Celebrity Divorces and Collaborative Law

This week reports emerged that Madonna’s divorce from Guy Ritchie has been finalised by being given a rubber stamp in the United States.

As another celebrity divorce is concluded, it is interesting to note the ways in which different couples conduct their divorces and the varying degrees of significance which are placed on the many aspects of their lives which are effected by the breakdown of their marriage.

Many Ways to Skin a Cat

The prominence given to these different components of a celebrity couple’s divorce is almost always given a twist as it passes through the media’s looking-glass. But even so, it is still possible to observe celebrity divorces and conclude that, just as there are many ways to skin a cat, there are many ways to conduct a divorce.

In stark contract to the widely reported drawn-out bitter battle between Paul McCartney and Heather Mills, the terms of Madonna’s divorce were negotiated with seeming civility behind closed doors.

Media reports reflect two interesting contrasts between these two celebrity divorces.

Opting Out of Conflict
Firstly, in the Mills/McCartney battle, conflict was sky high and finances appeared to be the key concern. In Madonna v Ritchie, it appeared that conflict was managed and kept to a minimum while the couple’s children appeared to be at the forefront of considerations. We read reports of Madonna sending a list of 10 access rules to her estranged husband and it emerged in reports that the children of the marriage are to reside with their mother in the United States while spending extended time with their father during school holidays.

Clearly, the issues which parties identify as their key focus in separation will vary from couple to couple. These issues will be influenced by factors including whether the couple have children, each party’s accommodation needs, each party’s financial commitments and needs and each party’s work arrangements and earning capacity.

However, it is a common trend among separating couples that where there are children involved, if the couple can minimise the conflict between themselves, the couple have a greater chance of focussing on their children and the needs of the family. In this way, they can seek to ensure that the children’s interests are catered for when arrangements are being reshaped for family life post-separation.

Does the Separation Process have to Erode Dignity?
The second stark contrast between these two celebrity splits is the dignity retained by the parties during the separation process.

Often the tabloid media reportage does little to assist any individual to retain dignity through the camera lense. However, Mills undoubtedly did herself and McCartney no favours, not only by the manner in which she presented to the media, but also by her apparent unflinching focus on the finances and the bitter and public conflict with her husband - not to mention the incident where she doused Fiona Shackleton, McCartney’s lawyer, with a glass of water : a move which surely brewed over months of extended conflict!

Guy Ritchie, on the other hand, reportedly indicated early on in the separation process that his main concern was for the children of the marriage. On the whole, by conducting negotiations about their separation early in the process and by seeking to keep a lid on the conflict (particularly as seen by the public), Madonna and Ritchie were able to retain their dignity and get on with their lives post-separation in a newly-structured family life.

Maybe Madonna Took the Collaborative Approach
What can be seen from the Madonna/Ritchie divorce is something which Collaborative Family Lawyers experience on a regular basis. That is, where a separating couple can come together in a safe environment and commit to talking openly and frankly about the issues that are of the most concern to them, they can make progress on reaching a separation agreement with significantly less conflict.

Children and Conflict
Also, where both parties identify their children among their primary concerns, and where they work together to develop creative plans for co-parenting post-separation, they can progress swiftly towards identifying what is important for them and structuring arrangements to facilitate both parties.

Where couples chose to separate using the collaborative process, the reduction in conflict and their commitment to coming together to talk through their disagreements with the assistance and guidance of their solicitors, can enable the parties to achieve their goal of separating with dignity and respect. This goal is generally not reached where the parties have little control over the process and where they communicate through conflict.

Collaborative Law in Ireland
Family lawyers started practising Collaborative Law in Ireland over three year ago and it is now the fastest growing method of resolving family law disputes outside of Court in Ireland. More and more couples are choosing Collaborative Law in order to keep control of the process of separation. The process moves at a pace which the parties chose. The parties address the issues which are of most importance to them and work together in an open and frank manner in order to seek solutions to their difficulties.

In Collaborative Law, the parties agree not to go to Court and agree to work together to reach an agreement about all matters arising in their separation. The process is completely confidential and operates whereby the couple engage in a series of face-to-face meetings with their solicitors. The number of meetings depends on the number and complexity of the matters that have to be worked upon and can vary from 4 to over 10. The collaborative process provides a safe environment for the parties to explore options which can form the basis for their separation agreement.

Because the agreement is built by the couple, it is far more likely to be a workable and solid agreement. The parties will generally be significantly more satisfied with this agreement that they would be if a decision were made by a judge who (no matter how good his intentions) can never be expected to fully understand what is best for a family after a short hearing of a family law case.

As both parties work together during the process, if they need the assistance of other professionals such as valuers and accountants, they will agree to retain one collaboratively trained financial neutral who will provide information to them both. There is no need to retain two professionals, as the parties would in the traditional Court process. This can significantly reduce costs for the parties. Also, if the parties need support during the process, collaboratively trained Family Consultants are at hand to support the parties during the separation process.

Creative Options for Separating
At a time when purse-strings are tight, judges are having to come up with creative ways of dealing with a family’s assets in separation and divorce. With Collaborative Law, the couple retains control over the agreement and can work together in a respectful environment to reach an agreement which best suits their needs and those of their children. After all, no-one can understand the operation of a family as well as the parties themselves.

Although not every marriage breaks down under the camera’s spotlight, a lot can be learned from Madonna and Guy Ritchie and their choice to keep conflict to a minimum and to have their children at the forefront of the negotiations. Irish separating couples can now chose to take a leaf from their book and separate with dignity and respect with Collaborative Law.

If you or someone you know would like to know more about Collaborative Law please visit
www.lillianosullivan.com and www.acp.ie. Lillian O’Sullivan is a solicitor practicing in Cork and can be contacted on 021 4274711 or at lillianosullivan@gmail.com.