Monday, June 1, 2015

Dealing with a Spouse Coming Out

While it is still fairly uncommon, we are starting to see more situations where a couple has been married a long time and "suddenly" one spouse tells the other that he/she is gay. That will generally end a marriage.

The spouse coming out has usually thought about it for a long time and often tries to avoid or fight the realization that he/she is gay.  Many times, the other spouse is totally surprised, but sometimes the spouse may have had suspicions or there may have even been some discussions in the past.  Either way, this will be a very difficult time for both parties.  It becomes way more difficult if there are kids.  There are often feelings of anger, denial, disappointment and fear.

Because this is such an emotional time, counseling can be very helpful for both spouses and children, but the counseling would be to help the parties adjust, not to undo the change of circumstances.

Assuming there's no turning back, the parents will face divorce.  With that, they should consider the "how" -- which process they will use for the divorce.  Will it be litigation,  mediation, do-it-yourself or Collaborative Law? Given the name of this blog, it should be no surprise that I recommend Collaborative Law.  Here's why, based on my experience:

1. Privacy.  Many people would prefer to keep their personal business and finances private.  That would be true in many cases where a party is coming out, depending on how public they are willing to make things.  In Collaborative cases, the process is private from the beginning.  Litigation is not and litigation is often used prior to going to mediation.  The process of mediation is private, but it does not have all the attributes of Collaborative Law. (see below)

2. Flexibility.  Collaborative Law provides great flexibility in timing and outcome.  You can work at your own speed (whatever both parties agree to) and there are very few limits on the terms of your agreement, as long as it is clear and enforceable.  In litigation or do-it-yourself, and sometimes in mediation, your schedule is at the mercy of the Court.  In litigation or do-it-yourself, the results tend to be according to guidelines and standard outcomes, rather than customized.

3. Utilization of a team of professionals.  This is only the case in Collaborative Law.  We normally use a team of two attorneys, a neutral therapist and a neutral financial advisor.  The therapist helps the parties to listen and communicate better and to deal with basic children's issues, if any.  The financial advisor gathers, organizes, reviews and explains all the financial information. You won't find that in any of the other processes.  In many cases, one parent has little knowledge of the finances while the other has had less involvement with the children.  The experts help level the playing field.

4. Civilized and less stressful.  For everyone going through a divorce, the future is uncertain.  The process of divorce takes an emotional toll on the parties.   Having specially trained attorneys, plus the neutral experts, creates a safer environment.  We plan and manage the meetings to reduce stress for the parties.  It is much easier to attend small meetings than it is to show up at the courthouse and possibly have to testify.

5. No duplicate experts.  We utilize a single, neutral expert for jobs such as real estate appraisal, business appraisal or tax considerations.  We can also use a child specialist if there are significant children's issues.  In litigated cases, it is common for each side to hire their own set of experts, which doubles the cost for the clients.

If you are facing a divorce after either you or your spouse has come out, you should find an experienced Collaborative Lawyer and discuss your situation to see if the process would be the best option for you.  Make sure the lawyer has handled a number of Collaborative cases and believes in the process.  Most Collaborative attorneys can handle litigation if you prefer that process, but not all litigation attorneys can do Collaborative work.  Good luck!