Fall River Law's sign on Hwy 2. (Submitted photo)

This column is submitted by Fall River Law:

For a lot of us, when we are faced with conflict our response of to run and bury our heads in the sand and hope that it all works out.  Unfortunately, that is hardly a productive response and things rarely work themselves out.

This is especially true when the conflict has to do with the end of a marriage. No matter how much we want to hide from the world, there are next steps that need to be taken.  My goal for this post is to lay out the choices and options that you have so that you are better prepared to make those choices. 

One thing that I want to make clear, there is no one size fits all solution.  Your separation does not have to be like that messy court case that you see on TV.  It does not have to be a fight, if it did then I would be burying my head in the sand as well. You have the power to direct it to be what works best for you.

I am not putting these choices in any particular order, in fact they are a bit of a chicken and egg situation- either could come first it just depends on what you need. 

One choice that we have going into this is the process that we are going to take to come to the separation agreement. I like to separate these into 5 options, which I will give a quick description of each below:

  1. Kitchen Table discussions:  When you and your partner sit down at your kitchen table and come to an agreement yourselves.  I usually advise that each spouse gets independent legal advise prior to having this sit down just to make sure that you are having the discussion that you need to be having. 
    1. Pros: The agreement is mutual and is often the best-case scenario for all involves, cheapest option
    1. Cons: It is possible that there are some aspects that you are not able to agree on
    1. Things needed to be successful: 2 reasonable spouses that are willing to work together
  2. Lawyer Negotiation: Each spouse has a lawyer and you make offers and counteroffers back and forth until you are able to come to an agreement
    1. Pros: Still a mutual agreement, just facilitated
    1. Cons:  There is no time limit on this, it could drag on which can turn out to be expensive
    1. Things needed to be successful: Reasonable people
  3. Court:  Each side makes a arguments before a judge, who then makes the decision as to how the separation agreement will look.
    1. Pros:  You will get a decision in the end
    1. Cons: The agreement is not made by you or your spouse; argument process can get messy; wait times to get a trial date may be long
    1. Things needed to make it successful:
  4. Mediation: The spouses sit down with one neutral mediator who facilitates a conversation to help spouses reach a separation agreement.
    1. Pros: Have a neutral mediator that can help move conversation along towards an agreement.
    1. Cons: People often want the mediator to tell them what to do, but that is not the mediator’s job.
    1. Things needed to make it successful: Each party needs independent legal advice.
  5. Collaborative: Each Spouse has their own collaborative family lawyer and sit down with a “coach” who is a neutral collaboratively trained mental health professional, and work through issues and come to an agreement.  The coach is there to help with the emotions associated with a separation and to help each spouse communicate effectively.  Other professionals that can be included where the situation merits is a financial planner and a mental health professional on behalf of any children of the marriage.
    1. Pros: No court- commitment to find an agreement, have a number of professionals available according to the needs of the situation, emotional needs are met.
    1. Cons: If unsuccessful in coming to an agreement (very rare) then spouses need to find different lawyers.
    1. Things needed to make it successful: Each client needs a collaboratively trained lawyer.

If you are not sure about which one of these options will work for you best, consult a collaboratively trained lawyer and they can go over these options with you in more detail and help you find which is best for you.

Which brings us to a second choice that you may to make, which is your lawyer.  When trying to make this decision, shop around. There are a lot of people who, when they don’t understand how to get what they need without a professional, feel like they are at the mercy of that professional.  I am going to tell you now that is not true. You have the power to make this decision.  So whether you are looking for a mortgage, hiring a lawyer or buying a new shirt- try them on see how you like them, and compare them with your other options.

You always have the option to not have a lawyer as well.  However, I strongly advise against this as a proper and thorough separation agreement could save a lot of stress and hassle in future.  The expertise of a lawyer can make the separation process less stressful and easier. 

So shop around.  I encourage you to speak with a few different lawyers. 

The first lawyer that you see does not have to be your lawyer.  You could find after you meet a couple of other lawyers that the first is the best fit for you, but it could also be the second lawyer, or the third.  If you know which process you would like that could help you narrow down your decision, but you need to find the lawyer that is the best fit for you.  You are in charge and finding a lawyer with a good fit could make all the difference. 

There are very few of us that can buy a shirt without trying them on first, so why would you do it with a lawyer.

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