Collaborative divorce appears to be gaining popularity in Australia, as it is in the United States, with Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin seemingly the poster children for the cooperative approach to separation. Here at Alliance Family Law, we have a special interest and expertise in collaborative divorce. We regularly attend training sessions and are part of the Canberra Collaborative Group. Please give Cristina Huesch of Alliance Family Law a call to discuss your situation and whether collaborative divorce could work for you.
Opinion: Couples getting together to plan a life apart
By Kylie Lang
WHAT’S with Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin cosying up over a meal barely three months after their split?
Are they back on? Or is this “conscious uncoupling”, as they call it, just plain weird?
Animosity, not affection, is what people have come to expect from divorcing duos, especially those with a sizeable fortune to divvy up (in this case, $150 million).
FRANCES WHITING: Why I don’t like Gwyneth Paltrow
Responses to pictures released last week of the actor and rock star looking happy and relaxed in a Malibu cafe suggest many don’t buy the idea of positive separation.
One reader said: “I seriously wonder what divorce means to celebrity couples when they’re photographed socialising and laughing together a matter of weeks after their split.
“It could be argued that it’s better they’re not acrimonious, especially where children are involved, but I think it makes a mockery of marriage and is probably even more confusing for kids when mum and dad have divorced/are divorcing but still hanging out together like nothing has changed.”
Another said: “Either cut the strings and crack on or sort it out and be ‘mum and dad’ as a strong partnership.”
What, so separated parents can’t be kind to each other? They can’t work together to raise their kids? Nonsense!
Divorce isn’t pleasant but it doesn’t have to be a remake of the 1989 movie The War of the Roses; and children need not be collateral damage.
Paltrow and Martin, it would seem, are breaking up on their terms.
And why on Earth not?
The only winners in acrimonious family breakdowns are avaricious family lawyers.
Children caught in the crossfire of warring parents often blame themselves and act out feelings of rejection or anger for years to come.
Studies reveal myriad effects – on academic performance, mental health and behaviour.
So it’s good to see rising demand for collaborative law, a concept that began in the US.
Spouses pledge to resolve issues respectfully, signing an agreement not to go to court.
Freda Wigan is president of Queensland Collaborative Law, founded in 2006, and says this alternative to litigation is increasingly popular.
“More and more people want to reach a mutually beneficial settlement focusing on their needs, interests and priorities,” she says. “This is not necessarily what happens in court. Rarely do those things get air time as court is statute-based under the Family Law Act, but with this process clients help create the outcomes.”
The partner at HopgoodGanim says 50 per cent of her clients choose collaboration. Each spouse is represented by a lawyer and the four meet to discuss the issues. Psychologists and financial planners are brought in as needed.
“Clients have told me they feel empowered,” Wigan says. “This is because they’re able to communicate with their former spouses more effectively, avoid the denigrating, the derogatory allegations, that warring approach.”
It’s no picnic, though.
Wigan says it can be hard to “skill up” clients to negotiate with respect because people who are emotionally wounded can “lapse into mud-slinging”.
“It’s not an easier way for lawyers or a shortcut because we still uphold the law but it’s about open communication.
“And it’s amazing what four people can do, to create out-of-the-box solutions and expand the options for settlement; there’s real value.”
SPLITSVILLE: Dividing property during a divorce
Children’s interests are promoted, she says, when parents work together and when kids are spared “the negative effects of litigation”.
Australia has one of the world’s highest divorce rates, with more than one-third of marriages ending in divorce, according to the Australian Institute of Family Studies.
In Queensland, the number of de facto couples has risen from 15 to 20 per cent in the past 15 years, with the same issues and pressures cited in relationship breakdowns.
Wigan admits not all splits can be kept out of court. “Sometimes there is no choice – some clients can’t sit down at a table – but they ought to be given the options of dispute resolution that include collaboration,” she says.
The benefits are not only ¬financial. Some who choose collaboration want the privacy not possible in an open court.
Others want a faster resolution, but all want an outcome achieved without animosity.
Wigan cringes at the mention of “conscious uncoupling”.
“I don’t get that, but I understand where they’re going – it’s about forging productive relationships into the future.”
Call it what you will, but ¬divorcing with dignity will not “confuse” the children.
Rather, it will set a positive example of how to behave with respect, restraint, empathy and good grace.