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. “In the past, the majority chose 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 Kardashian 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 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 couples, but rather serves as a facilitator to help figure out what’s best.
Elizabeth Kitchen-Troop, an Ann Arbor-based mediator, says because traditional divorce that’s litigated from start to finish is extraordinarily costly, mediation is a much more cost-efficient process. She also says mediation is becoming more popular because it eliminates privacy concerns.
“If you litigate through the court system, there is increasing concern around a party’s privacy,” Kitchen-Troop says. “States are becoming more attuned to these concerns, but at the moment, any case litigated in Michigan is public record.”
In the same vein of mediation, a collaborative law approach to divorce is geared at 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 is structured and 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.
The collaborative divorce trend is growing in the metro Detroit area as word spreads and more attorneys are trained, says Randall Pitler of Pitler Family Law & Mediation in Royal Oak, who has been practicing collaborative law for 15 years.
“I think people are looking for options, ways to avoid court,” he says.
Pitler says that especially when kids are involved, parents don’t start as adversaries in a collaborative divorce; they start the process focused on what’s best for their kids. Along the way, through the experts the process brings to the conference room table, they learn tools to help with communicating and co-parenting.
“It leaves people in a better place,” Pitler says. “My view is that most people, when they decide to get a divorce, want to do something amicable, they want to work it out, they want to move on with their lives. But because of public perception, what’s on TV, they think they have to go hire a pit bull so they do, and then their spouse has to hire a pit bull. Then you are off to the races.”
For more info on a collaborative law divorce, resources and specialists, visit the Collaborative Practice Institute of Michigan website.
Online dispute resolution
This method makes it possible to complete the process of obtaining a divorce online through teleconference 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.
It’s “the wave of the future in terms of legal tech,” says Wasser, who started It’s Over Easy, an online divorce platform that provides everything a person needs to fill out divorce papers online, plus a directory for movers, child therapists, chat rooms and even app suggestions to sell your wedding rings.
With more people shopping online, banking online and dating online, it makes sense, she says.
When it comes to custody, a few of the newer trends are becoming more common.
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.
Bird nesting, Kitchen-Troop says, is often a short-term solution when parties are starting the process of separation.
“This type of household dynamic does have benefits in allowing children to adapt to a new normal when mom and dad are moving through the process of divorce,” she says. “The home becomes a stabilized force, as kids don’t need to move things from home to home.”
Though nesting is expensive and sometimes difficult, Pitler says he sees it happening in more cases, particularly as parents work through a more amicable or collaborative divorce.
“In my own personal view, I think nesting is the fairest thing for the kids, because they are not the ones getting a divorce. It’s a way to keep the kids as stable as possible,” he says.
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.
“In the last 10 years, we have seen a seismic shift from the old-fashioned every other weekend or something close to that, where 50/50 was the exception,” Pitler says. “As the courts are modernizing the thinking, everybody understands that if we are going to look out for the kids first, we need to involve parents.
“So we are seeing a lot more 50/50 or something close to it.”
Tips for parents on the brink of divorce
In her 25 years in practice, 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.” Here’s her advice for spouses who are nearing the decision to split.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
With divorces becoming more and more amicable — and social media more prevalent than ever — divorce parties, complete with cakes, are on the upswing too. Get a local take on this lighter-hearted trend here.
This post originally appeared in the January 2020 issue of Metro Parent and is updated regularly.