When a marriage or relationship is in trouble, I don’t think that having more money will do any more for that couple, than simply paper the cracks. If lack of money was the main reason for a relationship breakdown , then we would not get wealthier people separating. And if not having money was the greatest ill to befall a couple, then we would not see marriages of any duration amongst the poorer sections of our communities. How often do we hear older couples reflecting on their marriage saying that they were happiest when they were young and had nothing. Equally we hear that when money troubles come in the window, love flies out the door. And so I take all this talk about recession increasing divorce rates or decreasing divorce rates depending on who is doing the spinning, with a large grain of salt.
There is no doubt that lack of money will place certain strains on any relationship. In our economy it is mainly men who are losing their employment. Loss of employment tends to affect men more fundamentally than women. The result will be heightened stress levels which in turn can have a disastrous effect on sex and intimacy within a relationship. Sex or lack of it is a good barometer of the health of any relationship. People who have a good healthy sex life tend to be nicer to one another and to forgive one another little failings and overlook faults. Without tolerance all relationships come under serious strain.
If the pundits are to be believed, the recession is leading to increase in divorce in the States. It is impossible to draw comparisons between Ireland and elsewhere since the Irish jurisdiction for divorce is only 13 years old, whereas divorce has existed elsewhere in Europe and in the States for a very long time. In those societies, the stresses and strains of a recession may, accordingly, affect societal norms differently than here. The culture of “you made your bed” is still slightly just below the radar but by no means gone, in Ireland. Combined with the fear of dipping a toe in the water in the current economic climate, we are , I believe, but I have not seen any statistics, experiencing a downturn in the numbers of people applying to court for separation or divorce. Those who are separating or divorcing at the moment seem to be those who feel they have no other option either because there is violence or some other serious issue. One can only imagine the misery of many other couples obliged to remain together in very difficult and trying circumstances. Of course, if such couples could co-exist as lodgers in a polite and civilised way then it would not be so bad but for most there is daily conflict and unbearable stress all of which, quite apart from what it does to the couples themselves, has an enormously damaging effect on any children . So is staying together through gritted teeth the only option for such couples?
Alternative Dispute Resolution in the form of collaboration and mediation offers a welcome alternative to couples in these situations. Because they operate without the restrictions of legal precedent, rules of court and so forth, collaboration in particular, and mediation to some extent, has the potential to be future focussed, creative and flexible in ways not open to the courts. Collaboration as it is a process which works with specially trained lawyers amongst other professionals also provides couples separating with the security of a legally binding agreement. When we work collaboratively in West Cork we tend to work in larger interdisciplinary teams, ie with other collaboratively trained professionals from different professional backgrounds. Members of our teams have the benefit of enormous professional experience working with families in crisis from different perspectives combined with their collaborative training and experience and their mediation skills. The professionals who work collaboratively with each couple are drawn from legal, therapeutic, psychological, child and family systems experts as well as financial planners. Couples opting for collaboration do not have to engage all these professionals. It depends on the circumstances. This is something that is worked out between the collaborative lawyers and the couple in each particular case. Whether you are collaborating or not, however, many couples who separate or divorce wind up having to take advice not only from lawyers but frequently also engaging the services of child specialists, accountants, auctioneers, counsellors to name but a few. Think how much more convenient it might be to have the benefit of their collective experience and input all at the same time? That is what collaboration offers. Apart from convenience though, if you consult with such individuals separately, ie outside of collaboration, you will frequently encounter a disjointed approach from different perspectives to your particular circumstances. This becomes even more disjointed and confused if your partner is also consulting with separate professionals at different times and locations. Not only does this multiply the expense but it frequently leads to intense conflict as the professionals battle it out in correspondence to assert their individual points of view. Another aspect of collaborative team, however, which I have written extensively about, is the fact that the sum is greater than its parts. Working together with each couple the team has the capacity to be highly creative and to tailor solutions to each couples particular circumstances. Obviously in a recession a flexible, individually focussed, creative approach, is highly beneficial in finding good solutions for each family. Clearly there are some family circumstances that will not merit the input of the entire team and some that will. In each case we look at the family circumstances and with the couple the collaborative lawyers will endeavour to put together the optimum team to best serve this particular family or couple.
Collaborative teams have the merit of being able to respond to changing economic circumstances as they arise with great speed. Quite often the length of time it takes to get to court can defeat the purpose of going in the first place or the delays can contribute to further losses than would otherwise have been incurred. In Collaboration, a couple does not have to wait for a court date for the necessary action to be taken in their case, the team can respond as required, come together to discuss and brainstorm options and take whatever action needs to be taken in any given situation.