Divorce is without doubt one of the most challenging experiences a person can get through. It involves emotional upheaval, uncertainty about the future, and the end of a once-cherished romantic partnership. Fear can become a constant companion during this journey, casting a shadow over decision-making and exacerbating existing conflicts.
As a family law attorney with a focus on mediation and collaborative divorce, I have witnessed how fear can hinder the divorce process and impede the path to a peaceful resolution. When a couple is in litigation, they may soon find that all of their fears turn into reality but that does not need to be your story. In this article, I aim to shed light on the role of fear in divorce, its impact on individuals and families, and how mediation and collaborative divorce can help alleviate these fears and enable the spouses to be active participants in a path to peace.
- Understanding Fear in Divorce:
Fear is a natural response to uncertainty, loss, and change. In the context of divorce, it can manifest in various ways, including:
a) Fear of the unknown: Divorce introduces a multitude of unknowns – financial stability, child custody arrangements, and future relationships. When a couple is engaged in divorce litigation, they are placed in a position of working against each other and battling over ever issue. This increases the stress level and builds up fear in both spouses. Fear often arises from the fear of the unfamiliar and the loss of the familiar. When you choose to move forward with an out of court resolution, you have the ability to weigh in on the choices in your future rather than leaving your destiny to the whim of the Judge.
b) Fear of loss: Divorce often involves the loss of a shared life, the dissolution of dreams and plans, and the fear of losing connections with children, extended family, and friends. When a couple is in litigation often friends feel like they need to take sides or they may choose to avoid both spouses. Families often align with one of the parties and children may also feel like they are betraying one of both of their parents simply by enjoying time with the other parent. When a couple chooses collaborative divorce, they often utilize a specialist that can help them maintain family relationships and communication with extended family after divorce.
c) Fear of conflict: Conflict is inherent in divorce, and the fear of contentious legal battles, animosity, and bitterness can create immense anxiety. When you are not engaged in litigation but you are exploring a problem solving approach to your divorce, you will not be forced to engage in ongoing conflict. Spouses who choose collaborative divorce are able to work with a team to manage conflict before it escalates and to develop communication skills which allow them to work together after the divorce is finalized.
- The Impact of Fear:
Allowing fear to dominate the divorce process can have far-reaching consequences, both for the individuals involved and their families and can cause some of the fears to be self-actualized by their own actions.
a) Hindering decision-making: Fear can cloud judgment and prevent individuals from making rational decisions based on their long-term interests. Sometimes this will cause one spouse to burry their head in the sand and refuse to move forward which can lead to conflict and frustration from the spouse that wants to move forward with the divorce. Fear can also lead to impulsive choices or an overwhelming desire to “win” at any cost. This is where using a team approach can assist families in moving forward and allow the spouses to make sound rational decisions based on facts rather than emotions.
b) Escalating conflict: Fear often fuels conflict, making it harder to find common ground and reach agreements. When couples are in litigation they often become enraged when reading what is written about them in court documents. They become fearful that the court will side with their spouse so they feel that they need to file documents that paint their spouse in a negative light. This cycle may continue through the entire litigation case. The spouses may become entrenched in their positions, leading to prolonged and acrimonious legal battles. When couples choose a peaceful process of moving forward, they can work with the members on their team to deescalate the conflict and to come up with solutions that will be better for their children, them and their former spouse.
c) Emotional toll on children: Fear and conflict can have a detrimental impact on children caught in the crossfire. When parents are in litigation they are often in conflict in front of the children and the children can see the animosity between the parents. It can affect their emotional well-being, academic performance, and relationships with both parents. This is where the litigation model really fails children. The future of children in litigated cases is left to a Judge that has usually never even met the children. When a family chooses to work together as a team with their professionals, they learn how to communicate in a way that the children are not exposed to anger and conflict.
- Mediation and Collaborative Divorce: Empowering Alternatives:
Fortunately, there are alternative approaches to divorce that prioritize cooperation, respect, and open communication to divorcing couples. Both mediation and collaborative divorce offer couples an opportunity to navigate the divorce process while mitigating fear and focusing on constructive solutions for their children and their family:
a) Mediation: In mediation, a neutral third party, the mediator, facilitates discussions between the couple to identify common goals and reach mutually agreeable solutions. The process encourages open communication, problem-solving, and decision-making based on the best interests of both parties and any children involved. The mediator does not act as an attorney for either party however each party may choose to have a consulting attorney to guide them through the process.
b) Collaborative divorce: Collaborative divorce involves a team of professionals, including attorneys, financial advisors, and therapists, who work together to guide couples through the process. All professionals on the team have been collaboratively trained and the focus is to help the family create their new life in two households. The emphasis is on resolving all issues outside the courtroom, fostering cooperation and communication, and finding win-win solutions that prioritize the needs of all family members.
- Alleviating Fear through Mediation and Collaborative Divorce:
Mediation and collaborative divorce offer several benefits that can help alleviate fear and promote a healthier divorce experience:
a) Empowerment and control: These processes allow individuals to retain control over all decisions which impact their lives and their children rather than leaving them in the hands of a judge. This empowerment can counteract fear by giving individuals a voice and an active role in shaping their futures and the way that they interact in the years to come. Both spouses learn to work together to come up with resolutions and to formulate an agreement that benefits them and their children.
b) Preservation of relationships: Mediation and collaborative divorce aim to preserve amicable relationships between divorcing partners and co-parents, which can help mitigate fear related to loss and disconnection. It allows for respectful co-parenting and a smoother transition for children. When families are in litigation the fractured communication system between the parents becomes increasingly hostile and can make it hard to have open communications in later years. Collaborative Divorce also enables parties to continue to have relationships with extended family and friends as there is not the same compulsion to feel like they need to choose sides.
c) Emotional support: Both mediation and collaborative divorce prioritize the emotional well-being of both spouses and their children and offer as well as encourage the opportunity to work with mental health professionals who can provide emotional support and guidance throughout the process. The coaches on a collaborative team are able to guide the process so that both spouses can be heard throughout the process and can learn skills which will enable them to coparent after the case has concluded.
Divorce is a journey that can be marked by uncertainty and fear, but it doesn’t have to be defined by animosity and acrimony. As a family law attorney specializing in mediation and collaborative divorce, I firmly believe that fear can be transformed into empowerment and cooperation. By choosing alternative dispute resolution methods, such as mediation and collaborative divorce, people can take control of their divorce process, preserve important relationships, and build a foundation for a more positive post-divorce future.