January may mean a fresh start with a new year, but it is also often referred to as “Divorce Month,” as the number of divorce filings surge more than any other month.
When we think of divorce, it is often associated with messy, complicated situations that have spouses fighting in court for months, even years. While that is still the case for some, new trends in divorce have made the process easier for all parties involved, but especially for the kids, whose needs are put front and center.
“Divorce is a series of choices from start to finish, and the choices that are being made by couples going through divorce have changed,” says Jennifer Mitchell, co-author of Stress Free Divorce and creator of the Solace Divorce Mediation, a family law practice that uses mediation and life coaching. “In the past, the majority choose to litigate due to a belief that it was the only option… Now, there is more awareness surrounding the power of accountability, choice, self-care, self-love and the notion of living a powerful life existence, which has led couples to explore alternative options.”
Laura Wasser, divorce attorney to celebrities including Angelina Jolie, Kim Kasrdashian and Ashton Kutcher, says in general, people are cutting out the “middle man” – attorneys, accountants, child custody evaluators – in favor of ultimately settling their cases as opposed to litigating them.
She acknowledges no one wants to think about getting a divorce, but she sees the tide changing on how parents view divorce.
“It’s time for a change,” Wasser says of the old-school divorce. “No one is going to approach it with open arms, thinking it’s a fun, great time, but people are starting to approach it with more knowledge and from a place of acceptance and really, really putting children first and making it about children.”
When it comes to parting ways, here are the methods for conscious uncoupling that are changing modern-day associations of divorce:
Many soon-to-be ex-spouses are ditching attorneys and turning to a third-party mediator like Anne Levinstein to help come to a fair consensus and resolve their issues cost effectively. (Some mediation strategies may involve lawyers, which is called Lawyer Assisted Mediation.) The mediator won’t make decisions for the couple, but rather serves as a facilitator to help figure out what’s best.
Levinstein says the mediation process is productive because it leads to positive change.
“Once a couple finds one thing they agree on in mediation, they realize how good it feels to agree, and they want to agree on more things. It just snowballs, because conflict feels terrible,” she says.
In the same vein of mediation, a collaborative law approach to divorce, which is growing in popularity, is geared to those who want to settle their divorce outside of court. However, instead of a mediator, each party retains an attorney and signs a participation agreement pledging to resolve issues without litigation. This process may contain a full team of specialists, including a neutral financial professional, divorce coach and child specialist, all working towards a solution in a positive, results-focused setting.
“Collaborative divorce is the most supported way to go through divorce,” says Karen Covy, a collaborative divorce professional. “In collaborative divorce, people don’t focus on positions. Instead, the focus is on everyone’s underlying needs and interests.”
Colorado Collaborative Divorce Professionals offers resources and a free Divorce Options workshop to share information on the different processes available to get a divorce. The session also covers the practical aspects of a divorce like emotions, parenting time, and asset division.
Online Dispute Resolution
Online Dispute Resolution makes it possible to complete the process of obtaining a divorce online without the assistance of an attorney. As long as you and your spouse have reached an agreement, this process is considered to be a straightforward dissolution of marriage.
Erin Levine, a family law attorney out of California, started Hello Divorce as an online platform that guides individuals through a do-it-yourself divorce. According to USA Today, Colorado ranks among the 10 states with the highest divorce costs, averaging $21,700 for a divorce that include kids. “We created a situation for people to opt out of the traditional lawyer divorce model, to keep people out of the system, and get them through divorce without having to spend thousands of dollars or battle it out in court,” says Levine.
The Hello Divorce platform offers a Divorce Navigator software, which steps individuals through the required divorce forms. Using a membership-based model, fees vary from $99 per month (estimated 4 months) up to a flat fee of $3000, for an uncontested divorce, which includes additional guidance from a divorce expert and 2 hours with a lawyer. Mediation is also available for couples who need help working out key issues like shared parenting and alimony.
