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Relationships: A friendlier divorce

Divorces don't have to get nasty.

14 The percent of Americans who are divorced or separated.

13 The percent of divorced women in Missouri; 11 percent of men.

12 The percent of divorced women in Kansas; 10 percent of men.

Ink

I’ve read so much in the past year about marriage. Fewer people in our generation get married early, some people don’t believe in marriage … there seems to be one study after the next.

The truth is a lot of people do believe in marriage. It’s just that not all marriages work out.

But there is a way to end a marriage without things getting ugly, Kansas City lawyer Hugh O’Donnell says.

O’Donnell, president of Collaborative Divorce Professionals of Greater Kansas City, says there are basically four processes for getting a divorce.

  • “Kitchen table” process: The couples decides the marriage is over, so they sit (maybe at the kitchen table) and decide how to divvy up their things. Then they put the information in documents that they think the courts will accept. They represent themselves, no attorneys.

  • Mediation process: One mediator helps the couple work through issues. In most cases, both parties hire attorneys.

  • Litigated divorce process: As a child of divorce I know this can get brutal and ridiculously expensive. Litigated divorces can cost six figures if not seven, O’Donnell says.

  • Collaborative divorce process: O’Donnell, obviously a supporter, says this choice costs much less than a litigated case that goes to trial.

“We view the divorce as a legal event, a financial event and an emotional event,” O’Donnell says. In the collaborative process, financial planners and mental health professionals are sometimes brought in to help couples deal with the big issues of ending a marriage.

O’Donnell, who has been a lawyer in KC since 1973, said he has worked with couples of all ages in mediation, litigated divorces and collaborative law divorces.

Of course the collaborative process is not suited to all couples. But for the ones who can stand to be in the same room together, it can save a lot of wear and tear on the self-esteem and the bank account, O’Donnell says.

What is collaborative divorce? Tell me more.

Collaborative divorce is a process in which both parties to a divorce case, rather than litigate the case, hire attorneys to assist them in resolving the case. The parties and their counsel meet in a four-way conference, discuss the issues, explore options and come to an agreement. Issues range from dividing up property and debts to support, maintenance and issues involving the children, everything that needs to be addressed in a divorce.

What are the benefits?

One of them is it’s a private process, so there’s no public documentation of what’s going on. In a traditional litigated case, everything that’s filed is a matter of record; in the collaborative process, nothing is filed until the very end after the agreement has been reached.

When did this practice start and where?

It began in the early ’90s and was created by a lawyer in Minneapolis by the name of Stu Webb. Stu came up with this concept that litigated divorce was not helping the clients. … From there, it’s grown into a huge practice.

Why is this a good idea?

The traditional model just doesn’t seem to serve well, and this is particularly true in my mind for parents. In a litigated model, once the case is filed, it is an adversarial process. The mother of the children and the father of the children are adversaries. That doesn’t particularly serve children well. A better way to do it is to help the people solve their own problems. Judges don’t solve problems, they decide cases. They want parents and spouses to solve their own problems.

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