Colorado Public Radio Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner recently interviewed Robert Hyatt, retired Denver District Court’s Chief Judge and The Center For Out-Of-Court Divorce (COCD) volunteer and Dr. Megan Quinn, who recently finalized her divorce through COCD.
Dr. Quinn shares her experience with COCD. She and her ex-husband have four kids and didn’t want to have fear, anger and vulnerability driving their divorce. She and her ex-husband both felt it was important to honor their family and each other in the process. Judge Hyatt also explained his role as a volunteer with COCD and offered his perspective on the difference between an in-court and out-of-court divorce.
Read the transcript below or listen to the full interview, Denver Nonprofit Wants to Cut Divorce Conflict, on the CPR website.
Transcript: Denver Nonprofit Wants to Cut Divorce Conflict
Ryan Warner: What if divorce could be less stressful for couples with kids? That is the goal of The Center For Out-Of-Court Divorce in Denver, which opened in the fall of 2015. The nonprofit is a kind of one-stop-shop. Mediators there help develop parenting and financial plans and counselors help families with the emotional challenges.
Sue Carparelli runs The Center. She says she based it on research on what does and doesn’t work and she looked to Australia, which “established relationship centers in recognition of the needs for support for families in transition.”
The COCD charges a flat rate of $4,500, through there’s help for families who cannot afford that. A divorce involving lawyers typically costs between $10,000-$30,000, although if a couple uses just a mediator it is less than that.
In a few minutes we’re going to meet a retired judge who comes in at the end of the process to finalize these out-of-court divorces, but first lets hear from someone who has had an out –of-court divorce. Dr. Megan Quinn used The Center. Welcome to the program. Help us understand what you had to work through. You have four kids. What were the circumstances that led to your divorce?
Dr. Quinn: My ex-husband, JP, is also a physician in emergency medicine. I have two kids from a previous marriage and then JP and I have two kids together. So I would say when it came time to work through this, we really wanted to sort of honor our intentions as a family in terms of co-parenting and the family that we had created. You know, just the love that we have for the kids. More than anything, divorce can be a process that brings up a lot of fear and a lot of anger and vulnerability and to sort of have this center really guide you through that made a huge difference for us.
Ryan Warner: And what were your intentions. Talk about wanting to be true to those even through the divorce.
Dr. Quinn: This is somebody that you created a family with and it is somebody you are forever going to going to have a relationship with because you are parents together. And figuring out how to start building the relationship that you’re going to have for the remainder of your lives is really important. We created that family with intention of really operating from a place of love and figuring out how to honor this person as not only your former partner but also the parent of these children.
Ryan Warner: What I find fascinating about what you’re saying is that divorce is not just the end of a relationship; it’s the creation of a new one with new terms. So your divorce was finalized earlier this year. What is the main reason that you and your ex-husband chose the out-of-court divorce approach?
Dr. Quinn: So we had a friend who worked with The Center. Again, I think we have had, as all of us have probably have had, friends that have gone through divorces in other formats that have been really contentious and difficult and everybody pays a huge, huge price. Not just you as grown ups individually, but also ultimately the children. For us it was really, really important in acknowledging that, yes this was the end of one part of our relationship and sort of the end of what it looked like at that point. And then moving forward and really deciding what do we want to create now and how do we want to do it, including a parenting plan and financial planning.
Ryan Warner: Including a custody plan and financial plan. And these were both things you turned to The Center for. Do you feel like the resolution was agreeable to both parties?
Dr. Quinn: absolutely. The premise of working with The Center is two people who are willing to work together in new partnership, both individuals. I don’t think The Center is set up to do a lot of contentious mediation, but we came into that process really looking for help to guide us through how to make all these decisions: legal decisions, parenting plan decisions in terms of custody and vacations and schedules, and then there are these other financial pieces. Really I think just acknowledging that these things and divorce can bring out the worst in people. JB and I both are really good friends to each other. I also think that we honor and respect who each of us is to the children.
Ryan Warner: So you started from a pretty good place, which is more than some couples I’m sure can say. What about the counseling services, especially for the kids? Let me say The Center For Out-Of-Court Divorce is focused on couples that are splitting up with kids.