The most common mistakes people make in trying to DIY their divorce forms is forgetting something or not understanding the procedure and process, says Levine. Hello Divorce checklists, detailed explanations, and videos guide users. “We know that most people will at least try to do this (divorce) on their own,” says Levine. “We’ve done everything we can to try to protect them.”
When it comes to custody, a few of the newer trends are becoming more common.
Bird’s Nest Custody
A relatively new concept, bird nesting, simply means that after the divorce, the family residence stays intact. Instead of shuffling kids from house to house, each parent moves out for a few days. The idea behind this concept is that there is less disruption for kids during an emotionally challenging time.
Wasser says she sees this is as a good transitional plan, for one to two years, as opposed to forever. But, she notes, she has seen it work long-term for families.
50/50 Custody Arrangements
With 50/50 custody arrangements, the two parents share joint custody, meaning both parents are actively involved in all decisions regarding the child’s welfare. Covy says 50/50 parenting is now becoming more of a standard, as both parents want to be more involved in their kids’ lives.
Emily Gevrekis, a divorcee, shares 50/50 custody with her ex because she says she knew it was the right thing to do.
“We both ended our marriage on equal terms,” Gevrekis says. “We are both fit parents and hands-on with our children, and it works because our two kids get equal time with both of us.”
Vinessa Lullo, who has been divorced for more than three years, says much to her surprise, she found the process of divorce to be “freeing.”
“In going through the divorce, we found ourselves as independent people and parents,” Lullo says. “We built a ‘new’ love for each other seeing each other in the parenting role. I can honestly say that my ex is one of my best friends and that our relationship is stronger now than it was when we were married.”
Tips for Parents on the Brink of Divorce
In her 25 years, family law attorney Laura Wasser says she’s found the best outcome for kids is when the parents are OK. “When the parents are not OK and do these terrible, terrible things to each other, that’s when the kids are not OK.”
1. Find therapy or counseling.
It doesn’t have to be about reconciliation, but rather how to best navigate a separation. It helps to have an objective third person, preferably with a mental health background, to help define boundaries.
2. Be a united front with your kids.
“If they see two parents as a united front talking to them and lovingly explaining to them that they are still a family but that the living arrangement is going to be different, it is going to be so much easier for them to accept it.”
3. Embrace tech.
There are all kinds of apps available to help co-parenting such as Fayr, to coordinate schedules, communicate and split expenses easily. Find the one that works best for your family.
Cost Conscious Divorce
Not everyone can afford the legal fees related to divorce. These local resources help families on modest or low incomes navigate the divorce process.
Arapahoe County Bar Association’s Virtual Pro Se Clinics are staffed by volunteer family law attorneys who assist with matters involving child support, maintenance, parenting time, separation agreement, and post decree issues.
Boulder County’s Divorce/Custody Orientation Virtual Presentation Get answers to questions about filing a new divorce or custody case, every Thursday from noon to 1 p.m. Phone or WebEx conferencing. Meet with a volunteer attorney with Boulder County’s Free General Legal Clinic.
Call a Lawyer through The Justice Center Legal Clinics, is free and available every Wednesday from 7 to 9 p.m. Calls are screened to connect to an attorney with the right experience for brief legal advice. 719-473-6212.
Denver Legal Nights Consult with a lawyer about family law matters. Virtual clinics are held on the first and third Wednesday of the month from 5-8 p.m. Spanish interpreters are available.
Legal Night at Mi Casa Meet with an attorney free of charge to get information about family law, the second Tuesday of every month from 6-8 p.m. Spanish-speaking attorneys are available. 303-573-1302.
Metro Volunteer Lawyers serves poor and near-poor citizens of seven Metro Denver counties. Contact the Denver office of Colorado Legal Services, 303-837-1313.
Metro Volunteer Lawyers also runs a variety of clinics: Family Law Court Program, Family Law Unbundled, and Post-Decree Clinics.