We’ve all seen them – the explosive divorce battles with two parties burning everything down and salting the earth for good measure.
Spite, anger, bitterness, loathing, rage, jealousy – leaving a smoking ruin where the relationship used to be.
And there, barely standing, are two bruised and worn out people that might have disliked each other initially. But now it’s nothing but hate.
For a lot of us, this is what divorce is ‘supposed’ to look like – so says TV, and TV’s never wrong.
But – what if you don’t want to hate each other?
What if the relationship has just reached its end and you want to go your separate ways?
What if you don’t really mind what they get, as long as your interests are taken care of too?
What if you have kids that you both want to look after?
How do people that don’t hate each other get divorced?
Does it have to be the same as TV?
Well, I have some good news – no, no it doesn’t.
What is divorce?
But first, let’s talk about just what a divorce actually is.
Strictly speaking, the divorce only refers to the administrative ending of the relationship; the paperwork that takes you from ‘together’ to ‘apart’.
Couples then need to work out how they are going to decide the financial aspects of their relationship.
This – the ‘property settlement’ – means that you come to an agreement on how the assets, liabilities, superannuation, and personal effects of the relationship will be divided.
Then, for couples with children, they will need to agree how they’re going to arrange their joint parenting responsibilities.
Once these three parts of the relationship are resolved, then the agreement is formally documented and finalised so that each party can move on to the next stage of their lives.
And doesn’t that make it all sound so easy? It’s not, of course– the actual path you take to resolve things can get undeniably bumpy.
But how do you choose that path that’s right for you?
You have a few options and choosing one will depend on your situation and relationship – and the budget, hostility and complexity involved.
- Do it yourself
The paperwork to do this is available through the Family Circuit Court website and you can fill out the forms together and submit it to the Court for confirmation.
There is obviously a lot more to it, but if this option is suitable it can save you a quite a bit of money.
Formally known as ‘Family Dispute Resolution’, this is where you engage a neutral third-party to help you and your former partner come to an agreement. They do this by – sensitively – facilitating the discussion between you.
They don’t dictate the result. Instead, they help the two of you navigate your way to it.
This can be an attractive option when you still have respect for other and are willing to work things out together. It can often be far less expensive than some other options.
But it’s probably not suitable where there is a history of domestic abuse or a real imbalance in commitment to the process.
- Collaborative divorce
This alternative path sits between mediation and the traditional method of divorce.
You each have a lawyer and there is a family consultant to help you both communicate more effectively. They also help prioritise the kids interests.
A financial neutral can help you collect the information you need to negotiate an informed property agreement. They also help you both work out what that agreement could look like.
Importantly, the professionals involved sign an agreement that they will not act for either of you if the collaboration fails and the matter ends up in litigation.
Because sometimes they do fail, which means that the parties move on to the litigation option. This can increase the cost quite significantly and is a common criticism of the process.
But – for the many collaborations that do lead to a successful resolution, there are significant benefits.
- Prioritising the kids shields them from the damage that can come with other pathways.
- The neutral professionals can help you articulate your interests and concerns in a safe environment.
- Being actively involved in every step helps you also retain that important sense of control over the process.
- The process also works to reduce hostility. This is especially important for parents, who will still have to see each other after the divorce, so minimising any lingering hostility makes for a happier future.
However, collaborative divorce is probably not a suitable option for relationships with a history of domestic violence, child abuse, addiction, or serious mental health issues.
This is the idea of divorce we all have in our minds and see on TV – you both engage your lawyers and they negotiate an acceptable outcome for both parties.
Sometimes it’s heated, other times it works smoothly.
Occasionally it can end in court, where you ask a judge to tell you how your divorce should be finalised. Because of how inherently unpredictable (and predictably expensive) this can be, few lawyers I have met see this as a positive result.
Instead they will work quite hard to reach a resolution for you before that happens.
Though it can be expensive and take some time, you will be represented by somebody actively protecting and pursuing your best interests.
This makes it a suitable option when somebody might be reluctant to pursue their own best interests, perhaps due to a history of domestic violence or abuse.
This advocacy does come at a cost though. Six-figure legal fees are not uncommon.
And because any legal fees will reduce how much there is to share in the final settlement, it is not just your fees you have to worry about.
Which one is right for you?
It really does boil down to your individual circumstances.
If you don’t already hate each other – and don’t want to afterwards – then Mediation or a Collaborative divorce might be suitable.
If your circumstances are simple and you can both fill out the paperwork together, then a DIY divorce could work.
Or if your relationship has completely disintegrated and your rights and interests are under attack, then the firm advocacy of a litigated divorce might be the way to go.
In other words – divorce isn’t easy, but it doesn’t always have to be awful either.
Jordan Vaka is a financial adviser from PlanningSolo that specialises in helping people through their divorce – and rebuilding their best financial life afterwards.
He has also trained in interdisciplinary collaborative divorce because he believes that it leads to fantastic outcomes (for the right people).