How To Divorce

To Litigate or Mediate A Divorce: That Is The Question.

by Ellen Plasil, J.D.

Creating a Blended Picture

Each spouse brings separate colors.

Each spouse brings different tools.

They blend them all together and paint their picture on one page.

No two couples are the same, and no two spouses that make up a couple are identical. Each half of every couple brings to the relationship different thought processes and different coping skills—i.e., different tools—with which to handle life's day-to-day events and challenges. Each half brings to the relationship unique ideas and individual emotional presets, too—i.e., separate colors—which help to fulfill and realize the life one has chosen. When a marriage is in harmony, the differences between the spouses are not in conflict with one another, but rather compliment one another. Differences can add interest, texture, and balance to the relationship. Differences, therefore, are not by their nature a problem to be overcome. 

When a couple makes the decision to separate and divorce, however, it is usually fair to conclude that their differences have become too great to outweigh the benefits they may have once served. Sometimes the couple have grown apart. Sometimes there has been a betrayal. And sometimes, inexplicable or intervening events have caused the demise of what was once a thriving union.

Depending on how the couple reached the point where one or both decided to divorce, divorcing itself is not easy. The emotional components can range from self-admonishment for "failing" at the marriage, and end with condemnation of the other spouse for causing the breakdown. The emotions that fall in between those two bookends may include bitterness, grief, regret, guilt, contempt, anger, and even hatred.

For most, but not all, the emotions that come with the ending of a marriage pass with time.

If irreparable damage has not been caused by the divorce process itself, each spouse will likely get to the other side of this trauma where a new light begins to shine and where the darkness of laying a marriage to rest gets replaced by a need to move forward towards something brighter. How one makes that transition from deciding to end a marriage, to actually ending it, will be a significant factor in determining what sort of person emerges at the other end, and how quickly that person gets there.

There are options open to couples who have decided to end their marriage, options that offer monumental differences in how the journey towards divorce will unfold from point A to point B; from the decision to end the marriage, to the divorce decree. Those options include a choice about which map will chart the course to the judgment of dissolution of marriage. One map leads to an abdication of one's own voice, as lawyers are selected to speak for you. It is that same map that usually leads to an escalation in the acrimony, anger and contempt that may have accompanied the decision to divorce. It is also the map that will cost the most money. That is the map of litigation that leads to the courtroom.

The other map leads to ownership of one's own voice and emotions, allowing you to speak for yourself but requiring that you speak with thought and deliberation, controlling emotions that may be telling you to do otherwise. It is that same map that guides your process by offering you knowledge from a trained professional, empowering you to substitute a dialogue for a dogfight. It is a map that is predicated on the conviction that each person should and can rely on their faculty of reason to identify the best interest of their children and the best math for dividing the finances of a dissolving partnership. That is the map of mediation that leads to a fair negotiated resolution of a divorce. 

In mediation, as in marriage, each spouse brings to the table a set of different tools and an array of separate colors. In mediation, however, they create the basis of a blended picture that will define and determine how each spouse leaves the marriage and how each one moves on from here. 

For over thirty years, I have practiced divorce law in the state of Connecticut. The first fifteen years of my practice were—by choice—focused on complex divorce cases that sometimes required a trial (litigation) to find a fair resolution. These cases included, among other things, complicated parenting issues and parental abductions; spousal abuse and child abuse; high valued assets and hidden assets; interstate and intrastate custody disputes; alimony and income capacity disputes; debt allocation; and grandparent's rights. Whereas most cases settled before the commencement of trial, the road to resolving a case fairly within the limitations of the court system was always a long, stressful and expensive road for the divorcing couple. 

My experience as a divorce litigator taught me many things, not the least of which was that litigation always—always—took an extraordinary emotional and financial toll on both sides of the divorce case, and an unspeakable psychological toll on the children—especially where custody and parenting plans were in dispute. Some people never recover from the experience.

On September 11, 2001, again by choice, I decided to redirect my entire practice away from litigation and towards an alternative process that was designed to reduce the stress, the anger, the cost and the time that was either imposed by, or the result of, divorce litigation. That alternative is mediation. Since that date in September 2001, and with rare exception, I have served exclusively as an attorney-mediator for countless couples seeking a better way to divorce, helping them to resolve their disputes without litigation, without the exorbitant cost of trial attorneys, without waiting for a court system that could take one, two or more years to reach the trial of their case, and without relinquishing control of their process and their voices to other people.

Today, instead of preparing for trials, I am using my legal education, my years of litigation experience, and my knowledge about court policy, law, and legal procedure, to educate couples who are divorcing and guide them to an informed, fair, legal, all-encompassing, and mutually acceptable agreement that will be declared “fair and equitable” when the document reciting their agreement is reviewed by the judge. The document is called the “Separation Agreement” and its creation is the end result of any successful negotiation of the terms that will govern a particular divorce. The Separation Agreement, or a large part of it, eventually becomes the law of the case.

Besides serving as "the law of the case," the Separation Agreement serves a second purpose. It serves as a mirror that reflects the best that is within each spouse and becomes proof that it was possible for them to move through pain and anger, contempt and condemnation, while maintaining their dignity, civility, and even creativity. 

Yes, each spouse indeed brings to the mediation table a set of different tools and an array of separate colors. Yes, they create the basis of a blended picture that will define and determine how each spouse leaves the marriage and how each one moves on from here. At the end, two people with opposing interests will have created something that not only resolved their differences in the most cost-effective manner possible; not only will they have covered in a timely fashion all the issues that every divorce must address and resolve; but they will have also chosen their own terms for their own divorce (so long as they satisfy the legal criteria), retaining control over their own futures. That would not have been the result of their divorce process had they picked up a different map.

Where different tools and separate colors create a blended picture

Areas in Connecticut Serviced by The Firm

Serving New Haven County, including Woodbridge, Guilford, Madison, Cheshire, Ansonia, Beacon Falls, Bethany, Branford, Derby, East Haven, Hamden, Meriden, Middlebury, Milford, Naugatuck, North Branford, North Haven, East Haven, Orange, Oxford, Prospect, Seymour, Southbury, Wallingford, Waterbury, West Haven, Wolcott, New Haven and the surrounding communities. Also serving Fairfield County, including Danbury, Easton, Westport, Weston, Fairfield, Bridgeport, Ridgefield, Redding, Newtown, New Fairfield, Sherman, Shelton, Trumbull, Brookfield, and Monroe.

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