December 16, 2018

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Collaborative Law in Divorce: Disengaging From The Acrimony

Consider how trust between the parties in a collaborative process can lead to a positive result for both parties. Having a liking for and trust of the other party allows them to work through their divorce without acrimony, hard feelings and substantial emotional and financial cost.

In one of the hardest fact pattern I have encountered in many years, the wife was rendered a paraplegic by a car accident one year into the parties’ marriage. The wife had just completed medical school when the accident occurred. The husband made huge sacrifices and stayed by her side for the next 16 years. No children were conceived during the marriage because the wife had decided against children since she did not feel she could care for children in her condition. Now the husband, who still wants to start a family, needed to move on with his life and to do so in a manner that did not cause emotional pain to his wife.

The crux of their financial dilemma was how to provide for the wife's ongoing and escalating future medical and skilled care needs without unduly burdening the husband. Had the parties divorced at or around the time of the accident, when they owned little, the wife would most likely have received short term support and little else. The husband worked hard the next 16 years and became successful. Now he could either pay spousal support indefinitely or make an adjustment in the division of their accumulated assets to cushion her future needs. The husband wanted and needed recognition and acknowledgement of his contributions and sacrifices during the marriage.

Had we litigated this case, the husband would not have received an acknowledgement of his sacrifices in the marriage; at least none that would have made much of a difference in the outcome. The parties would have split their substantial assets and the husband would most likely have had to pay permanent but modifiable spousal support regardless of his emotional support to the wife throughout the marriage. The parties working through the collaborative process, with the help of a financial neutral and coaches for both parties, found a solution which gave the wife 75% of most assets. The rationale was that the husband, still in his peak earning years, could make up most of the loss and avoid paying spousal support with an open ended and increasing medical care liability. This outcome would have had less chance for success in any other process because in the collaborative process, the parties determined the outcome, moving the process along at their own pace. The financial neutral analyzed and presented various scenarios of division of assets. The coaches were there to provide support thorough the emotional currents that this case generated. But at the end of the day, the parties trusted and liked each other enough to be willing to make accommodations and adjustments for the other's needs out of the divorce.

© 2018 Odin, Feldman & Pittleman, P.C.

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