Washington, DC—After over 25 years working in family law, Jonathan Dana has learned that in divorce cases, families are happier when their problems can be resolved through mediation rather than intense court battles.
According to Dana, the key to having a happy marriage—or an amicable separation—can actually start before wedding bells ring. “People with pre-nuptial agreements are much more informed than the person who does not know what the law is if there is a marriage.” By getting a pre-nuptial agreement, Dana says, couples will learn how the law divides property in the event of a divorce, and how custody is assigned. Husbands and wives can agree on spousal support arrangements before marrying, so both people understand their expectations.
People who seek divorces are sometimes looking for an aggressive litigator who will pursue a high-conflict strategy. This is not the kind of client that Jonathan Dana typically accepts in his practice. “People select me and know they aren't getting a junkyard dog. They come to me to think through issues and resolve cases without making a bigger mess than they need to.”
Because today's family courts offer a wide range of options for divorcing couples, including collaborative processes and mediation, there is no longer a need for the vast majority of couples to go through the emotional trauma of a divorce trial.
Some couples, Dana says, are more likely than others to resolve disputes out of the courtroom. Such couples, he says, are “businesslike and have realistic empathy for the other side. They have understanding and an ability to compromise and understand the reality.” On the other hand, “People who end up getting into lengthy discovery and trial are people who feel they have been betrayed by their spouse.”
Complications that create trials are “driven by a lack of trust,” according to Dana. “Mental illness, character disorders, suspicion and emotional dysfunction—the more likely there is betrayal, the more likely it will drive a trial driven result. People lack trust and empathy for the other side, then have difficulty compromising and making a deal.”
Only five percent of cases brought to Jonathan Dana's office go all the way to a trial in front of a judge. In fact, many of these cases are actually resolved and settled before the discovery process even begins, usually when couples are motivated to work together.
Mediation and collaborative resolution are critical to avoiding “messy” situations, Dana says. “Making a divorce messy is only in the interest of the lawyer,” he says, and mediation can be “more valuable than court—an opportunity to reach compromise and frame your own resolution, whereas if you go to court, you give up a lot of the decision to a judge you've never met, who doesn't know what they think about certain values.”
Couples looking for a divorce attorney may want someone certified in collaborative law, like Jonathan Dana, to help them reach a resolution. His advice for anyone seeking a divorce attorney? “Ask around, get names. The internet is a great place to start looking. Really look around, get educated, and it's important to interview more than one attorney to see who you might fit with. You will be working closely with the attorney and sharing intimate details, so you want someone trustworthy, who will look out for your best interest instead of their own and won't spend the entire family estate doing it.”