Raggedy Andy for Halloween
Tonda as “Raggedy Andy” for Halloween
Halloween is my favorite holiday. I always dress in costume even if I am not going to a Halloween party. In the past, I have dressed as Ms. Piggy, Jacqueline Onassis Kennedy, the Medusa, a Cone Head, the Pinball Wizard, and stuck my head inside a carved pumpkin, just to name a few. It’s the time of year for tricks or treats. While treats are the standard fare, I sometimes think it would be fun to give out tricks instead. Tricks are not appropriate, however, in your divorce process. But many people feel they have been tricked when they find out later they agreed to an ill-conceived settlement. Even if technically there had been no trickery in the settlement process, what was probably missing from it was the transparency and education needed to make informed decisions. By using the collaborative divorce process, you and your spouse are assured of complete transparency of all facts relevant to making an informed decision about your settlement. Furthermore, you both receive the added value of consulting with the appropriate expert to thoroughly understand what the facts mean, be they financial facts, child development facts, legal facts, or communication and relational facts. Making informed decisions is critical to achieving a successful and durable settlement customized to the future needs of your family. No tricks. And yes, treats are still possible despite a divorce.
The Future is BrightPart 6: Selecting the right team for your family may be essential to the success of your Collaborative Divorce. Collaborative Divorce is often a team process, in which you work with mental health professionals and financial neutrals, as well as with attorneys, to help you achieve the best outcome for your family. One of the keys to your success is selecting a team that can best meet the unique needs of your family. Some divorcing couples and professionals prefer the standardized process in which the full team is assembled at the beginning of the case. In Minnesota, a full team generally consists of two attorneys, (one for each party); a child specialist (if there are minor children); a financial neutral and a divorce coach. The advantage of assembling a full team (often described as the “Cadillac” of the Collaborative Divorce Process) at the very beginning is that you know that you have all of the necessary professionals on board, so that all of your family needs can be immediately addressed. While you may be concerned about keeping your professional costs down, the full team process, if used efficiently, will not necessarily be more expensive. Working with the right professionals at the right time may actually reduce the conflict and, therefore, your overall costs. Perhaps more importantly, even if it does cost you a little more, getting a better outcome for your family may have incalculable benefits and may save you financial and emotional costs down the road. Other families and professionals prefer what I will call the “customized team” model. In this model you and your spouse work together to decide exactly which team members you need to help address the unique needs of your family. This option allows you to put your dollars where they are most needed.  For example, if you believe that you and your spouse need the most help in creating a parenting plan, you may wish to spend more of your money working with a child specialist. Similarly, if your difficulties lie primarily with finances or communication, you may wish to spend more time with a financial neutral or a divorce coach. To learn more about the role of each professional and to get assistance in selecting the right team of professionals for your family, go to www.collaborativelaw.org or www.ousky.com .
The Future is BrightPart 5:  Working with a team of professionals in Collaborative Divorce creates better outcomes. A Collaborative Divorce is one in which the husband and the wife each retain a lawyer for settlement purposes only. In addition, in a Collaborative Divorce, the other professionals on the team, must commit to work or settlement purposes as well. Divorce marks the end of a martial relationship and the beginning of a new life. While divorce is a legal proceeding, future success for your family may have more to do with parenting, financial planning and communication than with legal issues. While lawyers can be helpful on these additional  issues, your family can generally get better assistance, at a lower cost, by turning to professionals with more skills in these other areas. If your primary concern is how to co-parent your children in divorce, you are far more likely to gain valuable insights on how to do this by having your family work with a child specialist with the education and training in child development rather than law. If you are concerned about how to meet your expenses in both households, you are likely to get more initial benefit from working with a financial professional than with an attorney.  Similarly, if your primary concern relates to difficulties in communicating with your spouse, you may want to work with a divorce coach who has the skills and training to help you focus on these important areas. The Collaborative Divorce process is often a team process in which you work with a team of professionals rather than just with attorneys. You may initially be apprehensive about working with a team of professionals believing that it will increase your cost. However, if you plan your process carefully, working with other professionals can reduce your cost and help you create a better outcome. Generally, the work done by the financial professionals and the mental health professionals replaces much of the work done by the attorneys, allowing you to get more skilled help, generally, at a lower hourly rate. One of the keys to success in working with a team is to make sure that you get the level of professional help that best meets the needs of your unique family. Options in working with your Collaborative Divorce Team will be discussed in an upcoming blog. However, if you want information on this now, go to www.collaborativelaw.org and www.ousky.com. You can read the final part of this series, here.
