“Divorce is costly. The settlement need not be.”

Stephanie West Allen at idealawg has excerpted from an interesting opinion piece in today’s online edition of The Christian Science Monitor:

[…] three underlying problems will remain – and it is these problems, and not the adjustments that might be needed in alimony or custody statutes, that make divorce a disaster for many families.First, the cost of litigating alimony and child custody issues imposes an unmanageable burden on many couples and their children.

Second, choosing to litigate these issues means relinquishing control to courts over what we hold most dear – our children and our financial survival.

Third, divorce litigation almost invariably ratchets up antagonisms to a point where children get caught in the crossfire.

The piece is by David Hoffman, a lawyer, mediator, and arbitrator at Boston Law Collaborative, LLC, who teaches mediation at Harvard Law School.  His assertions are based on the following research:

Two years ago I compared the costs of [three] processes – litigation, mediation, and collaborative law – in divorces in a study published in the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law’s Journal of Dispute Resolution. The cases involved affluent families with a median net worth of about $2 million.

The disparity in costs was striking.

[…]

In the mediated divorce cases, the combined cost for both parties for legal fees and mediation fees was $15,671. In the litigated cases, the data showed a median cost for legal fees that was ten times higher – a breathtaking $155,492. The combined cost for both parties in collaborative law cases was $39,445 – approximately 25 percent of the cost of litigation.

The point about the disparity in costs is unassailable.  To continue with his analysis, it can also be seen that the combined cost for both parties in collaborative family law cases as two-and-one-half times higher than the combined cost for both parties in mediation.  It should also be noted that the figure used for mediation includes both legal fees and mediation fees; the cost for mediation alone can be expected to drop, in some cases quite significantly, if only the mediation fees (without attendant legal fees) is taken as the measure.

Finally, there is the matter of personal autonomy and self-determination:

In addition to cost savings, mediation and collaborative law processes enable the clients to retain control over the outcome. The hallmark of these processes is that they foster amicable, creative, and lasting solutions.

Most important, in divorces with children still at home, mediation and collaborative law can protect the kids. Research shows that parental conflict is a more robust predictor of bad outcomes for children than divorce. And interviews with adult children of divorce provide anecdotal evidence that kids endure divorce far better when their divorcing parents collaborate.

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