By: Andrew McConaghie, LCSW
Divorce happens. We know that around half of marriages end in divorce, which means about half of husbands and wives will personally experience the divorce process at some point in their lives. Divorce is not fun; in fact, it is somewhat like a death, filled with a lot of intense and unpleasant emotions. Divorce is almost always sad but, unfortunately, it often also becomes destructive. As mental health advocates, if people are getting a divorce, we are much more in favor of facilitating and working through a sad divorce rather than a destructive one. In the following article, we give divorce advice on what we believe to be the healthiest way to divorce.
When it comes down to it, a couple transitioning from a married relationship to a divorce relationship is a legal transaction. A plan for money and a plan for the children are two main legal changes that have to be made in this transition.
Traditionally, each person hires an attorney and those attorneys facilitate the development of a new relationship contract called the divorce decree. The problem with this way of divorcing is the inherent conflict of interest embedded in the process. In other words, the more contentious and less agreeable the couple, the more the attorneys will have to work and the more they will get paid. Even divorce mediation, which involves a mediator that attempts to facilitate the process, will include each person having their own attorney trying to get their client everything they can. It is very important to note that many divorce attorneys are incredible and ethical people. We personally know and refer to many of them who practice in a way that helps people through this difficult divorce process. In addition, attorneys are a must for the final legal steps of a divorce. However, we argue that an attorney-led divorce creates this conflict of interest and potentially will increase negative experiences between the couple.
As collaborative divorce professionals for many years, we have witnessed a wide range of divorce experiences. Some have been constructive, collaborative and caring. Others have been extremely destructive with HUGE emotional and financial costs throughout and following the divorce. We have spent our career helping people develop and live the healthiest and happiest lives possible and hope to encourage this even when they are faced with the process of divorcing their mate.
Because of this, we advocate a new and healthier way to divorce. This way involves a mental health professional who is a parenting plan expert and an independent financial professional who specializes in divorce financial agreements. A parenting plan is the part of the divorce contract that addresses everything about the children other than the finances. It will specify which parent will be with the children on any given day or holiday throughout the year. It will also address issues such as which parent will have final say in certain areas of the child’s life such as health or education. Additionally, agreements about how the parents will communicate about the children and how and when the parents will introduce any significant others to the children will be addressed in this document. The parents will work with the parenting plan expert to develop this plan together. The parenting plan expert will help facilitate communication between the parents so each parent feels that their perspectives, concerns, and wishes are addressed.
The goal is for both parents to feel satisfied with the parenting plan so that they do not start their divorced lives full of resentment and reluctance to follow the plan.
Once the parenting plan is finalized, the parents meet with the financial consultant. We recommend completing the parenting plan first in order to focus on one area at a time, to separate the time with the children and the finances, and to begin with what is more important, i.e., the health and well being of the children. The financial consultant will work with the couple to address division of marital assets, child support, and alimony. Tax and other financial considerations will be addressed through this process as well.
When the parenting plan and the financial agreement are completed, at least one attorney should look over these agreements to make sure everything is addressed in a legal way and to file the documents. Sometimes each person would like their own independent attorney to look over the documents on their behalf. However, when hiring an attorney (or attorneys) for this part of the process, we highly recommend using an attorney who has a collaborative and cooperative reputation, rather than a litigious reputation. Once a couple has come this far in the process, you don’t want a litigious attorney to look at your documents and throw fire on them by saying things like, “I can’t believe you agreed to this!” or “You should have received more time with the kids or more money and I can get you more!”
The other reasons to use this more collaborative approach are that counselors who are parenting plan experts and financial professionals who are financial divorce experts are specialists in the areas of communication, child development, and mediation, as well as the laws around divorce financial agreements and taxes. Attorneys have generally studied and learned about parenting plans and divorce finances, but their specialty is the law.
Not every couple will be able to or willing to use this more cooperative approach, but we hope and suggest most couples at least try. The traditional, litigation process is always available if this process doesn’t work but it’s difficult to become more cooperative and collaborative once the litigation process has started. The reality is that with a healthy divorce, children can continue to thrive and adults can move on to happier lives. In our experience, this respectful, solution-oriented divorce process prevents painful casualties of divorce: scarred children and years of stress and anger for the adults.
If you are facing a divorce and want to proceed in the most efficient and healthy way possible, call us at 770-645-8933. Andrew or Tracy will meet with you to consult on your specific situation and create a plan to help you and your family.
Andrew McConaghie, LCSW
Tracy McConaghie, LCSW
Andrew and Tracy McConaghie are collaboratively trained parenting plan experts and the owners of McConaghie Counseling in Alpharetta, GA since 2000. Their practice is focused on helping children, adults, couples and families grow and become as healthy as possible. Andrew specializes in couples counseling (including divorce counseling) and Tracy specializes in child and family therapy. To find out more information, please go to mcconaghiecounseling.com or call 770-645-8933.