The Future is BrightPart 4: Skilled attorneys are essential to a successful Collaborative Divorce. A Collaborative Divorce is one in which the husband and the wife each retain a lawyer for settlement purposes only. When attorneys are required to work for settlement only, it is critical that they have the skill to negotiate successfully without the threat of going to court.   Attorneys are generally trained to advocate for clients through use of argument and a variety of legal strategies, including the threat of court. Collaborative Divorce removes those tools from their toolbox, requiring the attorneys to use other, less damaging, conflict resolution methods. While the Collaborative Commitment–the agreement that the attorneys will withdraw if the matter goes to court–is designed to rein in some of these instinctive legal tactics, the withdrawal agreement by itself is not enough. If the attorneys are not skilled in helping clients achieve settlement without the use of arguments or threats, they may fall back on some of these old habits. In those situations, the Collaborative Commitment will not necessarily lead to better outcomes. Collaborative negotiating skill is, in my humble opinion, a rarer and more difficult skill for attorneys than argument and threat. So, how do clients find attorneys who possess this skill? In general, it is a combination of research and intuitive judgment. Through research most clients can find attorneys in their community with training and experience in Collaborative Divorce. In addition, most Collaborative attorneys will provide either free or low cost consultations to allow clients to gauge, first hand, whether they have the commitment and skill required to help them achieve success in a Collaborative Divorce. Finding the most suitable Collaborative attorney is, in many cases, only part of the equation. One of the great advantages of Collaborative Divorce is the ability to work with other professionals who are, in most instances, better suited to help clients achieve the best outcomes, and often at a lower cost. While divorce is a legal process, there are financial, parenting and communication elements that may, in the end, be more important and more complex than the legal elements. Having financial professionals and mental health professionals on the team that help clients achieve success in these areas, could be the most important factor in helping them achieve a better outcome. This information will be discussed in the upcoming blogs. However, if you want information on this now, go to www.collaborativelaw.org and www.ousky.com. Read Part 5, here. 
The Future is BrightPart 3: Collaborative Divorce helps create better outcomes by requiring commitment at the beginning of the process.  A Collaborative Divorce is one in which the husband and the wife each retain a lawyer for settlement purposes only. One of the reasons that the process works well is that it causes both parties to make the necessary commitment early in the process. Almost all divorce cases, (approximately 95%) settle out of court. However, too often the settlement comes after the parties are near the point of financial and emotional exhaustion, sometimes creating flawed settlements and resentment. Many people reach a point of committing to a settlement only when they are nearly out of money, or they are told by their attorneys or the judge that moving forward will not be successful. These reluctant settlements, while better than a trial, come at too great of a price and can lead to a rocky future for the family. In a Collaborative Divorce, both parties and their attorneys sign a Participation Agreement at the beginning of the process that challenges clients to focus on commitment to settlement before they are financially and emotionally drained. Because both parties are asked to engage their attorneys for settlement purposes only, they are forced to think about their commitment to settlement at the very beginning of the case, and not “on the courthouse steps.” Both clients understand that each of them must make a commitment at the beginning of the process. Early commitment from each party leads to better settlements that are made before financial and emotional resources are fully exhausted. Early and deep client commitment is a big part of why people often get better outcomes in a Collaborative Divorce, since skilled Collaborative Professionals can help them commit, not only to settlement, but to other important matters, such as improving skills in the areas of parenting, communication or financial acumen. However, this is only a part of the equation. In order to be successful, committed clients need to be guided by professionals that are skilled in helping them achieve the best outcomes in this new environment. This information will be discussed in the upcoming blog. However, if you want information on this now, go to www.collaborativelaw.org or www.ousky.com. Read on to Part 4 by clicking here
The Future is BrightPart 2:  Having lawyers that are fully committed to settlement creates better outcomes.  A Collaborative Divorce is one in which the husband and the wife each retain a lawyer for settlement purposes only. Hiring a lawyer for this defined purpose has some risk. The success of Collaborative Divorce is based on the fact that, in most cases, the benefits far outweigh the risks. In order to understand why this is true, let’s look at the basic risks and benefits. RiskAt the beginning of the case, both parties and their lawyers sign a Collaborative Commitment stating that the lawyers must withdraw if either spouse decides to fight in court. Therefore, the Collaborative Commitment creates a risk that you will need to switch attorneys during the divorce process. Indeed, that is the very idea behind the commitment. How significant is the risk? In my experience of around 500 Collaborative Cases, the parties have had to switch attorneys approximately 5% of the time. By comparison, in my experience practicing in the