When Marriage Ends, Consider Your Options

Divorce is painful enough without the animosity that divorce lawyers often bring to the table. Mediation and collaborative law are viable alternatives that may lessen the pain both mentally and financially.
Greg Kelly
Published: November 13, 2017
Good news for veterinarians: The occupation has one of the nation’s lowest divorce rates. According to a recent report on the business news website Quartz, just under 24 percent of the nation’s veterinarians have been divorced at least once.

The bad news: One in four marriages among veterinarian do fail. And divorce can be devastating to one’s emotional stability and personal finances.

I grew up with parents who fell into the “good health care marriage” category. As the daughter and sister of doctors, my mom knew the calling and respected my father’s career. She recognized that his practice and patients took priority.

Not all spouses are as understanding. The pressures of a health care career can be daunting. My dad ended up marrying three times; two were happy and one wasn’t. During one split he got clobbered financially and emotionally.

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New Jersey writer Michael J. Heath has written a book about the trying matter of broken marriage, The Courtless Divorce. He said couples seeking to end their unions should “work things out, don’t fight things out.” During a recent interview he offered some details.

“Anyone contemplating a divorce is likely thinking of hiring legal counsel,” Heath explained. “Some people may do like I did and simply use the recommendation of a friend, while others might search online before choosing representation. Both are good ways and any due diligence has a significant advantage over dialing a phone number found on a legal ad. But there is another option that most people should consider and that is not retaining a lawyer at all, at least not initially.”

Heath isn’t advocating a do-it-yourself divorce. “DIY divorces should be rare and even when one is performed an attorney should review the documents before submitting them to the court,” he said. “What I propose is that if someone’s marriage is ending, they hold off obtaining legal counsel until mediation or collaborative law is considered. I emphasize the word ‘before’ because once one spouse pays a legal retainer and papers are served, it’s hard to halt the litigation train steaming out of the station. However, if the couple finds mediation or collaborative law right for them then it’s almost certain that they will save money and grief.”

Heath explains that divorce litigation is an adversarial system (win-lose) where both sides fight for their positions in an ugly arena of dueling attorneys and court battles. Too often finances become exhausted or emotions end up so strained that the couple surrenders and accepts a settlement neither one wants (lose-lose).

“On the other hand, mediation and collaborative law are based on the concept of recognizing people’s interests and finding ways to achieve solutions in a spirit of respect and mutual problem-solving,” Heath said. “Mediators and collaborative lawyers conduct meetings where the interests of both the husband and wife are recognized and brainstorming is used to find ways of satisfying those interests.”

There are additional benefits to using an alternative to divorce litigation. “In mediation or collaborative law, a free exchange of information cuts the cost of discovery. In the case where a specialist is required to provide an opinion (e.g., real estate, child custody), the expert is shared rather than each spouse hiring his or her own,” Heath said. “Three- and four-way meetings are less formal than court and are conducted out of the public eye. And since there is a spirit of cooperation, the process is normally shorter and thus less expensive.”

Heath says mediation and collaborative law aren’t for everyone. “Those experiencing serious domestic problems or with complex assets should seek traditional counsel,” he explained. “However, if a couple is in a position to work it out instead of fighting it out, they will be in greater control of their future. And that will be better for both their pocketbooks and emotional well-being.”

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