is always an available option if other, gentler approaches are not suitable.
- Some couples arrive at the decision to divorce but want some flexibility in the process. Mediation can be a good option for these couples. Mediated divorces are unique in that a trained mediator guides the decision-making and communication between the spouses. Generally speaking attorneys are not present during the mediation sessions, although there is an exception to every rule. Since the mediator is a neutral hired to help the couple arrive at an agreement, the mediator cannot prepare the legal settlement agreement which will be entered in court to finalize the divorce. Therefore, it is common to see at least 1 spouse represented by an attorney. It is important to note that divorcing spouses have conflicting interests, and when only 1 attorney is involved in the case, he or she represents one spouse, and the other spouse represents him or herself. Of course, ideally each spouse will be represented by, or at least consult with, an independent attorney.
- A growing area of divorce is collaborative divorce, sometimes referred to as Collaborative Process. This “kinder, gentler” approach to divorce offers great flexibility and confidentiality to the divorcing couple. In many cases the process begins with a spouse retaining a collaboratively trained attorney to represent him or her in the collaborative process. The collaboratively trained attorney can help her client prepare for a conversation with the client’s spouse where the possibility of the collaborative divorce is introduced. The attorney can also educate her client about the collaborative process, and collaborative professionals, who depending on the complexity of the case, the spouses wishes, and their budget for the divorce process can include collaboratively trained attorneys, coaches, a child specialist (if there are minor children involved), and a financial neutral. The collaborative process is driven by the goals and concerns of the divorcing couple rather than merely by the requirements of the Illinois statutes or scheduled court dates. Moreover, since the divorcing couple arrives at their settlement agreements in a series of meetings, not in a courtroom, they have the flexibility and the support of the collaborative team to confidentially undertake the effort of dissolving the marriage, and structuring the best possible settlement for their family.
At the outset of the collaborative process the couple agrees to fully and freely exchange financial information, as well as that in the event they are unable to reach an agreement, that the professional team will be “conflicted out” and that the couple will need to hire new attorneys to represent them in the traditional litigated divorce. The presence of mental health professionals (coaches, child specialist), ensures the clients have the support needed to focus on the process, and their future goals, and can work through their differences in a far gentler manner than via traditional litigation. In most collaborative process cases, only once everything is agreed upon and settlement documents have been signed, is the final divorce decree entered in a court of law. This approach gives a family incredible privacy, greater control over the possible outcome, and an opportunity to craft a future that is based on their particular goals and needs, rather than a cookie-cutter approach.
Women have options when it comes to divorce. Not all options will be suitable for all couples. If you, or someone you care about, is contemplating divorce, it is important to educate yourself about the divorce process, and all available options. After all, this is a life-altering decision
Anna Krolikowska is an attorney in private practice in the metro-Chicago and North Suburban Chicago areas. She is a mediator, a collaboratively trained attorney, and a Fellow of Collaborative Divorce Illinois. Within her law practice Anna works with clients using mediation, collaborative divorce process, or the litigated approach. To learn more about which strategy might be best for you contact Anna at firstname.lastname@example.org, or (847) 715-9328 to schedule a consultation. Follow Anna on Facebook.com/AttyKrolikowska
Content provided by Women Belong member Anna Krolikowska