Dr. Quinn: Right, absolutely. We actually utilized a succession counseling series for our younger children, which I was mentioning to Judge Hyatt earlier that our younger one is worried about ending because he loved it so much. He calls it his club and doesn’t want it to end. I think it really speaks to how well they have done in terms of holding that space for the children.
Ryan Warner: What was the biggest issue they had to tackle with the kids in terms of counseling?
Dr. Quinn: You know, we were not in a situation where there was a lot of fighting or arguing in front of the children at all. So I think for our children, the biggest issue they had to attack was naming this and acknowledging that our family was going to look different than it had in the past and that it may look different from some of their other friends and really giving them a voice for that. There are ways in which we can do that as their parents, but no matter what at the end of the day, this is not how we wanted this to look. You know when you marry somebody, you don’t intend to end that marriage, and neither is that what the children wanted that to be, even if it is as amicable as possible.
Ryan Warner: Even in that climate there is some explaining to do and some context to have the kids aware of. You mentioned Judge Hyatt, that’s Judge Robert Hyatt, retired Denver District Court Chief Judge. Judge Hyatt, explain your role at The Center.
Judge Hyatt: I volunteer my time with The Center and I come out to The Center about once a month to hear permanent orders hearings there as opposed to in a courtroom somewhere. I am appointed by Chief Justice Nancy Rice of the Colorado Supreme Court to handle these cases and we do exactly what a judge would do in vetting or viewing a permanent orders hearing in a courtroom, except its more relaxed and conversational. I review the plan, the parenting plan and settlement agreement and I have to make sure the parties are on board with this plan, that it is their plan and also that it is fair and equitable and most importantly that it is in fact in the best interest of the kids.
Ryan Warner: You had some experience, I’m guessing, with in-court divorces? How do these differ besides the venue?
Judge Hyatt: Ryan, it is night and day from in-court divorce. It is such a pleasure to sit in a room with parents who have crafted their own parenting plan and who understand that this marriage may be over, and that they will be divorced, but they are parents forever and have to formulate a way to parent in the future.
Frequently litigation builds upon acrimony. It accentuates acrimony. And in court you find people criticizing real and imagined parenting skills of the other party. Viewing this process as something that is a battle, that is warfare and as opposed to what they do at The Center when they are really working hard to co-parent together.
Ryan Warner: You are listening to Colorado Matters. I am Ryan Warner and we are talking about the new Center for Out-Of-Court Divorce in Denver, which opened in the fall. To what extent, Dr. Quinn, was this about saving money and saving time?
Dr. Quinn: For us, it certainly was not about saving time. In fact, we started working with The Center when they were still in their pilot time through DU. We started working with them in the spring of 2014. In terms of timing, it didn’t save us time only because neither of us felt incredibly pressed to get everything done. More than that, we really wanted this process to be one that was not involving lawyers and not involving courts and as much as possible, really staying connected.
Ryan Warner: That was the priority. And let me say, this started as a pilot out of the University of Denver. And so is this something that you’d recommend to your friends? I’m sure if you have friends who are getting divorced, maybe you don’t.
Dr. Quinn: I do. Unfortunately, it’s a rare exception for folks with kids our kids’ ages to not know anybody going through a divorce. I have recommended it to a number of people because I think what I tell people is that looking at how do you want to start, who do you want to be to this person going forward and how do you want to build that. And I think operating from a place that is not out of fear is the way to do that.
Ryan Warner: Judge Hyatt, there are circumstances that are not right for this venue. I’m thinking of relationships where there might be a history of domestic violence for instance. Are there other scenarios in which an out-of-court divorce is inappropriate?
Judge Hyatt: Sure, domestic violence is an important one, but there are many forms of domestic violence. It may be that for parties where one has bullied the other emotionally, economically and a long history of inequity in the relationship, then a courtroom is the appropriate place to protect the rights of both parties and make sure it’s a level playing field. But for the vast majority of people who are just struggling with how they will move forward after a divorce, we think this is a far better alternative.
Ryan Warner: That is Robert Hyatt, retired Denver District Court’s Chief Judge and Dr. Megan Quinn finalized her divorce through the Center for Out-Of-Court Divorce in Denver, which started up in the fall. This is Colorado Matters from CPR News.