Collaborative Divorce lets couples split with dignity

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Divorce. Some call it the real life version of chess. You're left trying to out maneuver, out play and outlast your former spouse.

If your fairytale ends, you're left with some tough decisions that could leave you broke if you're not careful.

Vladimir and Jennifer Tokarev were young college students when their storybook romance blossomed at Tulane University. 18 years and two children later, they realized their happily ever after was at a dead end.

"Given our situation, there was no reason to fight. We just wanted the best option for our children and for our family," says Jennifer Tokarev.

In South Carolina, there's only four grounds for divorce:

1) Adultery

2) Abandonment for a period of one year

3) Physical cruelty

4) Habitual drunkenness (any narcotic dependency)

If those don't fit, there's a no-fault divorce option, but you have to wait a year of separation before you can even file.

"I think some people think that they have to get some sort of payback. You cheated on me, you broke my heart, now I'm going to empty your bank account. It doesn't work that way in South Carolina. It's not supposed to work that way," says attorney Regina Ward who's certified in Collaborative Law.

For the Tokarevs it wasn't until they lawyered up in Charleston that they learned about collaborative divorce. It's gaining traction in areas like Charleston and Columbia, but it's brand new in Horry County.

In this realm of family law, winning or losing doesn't exist. You never step foot in the courtroom and when the deal is sealed, the average couple keeps more money in their pocket.

"Our attorneys gave us guidance and counsel and advice. They were our co-pilots. Vladimir and I were in the driver's seat the entire time. When we finished the process and everything was said and done, we were like well, 'We got exactly what we wanted. It was a good feeling,'" says Jennifer Tokarev.

Although difficult, collaborative law focuses on removing the emotion and treating your separation like a business transaction. The goal is to walk away in the best emotional and financial situation possible. "In a traditional divorce setting they're trying to get as much as they can in their basket. In a collaborative law process, it's like how can we even out the baskets and how can we cooperate and share information," says attorney Regina Ward.

A world of difference compared to the traditional route where you find yourself here in court sitting before a judge who ultimately decides the fate of you and your family. And the reason why couples save so much money is because they don't have to come here. As we all know, the courts take time and it's costly.

Less than a year after the divorce, Jennifer and Vladimir sit in the very kitchen they used to share as husband and wife. Things have obviously changed, but they've learned how to move forward.

"I have a relationship with Vladimir that I don't even feel comfortable calling him my ex-husband. It sounds so harsh so removed, so cold. l call him the father of my children. It's more respectful and it's dignified and that is what collaborative divorce is. Divorce with dignity," says Jennifer.

Although it's not a requirement, most people who choose collaborative law have children. The Tokarev's say having a divorce coach and a child specialist helped the process of morphing into this new kind of family, easier.

"We are now caring for these two children who are the result of a wonderful relationship and that's how we look at it. A lot of people look at divorce as the death of a family, the death of a marriage, the death. We still have a family," says Jennifer.

And even if you have bitterness toward your ex, Vladimir urges everyone to at least look into it. "It doesn't hurt to try. You can try. If mediation isn't the route for you, go to litigation. We always had that option. I do think that's why we're sitting here in the kitchen a year later discussing this."

And something else to keep in mind -- because traditional divorce is taken through the courts -- that information becomes public for everyone to see. but divorcing with collaborative law is different -- your information is kept sealed and secret.

According to the Collaborative Law professionals here is a general idea of what you can expect:

1) Meet with your attorney

2) Meet together with attorneys

3) Meet with divorce coach

4) Meet with financial expert

5) Meeting with child specialist

6) Optional Meetings: vocational specialist, mortgage planner, business valuator.

7) Meet together with attorneys

8) Divorce documents are written up

9) Final meeting

Differences between Collaborative vs. Traditional Divorce:

  Collaborative Divorce Traditional Divorce
1 financial expert 2 financial experts
2 lawyers 2 lawyers + Guardian Ad Litem to represent kids
No private investigator Private investigator collects "proof" of fault divorce (optional)
Divorce coach No divorce coach (counseling is optional)
Child Specialist Guardian Ad Litem "investigates" who will become primary provider, creates customized visitation schedule

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