As the Tampa Bay Times reported a few months ago, a website hack has meant that thousands of spouses have been caught red-handed while trying to cheat. AshleyMadison.com, a website that bills itself as “the most famous name in infidelity and married dating,” was targeted by a “hacktivist” group who made public the website’s clientele list and their personal information.
This hack has left many marriages on the rocks. No matter how you look at it, divorce is difficult, and so hopefully most of the marriages can be saved with the help of trusted clergy or a marriage and family therapist. But the train may have already left the station for many of the marriages.
Though the hack may have made Ashley Madison’s clientele list public, separating spouses can still maintain a modicum of dignity and keep the details of their divorce private. The collaborative divorce process gives spouses the opportunity to spare their children, family, friends, and others from learning the specifics of why they are separating by resolving their divorce issues in private conference rooms rather than in a public courthouse. In collaborative divorce there are no court reporters, no transcripts, and no judging by a public official.
The collaborative process is a voluntary process, and so each spouse must agree to it. They each retain attorneys who pledge to focus solely on helping the spouses reach a full out-of-court settlement; the attorneys are contractually-barred from engaging in costly and destructive contested proceedings (they cannot file contested pleadings or motions, and they cannot appear at trials or other hearings where the parties are not in agreement).
This means that, unlike the traditional divorce process, spouses in the collaborative process are not seen as “opposing parties” but as teammates. Attorneys do not use their legal skills to engage in opposition research, but to help the clients reach an agreement that is acceptable to both.
As a spouse may have been caught cheating, there is likely to be a lot of anger and mistrust. The collaborative model recognizes that divorce is not just a legal process, but also an emotional process. This is why a neutral facilitator, who generally has mental health training, is usually engaged to help spouses cut through the emotional clutter that might otherwise block an agreement and help them focus on the future and what is most important to them (i.e., the children).
In any divorce, Florida law requires there to be certain financial disclosure. In the traditional divorce, financial documents and information are made part of the court record. In a collaborative divorce, a neutral financial professional is oftentimes engaged to serve as a repository of the spouses’ financial information and ensure that they can verify the other spouse’s information. The financial professional can also help develop support and asset distribution options that are specifically tailored to the particular family and ensure that both parties have a financial plan to help them transition from married to single life.
Though your Ashley Madison account may have been made public, the details of your divorce can still remain private via the collaborative process.
Adam B. Cordover is managing attorney at Family Diplomacy and now practices exclusively in out-of-court dispute resolution. He is president of Next Generation Divorce, a 501(c)(3) and Florida’s largest collaborative practice group. He is also on the Executive Board of the Collaborative Family Law Council of Florida and on the Research Committee of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals.