Divorcing After 50? Think Teamwork, Collaboration, Expertise

By Tonya Graser Smith

Divorce is hard. It’s especially tough for couples who have been together for decades and celebrated major milestones in their lives.

More older couples are divorcing. In fact, the divorce rate has about doubled for those 50 and older since the 1990s, according to the Pew Research Center. It’s called the gray divorce.

How do you find healing in a gray divorce? You’re talking about marriages that have spanned half or more of a couple’s lifetime, after all. What if I told you that you and your spouse could be supportive, considerate, sensible, constructive, and reach mutual decisions together?

You can; it’s called collaborative divorce. I wish more couples – of all ages – who are ending their marriages thought of it. But they have to know about it and how it works, and choose it.

Collaborative divorce means trading in going to combat in a courtroom for sitting down with a shared divorce team with a shared mission. That mission is to achieve a healthy, fair, dignified split and to be transparent throughout the process. The couple agrees to work together with a team –  a divorce attorney for each of them and shared resources, such as a financial specialist who is a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst or Certified Financial Planner, a divorce coach who is mental health professional and a child specialist who is counselor if there are young children involved. These experts are neutral and objective.

This kind of parting of ways is also sometimes referred to as a no-court divorce or peaceful divorce. It begins with something you can both agree on: self-respect. Both spouses sign a collaborative law agreement, pledging to not go to court, have an honest exchange of information and reach a solution that takes into account the highest priorities of both spouses and their children. Sounds pretty good, right? Here are four advantages of collaborative divorce over a divorce that is litigated, with a judge deciding what is fair and equitable.

The process is more efficient.

Collaborative divorce is more efficient in two major ways. First, you are operating on your own timeline. You don’t have to deal with getting on a court calendar, a mediator’s calendar, or an arbitrator’s calendar. You, your soon-to-be ex and your divorce team meet as a group when it works for the team. Each team meeting has an agenda, and after each meeting team members work on their individual tasks ahead of the next meeting.

Second, you and your entire team decide which documents or information you collectively need to bring to the table. In other words, you and your spouse aren’t conducting separate fishing expeditions for dirt or hidden finances. Rather, for example, the entire team decides if reviewing three years of financial records is enough or if five years of records would be better.

Efficiency means you pay less in fees.

Attorney fees in a collaborative divorce are a fraction of what they are in a litigated divorce. Yes, each party has his or her own lawyer, and there are other experts on the team, too. But everyone is working together for the both of you. Your lawyers are not adversaries, because you all are on the same team. There’s no communicating only through attorneys or the aforementioned separate fishing expeditions, all of which add up fast.

You safeguard your privacy.

In a collaborative divorce, you as a couple agree from the start to maintain all decision-making, versus putting matters in the hands of a judge. There’s no airing of personal matters in a courtroom or public records. There’re no subpoenas sent to employers or business partners. You and your team of professionals discuss if input from any third parties is needed or if a financial document needs to be brought forth.

Your emotional well-being is looked after.

Your feelings and emotions are more front and center in a collaborative divorce. There’s a mental health professional – the divorce coach – on your team to make sure everyone is heard and that both parties’ emotional needs are met. If nothing else, this therapist is there to call well-timed breaks when meetings get too tense.

It’s the entire team’s job is to look after not only your assets, but also your emotional well-being. The emotional aspect is seen as equally valuable as the dollars and cents. It doesn’t mean that collaborative divorce is all sunshine and rainbows, but collaboration better enables each individual to recover and heal. In terms of healing and positive, go-forward energy, it sure beats making depositions, hiring private investigators and emptying savings accounts to pay for attorneys to go to court.

With collaborative divorce there’s a greater chance people will say, “We had good times and bad times. But on the way out, we treated each other with dignity and now we can move forward with our new lives.”

Tonya Graser Smith is a Board Certified Specialist in Family Law and licensed North Carolina attorney, as well as a member of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals.