WHAT DO YOU WANT?
If you’ve decided that you and your partner are going to separate, you probably have a wish list in your own mind as to how you’d like things to move forward:
Fast. Or at least as fast as possible.
Inexpensive. Or at least as inexpensive as possible.
Friendly. Or at least as non-adversarial and as friendly as possible.
Clients almost always tell me that they would like to resolve their family law disputes as quickly as possible, as inexpensively as possible and as amicably as possible.
“I just want it to be over”, they tell me. They make sure I realize that they would like to conserve their financial capital (“I want to leave some funds to take care of the kids”). And their emotional capital too (“I really don’t want to continue fighting”).
People who are drawn to the collaborative process generally aren’t looking to take two years or more, spend tens of thousands of dollars, and go for the jugular. But let’s be candid. It is possible that even a collaborative process can end up in one of these undesirable places. Even if that’s not what you want.
So how to achieve what you do want? Collaborative process is supposed to be “client-centred”. Clients are looking to have much more control than a court process can offer. Here’s how.
If you’re meeting with a collaborative professional – your own lawyer, or a neutral financial specialist, or a neutral family parenting coach –make it clear that this is what you want.
First of all, ask about overall time lines. Once the professional has a fix on the basic facts, ask how long that person thinks this should take. Keeping in mind, of course, that the other party also needs to be committed to a reasonably brisk pace towards resolution.
Second, ask where’s the best place to start.
If the financial issues are complex, perhaps in a situation in which one of the parties owns a privately held business, or there are several pensions to be valued, then the financial disclosure is going to take time and cost money. The neutral financial specialist can handle most calculations relating to support and property issues, but it will be a good idea to get the chartered business valuator or pension valuation underway right away. And these valuations do take weeks or months, not days.
If the emotional issues are most pressing – and in particular when the issues revolve around where kids are going to live – then approaching the neutral parenting coach first is a great idea. The parenting coach can help you figure out a parenting plan that is in the children’s best interests, and can even meet directly with the children if that seems right. Then very often the other issues (should the house be kept or sold? who’s paying child support?) will fall into place.
Sometimes there are immediate legal issues that need to be resolved. Was there a marriage contract or a cohabitation agreement? Maybe one of you wants to uphold that previous agreement and one of you does not. Each of you needs legal advice. Each of you may wish to meet with your own lawyer first.
Third, ask how you can keep costs down.
Can you go on line (http://www.ontariocourtforms.on.ca/english/family) and begin filling out that financial statement on your own? Can you download and print your bank balances and debts at date of marriage and date of separation? Can you produce three years of income tax returns and recent pay stubs?
Can you work hard at improving your communication skills so that you’re sure you understand your separating partner’s point of view, and accept that a negotiated deal will always be a compromise. Within a reasonable range of options. It really helps if you and your partner, despite your differences and worries, can agree upon the same goal.
I can recall one collaborative file where both husband and wife committed to being the very best separated parents that they could be.
Of course there were financial tensions. Of course there were lots of conflicts. Compromise was necessary. And resolution took longer than originally planned. These parties expected all of that, and they accepted it. Because being the best separated parents ever was what mattered most to them.
When the separation agreement was signed, both of them believed that they achieved that goal. Collaboratively. Within a reasonable time line, at a reasonable cost, and with both parents sustaining maximum involvement in their children’s lives.