traditional model (cases where the lawyers can go to court), the parties switched attorneys, or the attorneys withdrew from representation for other reasons, almost 5% of the time. So, in reality, the risk that clients need to switch attorneys by starting in the Collaborative Process may not be significantly greater than in a non-Collaborative case. Benefits:  The most significant benefit from the Collaborative Commitment is that the attorneys are free to focus all of their attention on more creative settlements. Removing, or at least significantly diminishing, the threat of court, opens the door to interest-based negotiation. Instead of using argument, accusation and threats of court, which are taken off the table, the attorneys advocate for their clients by using creativity, empathy and the development of shared goals. What clients seem to want, in almost all instances, is a form of advocacy (meaning protection of true interests), without creating animosity. In traditional practice, I sometimes felt like a bull in a china shop, unable to go in and help my client get what he or she truly needed, without risking damage to fragile, but important, things like the ability to co-parent and communicate effectively. Collaborative Divorce, by removing court as an immediate threat, allows me work to help my clients with far less risk to the relationship and other intangible goals. Of course, the success of Collaborative Divorce can depend on more than just the Collaborative Commitment. Specifically, the best outcomes in Collaborative Divorce are achieved with a) a high level of commitment by the clients and 2) the skill of the professionals.  The keys to success in those areas will be discussed in the next two blogs in this series. For immediate information in these areas go to www.collaborativelaw.org or www.divorcechoice.com. Check out Part 3 of this series, here.
Opportunity for Better OutcomePart 1:  What is Collaborative Divorce? Collaborative Divorce has spread rapidly throughout the world during the past two decades and has helped thousands of families achieve better outcomes. This series of blogs will focus on how people facing divorce can achieve better outcomes through a Collaborative Divorce. This first blog starts by providing this simple definition of Collaborative Divorce: A divorce in which the husband and the wife each retain a lawyer for settlement purposes only. That’s it. While Collaborative Divorce has many other elements, this one feature defines the process. As simple as this seems on the surface, it is easy to get confused about what Collaborative Divorce means for two reasons: First, because the word “collaborative” is an adjective, (essentially meaning “working together”), that has been around for centuries, the word collaborative, (without a capital c), could be used to describe many divorces where people work together. However, in legal terminology, the phrase Collaborative Divorce (capital C), has come to define a specific divorce process in which the attorneys are retained for settlement purposes only. In a Collaborative Divorce, unlike a traditional negotiation, the lawyers must withdraw if the divorce cannot be resolved out of court. Second, while using lawyers for settlement purposes only is the one defining feature, Collaborative Divorce often has many other elements that add greatly to the success of Collaborative cases. For example, Collaborative Divorce is often a team process in which the clients work with financial neutrals and mental health professionals in addition to attorneys. In addition, Collaborative Divorces generally use a very different method of negotiation called “interest-based negotiations.” These features allow people to get better outcomes in their divorce but are not part of the definition of Collaborative Divorce. Some Collaborative Divorces do not include all of these features. The basic defining characteristic of Collaborative Divorce, (the fact that the lawyers must withdraw if the matter goes to court), was introduced by Stu Webb, a Minnesota attorney in 1990. Stu’s simple but profound idea was that committing to settlement only would open the door to a new way of doing things that would help families get better outcomes. Indeed that is exactly what has happened. Great innovations like working with full interdisciplinary teams and using interest based bargaining are two of the common feature of Collaborative Divorce that have evolved as part of the Collaborative Divorce process as a result of this great commitment. Understanding that Collaborative lawyers are hired for settlement purpose only is the first step in truly understanding Collaborative Divorce.  The next step is to understand why that commitment is so essential to the success of Collaborative Divorce.  Understanding the strength and value of the Collaborative Commitment is covered in the next blog in this series.  For immediate information on these and other questions about Collaborative Divorce, go to www.collaborativelaw.org  or www.divorcechoice.com. Read Part 2 of this series
Parent and ChildOne of my favorite people, and among the wisest of my friends, is my hair stylist, Gina. I always look forward to any time we have to chat while my newly foiled tresses take their color. Recently, we had such an opportunity. We were talking about my work as a Collaborative neutral child specialist, hearing the voices of children whose parents are getting unmarried or separated. Gina shared a story I hadn’t heard, and graciously consented to let me blog about it. Gina’s parents, like many other couples, went through some very rough patches in their marriage. Because they eventually committed to changing destructive patterns, and worked hard using appropriate community resources, they were able to turn things around in a healthy direction. But not while Gina was a child, after she was nearly grown. Gina told me that as the youngest child, she had grown up hearing her parents say they would not separate or get