Not long ago, I had an opportunity to sit down with a former news reporter and editor to discuss our unique Friendly Divorce, and why it seems to have struck such a positive chord with couples facing the prospect of a divorce. I thought blog readers would benefit from reading a transcript of my conversation with Jim Bliwas.
Jim Bliwas – Allison, thanks for spending time with me this afternoon. The place I’d like to begin is at the beginning: What gave you the idea for creating Friendly Divorce in the first place?
Allison Maxim – Several years ago, I realized that a growing number of divorcing couples were going to court on their own without legal representation because the family law system had become increasingly complicated and expensive for the typical couple. They didn’t have a lot of assets and may have been able to decide on child support and custody issues, but there wasn’t any viable way for them to avoid hiring attorneys. I envisioned Friendly Divorce as a way to ensure that a skilled family law attorney could assist a busy couple with the process so that their divorce gets done correctly. That said, I am ethically only able to have one member of the couple retain our firm. My client can then discuss the process and reach agreement with their spouse on the various aspects of the divorce.
JB – Is there a “typical couple” for whom Friendly Divorce is most appropriate?
AM – Not really. The common denominator is that both parties want to end their marriage amicably and without a prolonged court fight.
Now, it’s true that most of the couples who choose a Friendly Divorce haven’t been married very long, don’t have substantial assets to divide, or might not yet have children.
But we have worked with couples who’ve been married 10 or more years, both spouses are working and there may be a substantial income disparity. They’ve had time to acquire valuable assets such as the marital home and vacation property, cars and boats, investment accounts, and so on. What matters more than the dollars involved is a willingness to work through and resolve the various issues on their own, without attorneys or a judge intervening. Friendly Divorce is only appropriate for couples who have reached agreement on all terms of their divorce, and who are committed to resolving any disagreements that may arise in the process in mediation.
JB – So what are the key criteria for a couple thinking about this approach rather than a traditional divorce?
AM – While ethics rules prohibit us from representing both sides in a divorce, even an amicable one, we can explain the process to the spouse that contacts our firm. If we determine that the couple’s situation is a good fit for Friendly Divorce, then we can proceed with Friendly Divorce.
JB – Friendly Divorce assumes that everything goes smoothly. What happens if there is a snag along the way and the couple reach a stumbling block?
AM – One of the important roles I play in a Friendly Divorce is to help my client find ways to resolve differences that seem to be intractable. My training and background as an experienced mediator often comes into play in laying out a way for my client to negotiate with their spouse to overcome sticking points as they work through what can be thorny issues such as visitation and child support, dividing property and so on.
Additionally, I have a wealth of professional contacts and will refer our Friendly Divorce clients to a mediator, psychologist, or financial professional to assist the couple in resolving any sticking points that may arise.
JB – Without going into specifics, can you give a comparison of the cost difference between a Friendly Divorce and a traditional divorce?
AM – Not really, because each divorce is unique. However, after I’ve met with a potential client and learn more about their specific situation, I can give a precise idea of what their Friendly Divorce may cost. We charge a flat fee for Friendly Divorce so that couples know how much the entire process will cost up front.
JB – Finally, how do judges react when you come into court to obtain a decree with only one party sitting in the courtroom?
AM – Frankly, they are delighted that a couple isn’t trying to represent themselves and that they have been able to resolve all of the outstanding issues on their own. Instead of spending significant time going through problem areas, generally the judge can issue a final decree in 10 or 15 minutes because the filings are done correctly, the evidence required is in the proper form and format, and everything is properly signed. Friendly Divorce makes the judges job much simpler.