The Road Not Taken

The Road Not Taken

I am a fervent proponent of alternative dispute resolution (ADR). For the most part, families do not belong in a courtroom. There are so many benefits to spouses and partners actually reaching agreements themselves, rather than having judges decide the most personal aspects of their lives. Families who negotiate rather than litigate recover better from their divorces and are better able to co-exist in the same room at family events for years to come. Often, they even become friends.

But there’s something else. One of my clients left me a review this week on Google. I had not been able to achieve his goal, a respectful divorce, so you would think the review was not good. But not so. We had both tried to convince his wife to use an ADR process like mediation or collaboration, but she, or perhaps her attorney, had insisted on litigation. Some 18 months later, while still litigating, his wife was committed to a mental hospital and diagnosed with schizophrenia. (Brought on or just exacerbated by the stress of litigation? We’ll never know.) In any event, my client, not wanting his adult daughter saddled with his wife’s care, took her back in. This honorable man then instructed me to withdraw his petition for divorce.

Nevertheless, he wrote me an amazing testimonial. What he highlighted was very true, though I had never thought of it this way. Among other things, he said, “Joryn is a strong believer in the collaborative process (although my case did not lend itself to an amicable resolution), which is the way to go because the State of Florida, from my experience, seems to want both parties to reach an agreement and the case will go on and on until they arrive at that point.” Emphasis added.

He had realized that the court system forces you into ADR anyway. As cases languish in litigation, parties spend more and more money and the anger that spouses feel towards each other inflames to excessive levels. If they finally get to trial, their relationships and their finances have usually been destroyed by years of litigation. But what usually happens is that they are ordered by the court to attend one more mediation before trial. There they agree to something that is far from what they ever would have originally considered, either because they’re exhausted and just want it to be over, or because they’ve run through all their money and their credit, or both, and it’s just not worth continuing to fight.

Can this really be considered a win? I think it just proves how wasteful and destructive long-term litigation can be. Consider, instead, one of the alternative dispute resolution processes early on, before you destroy your family and your finances. Talk to your lawyer about mediation or collaboration, before you file your petition for divorce.

Learn more about Joryn Jenkins at OpenPalmLaw.com

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