a divorce until she had graduated from high school. They may have believed this decision was in her best interests. But to Gina, this decision “on her behalf” made her feel responsible for the conflict and pain that existed in the home. She couldn’t change things on her own, and felt trapped. She believes that behavior patterns she was forced to normalize by growing up in an abusive family environment impacted her deeply, both as a child and an adult. She has worked very hard to establish healthy patterns for herself, has generously given back to the community, and devotedly raised a fine son. But because early social learning is so powerful in shaping us,  she knows she must always be mindful about her adult relationships. Just staying together when high conflict persists is not a protective factor for children. It is the high conflict itself that inflicts traumatic wounds. Children’s psyches absorb toxic emotional environments just as their bodies absorb lead, and with the same destructive consequences. The decision to separate or divorce should not be made lightly, especially when there are children involved. However, the important question must always be, what needs to be done to keep children out of harm’s way? For many struggling families, Collaborative Team Practice offers a way to end a high conflict marriage or partnership and begin a healthier pattern of co-parenting after separation or divorce. Children in high conflict families with whom I have met during their parents’ divorce have expressed relief to go home after school to homes that are not filled with stress, anger and anxiety. Please go to www.collaborativelaw.org for more information.
Cable car let go I just saw the pulse-pounding film Gravity, about American astronauts who are stranded in space following an unexpected catastrophe. This is not a spoiler alert—anyone who has seen a trailer for the movie knows this is going to happen. Without giving anything else away, I want to talk about a theme that runs through this film: when there are no guarantees of safety, but holding on is not an option, how do you find the courage to let go? If you are facing divorce, this is a question you may feel forced to answer against your will. For many people, divorce is an unexpected, disorienting catastrophe for which they are not prepared. In an instant, the world is spinning out of control. It can feel as if you are staring into the void, rudderless and without an anchor. There is no longer safety in trying to hold onto the past, but what lies ahead feels absolutely uncertain. “I have to let go, but how will I survive?” is a very real question. “You will make it!” is the answer. And despite how lonely you might feel, you are not alone. There are sources of support that you have never known about, because until now you haven’t had to find them. It is possible to find handholds, but you do need to make some leaps of faith, while acknowledging the reality that there are no absolute guarantees in life. One source of support is Collaborative Team Practice, an out-of-court divorce option that you may never have heard of before. A Collaborative Team provides calm, experienced and supportive assistance through the crisis, and helps families transform the chaos and anxiety that can accompany a divorce into a safer and clearer road map for the future. If this sounds like the kind of handhold you have been searching for as you need to let go, please visit our website at www.collaborative law.org. Any of our multidisciplinary team professionals–attorneys, financial neutrals, neutral coaches and neutral child specialists–can provide a free initial consultation to explain the process and inform you of your options. We are here for you, and know that you can find us.
SOS Unmarried and have children? You may be interested to know that “Collaborative Divorce” is not just for divorce. Learn how the collaborative process can help you. First, it may be relieving to know that you are not alone. There are some interesting recent statistics related to marriage and children. Nearly half of children in America are born outside of marriage. And, for women under 30, most children are born outside of marriage. Whether you are married or not, if you separate from the other parent, you’ll need to figure out custody, parenting time and financial support issues related to your children. These are legal issues that should be finalized in a court order, either by agreement reached in the collaborative process or mediation, or by a court decision after a trial. There is a great online resource related to unmarried parents (useful to both unmarried mothers and unmarried fathers), available here for free from Legal Services State Support. The collaborative process is designed to increase communication and trust while helping you resolve these issues. You might be interested to know that this website, collaborativedivorceoptions.com, is part of the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota and the articles are written by it’s members. Keep in mind that divorce is only one type of legal issue where the collaborative process is used. Why do I point this out? Because it’s important to know that Collaborative Law is not just for divorce. If you aren’t married but you have children, it’s important to know that you can still participate in a collaborative process rather than taking your case to court. The same collaborative principles apply whether you are married or not. In the collaborative process, you each hire attorneys trained in the collaborative process and you all sign an agreement not to go to court. Then you have a series of joint meetings where you all meet together, many times with other neutral professionals such as a coach, child specialist or financial specialist. In the end, you just file your agreement with the court rather than having a trial or other court hearings. That’s it. You never have to set foot in a courtroom and the process is structured and respectful.