I think we are all in agreement "settle out of court". How can a couple do that when they are fighting to the extent they are filing for divorce? You are probably going to get tired of hearing me say first always "Fight for your Marriage."
1. Fight for your Marriage!
This means get into a really competent couple's therapist office (or a couple's retreat/workshop) and put everything on the table. Make your requests for what you need from your partner to stay in the marriage. Your partner can either say No sorry no can do, I will work on that, or I can do as you ask. Your partner needs to do the same and you need to respond. Look for action, as we all know words are easy. Every couple, by the time they arrive at the lawyer's office, ought to be able to answer the question why are you getting divorced? Each partner ought to be able to identify the issues, everyone's perspective on the issues and why that is a reason for a breakup. Fight, negotiate, and/or beat the issue to death, agree to disagree and let it go. If you engage in this process successfully, you will be ready to move to step two!
2. Hire a Mediator!
Have as your goal as you go into mediation, "If we both land on our feet financially, emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically the family will recover and thrive." Fighting through the children or using the children during a divorce is NOT ALLOWED! Children are innocent victims in a divorce and need to be protected at all cost. Mediate, mediate, and mediate until everyone can live with the agreement. If you have really done your work in step one, mediation has a better chance. I have had several clients say to me "I wish someone would lock us in a room with a third party until all the anger is gone." The cost of a divorce is going to increase when couples use the divorce process to "get back at each other." Get smart and get your emotions in your therapist's office and see your divorce as a business deal. Negotiate hard, accept the outcome and move on. Unfortunately there are certain couples that cannot participate in this step of mediation or the steps to follow. When you are married to certain diagnostic categories e.g. sociopath, psychopath, borderline, narcissistic personalities etc., you are probably not a candidate for the modalities suggested here to stay out of court. Some people need to have the courts on board to protect them and enforce the orders.
3. Hire a Collaborative Lawyer!
If you are a candidate for this process, I highly recommend it for many reasons particularly the health of the family. Collaborative lawyers are committed to helping you reach the best agreement possible for the family through negotiating not fighting in court.
4. Ask yourself what would the Children do/say here?
If you have a couple of issues on the table where you can't find agreement, think about what the children would want for their family. Children want to have an easy time going from house to house and when there are inequities it makes them uncomfortable. Children want both parents to be happy. See if you can wrap yourselves around that goal as well. Remember children travel from house to house. Their things get lost and forgotten. The rules are different in each house and no one usually explains that to them. They now have two worlds they have to figure out. How would you like to pack up every few days and go to a different home/neighborhood because your parents couldn't get along? And you never got a vote about this drastic change. Children also don't want to have secrets as it causes them stress and anxiety. I am not saying you have to tell your "ex" everything about your new life but be sensitive that someone very young is trying to figure out how to navigate those waters. Think about your children going through divorce when you get stuck in negotiating. You at least get to fight for what you want.
Before going to court to let someone else decide your future, if you still have unresolved issues, find a compromise. Keep brainstorming to find a win-win, but if that is not possible, compromise. A sacrifice, which may seem monumental at the moment, may seem like a non-issue in a year's time. Ask what other families have used for a solution. Maybe try your way for a few months and then your partners for a few months and then revisit the issue. Try to discuss which way seem to work best for everyone and then make a decision. That being said you always want to make your settlement as complete as possible so you don't have to keep going back to make decisions that could have been settled at the time you are writing up the agreement. Think of your divorce as a platform to reinvent yourself not as a death sentence.
"Every story has an end, but in life, every end is a new beginning. " Dakota Fanning
Dr. Anne Brown PhD, RN of Sausalito, California, is a psychotherapist, speaker, coach, and the author of Backbone Power: The Science of Saying No. Anne's approach is especially applicable to people affected by divorce. Backbone Power is a no nonsense self help guide to making decisions while having backbone and integrity in all your choices, short term and long term. In addition to helping the divorce community, Anne has over twenty years experience as the trusted advocate and advisor to influential corporate leaders, trial attorneys, athletes, leaders, physicians and others seeking actionable guidance. Brown is a graduate of the University of Virginia, BS in Nursing; Boston University, MS in Psychiatric-Mental Health in Nursing; and International University, PhD in Addiction Studies. In 1997 Brown also reached a personal goal of obtaining her Black Belt in Soo Bahk Do. You can contact Dr. Anne Brown through her website: www.BackbonePower.com .