Senior Associate, Danielle Contos, discusses the strategy behind a solution-oriented divorce and what it could mean for a client’s goals.
A “solution-oriented divorce” does not necessarily mean giving up more than you should avoid going to court.
For example, where the goal for a stay-at-home parent is to become financially stable and self-sufficient, this could mean agreeing to a shorter maintenance (“alimony”) duration, in exchange for a higher maintenance amount for a shorter duration, to allow for the stay-at-home parent to pursue furthering their education or training in order to obtain more meaningful and financially stable employment in the future.
In the same case, where the stay-at-home parent is particularly concerned about a sudden and drastic disruption in the children’s normal routine, and the other parent is concerned about ensuring they have a significant and meaningful role in the children’s lives, requesting equal parenting time to achieve that, the parties might be able to accomplish both goals by agreeing for the non-primary caregiver parent to work up to equal parenting time through a phased parenting plan – where parenting time is increased in structured phases.
In this hypothetical scenario, the parties are both able to better achieve their long-term goals by being flexible with how to get there and making concerted efforts to try to understand and be mindful of each party’s concerns and goals.
Your attorney will need to balance a solution-oriented focus simultaneously with meeting deadlines and preparing your case for trial, in the event a settlement cannot be reached. For this reason, a solution-oriented divorce will often focus on trying to reach a settlement earlier in the case, rather than later. Otherwise, you will be stuck having to prepare for trial due to the court’s deadlines, while also working on a settlement, which can prove to be difficult, and very costly.
A solution-oriented divorce will require both parties, and both attorneys, to think outside the box.
It often also requires parties to be extra diligent about managing the emotional aspects of the divorce, in order to focus on the big picture and ultimate goals.
In a solution-focused divorce, more attention will often go into the consideration of the method and manner of communication used. Sometimes, it can be more effective for the parties to meet or speak directly, with attorneys assisting in the background to provide advice and put together agreements the parties reach largely on their own. Other times – and most commonly – it would be too emotional, and detract from the intended focus of reaching mutually beneficial solutions, for the parties to meet and speak directly. Another possible method, in the middle of those two extremes, is for the parties and their attorneys to all meet together to discuss issues and talk about ways to achieve desired goals.
A solution-oriented divorce will often also involve a more detailed discussion about possible outcomes and evaluating the potential upsides against the potential downsides. These upsides and downsides include not only the actual parenting and financial options available, but also should include consideration of the likely litigation costs involved to go to court (including attorney and expert fees), and the mental health and other non-financial benefits of coming to an agreement out of court. Litigation pits family members against one another, so more compromise in certain areas may be well worth it if it better preserves your relationship with your ex-spouse, who may also be your co-parent.
By focusing on what is most important to you, looking at your overall, long-term goals, it becomes easier to give a little more in other areas.
In almost all cases where the parties are able to maintain a solution based focus, both sides end up coming out ahead, as there is a significantly decreased emotional and mental toll, as well as a significant financial saving on attorneys and other litigation fees.
However, a solution-oriented divorce will not be possible in all cases. It is important for the attorney and the client to be able to recognize when a solution-focused route is no longer productive, and instead, turn the focus fully to preparing for a contested hearing.
By providing honest and realistic guidance on likely outcomes, in combination with some good old fashion, human-to-human, real-life advice, a solution based divorce can save you both financially and mentally, and set you up for a happier and more successful future.