Children Walking on TrailIn my meetings with kids, I ask them to share perspectives on family, including hopes and wishes for how family might work best when parents are living in separate homes. I recently had the privilege to meet with four amazing young women; siblings whose parents are getting unmarried in a Collaborative Team Process. I continually learn from kids with whom I work as a neutral child specialist. Each of these girls made thoughtful observations for me to share with their parents, so I asked them and their parents if I could write a blog post to share these ideas with others. Because they are thoughtful, empathetic and generous people, they agreed, and have my deep gratitude and appreciation.

Below are words of wisdom from Lauren, Kelly, Emily and Grace. Though focusing on one quote per girl, I want to stress that each of them had many wonderful insights about all the areas mentioned.

Lauren on Holiday and Birthday Celebrations

“I want one graduation party, not two. This is about me, not my parents. And I want them both to come and to get along.”

Lauren’s words represent the viewpoint of many kids, and are a powerful reminder that children of all ages have strong feelings about family celebrations. Lauren also talked about preserving family traditions on both sides for holidays, like Christmas. Tuning in to kids’ perspectives can help parents figure out how to preserve important traditions while adding new ones, providing grounding and clarity for all family members.

Kelly on Co-parent Cooperation

“I want my parents to remember they’re both always my parents no matter which house I am at.”

Kelly’s words articulate the heart of the positive and profound shift in family law away from attaching custody labels toward co-parenting and creating parenting plans based on the best interests of kids. Kids dislike the feeling of going from “Mom Island” to “Dad Island,” and feel safer if parents respect and honor their relationships with both parents.  Effective co-parent communication is a centerpiece of parenting and relationship plans in Collaborative Team Practice.

Emily on Transitions between Homes

“I hope my parents will have a one to two hour window for me to go from one house to the other, so it’s do-able if I am in the middle of something or with a friend.”

One of the most challenging aspects of a divorce for kids is transitioning between homes. It is vital that parents work together to make transitions as smooth, cordial and stress-free as possible. Emily’s words are an important reminder to regularly check in and listen to kids about what is working well and not so well in transitions. Parents need patience and empathy: kids have lives too!

Grace on Family Transformation

“I want us to be a together and apart family. We’re still a family, but we’re just split.” 

Grace absolutely nailed why I do the work I do as a neutral child specialist. What she said is both insightful and core to helping kids develop resilience. It is so important that all family members move forward with the deep understanding that getting unmarried does not end a family with children, but transforms it.

Thank you Lauren, Kelly, Emily and Grace. We will keep listening!

It’s Valentine’s Day on Friday. This year I’m thinking about the many couples who have lost that loving feeling. Ads everywhere for jewelry, flowers and chocolates must serve as painful reminders of the exciting, early stages of their relationship. Whether still married, in the process of divorce, or recovering from divorce, Valentine’s Day can have special significance. I read an interesting, well-written Huffington Post item recently that pointed out that divorce attorneys see an increase in inquiries during January and February.  With the holidays behind them, New Year’s resolutions often include ending an unsatisfying marriage. Another article reports that divorce filings rise by as much as 40 percent immediately following Valentine’s Day. When a final attempt to rekindle the relationship on the most romantic day of the year fails, beginning the dissolution process often follows. For those who are already separated, divorcing or divorced, the question becomes how to survive Valentine’s Day. Possible activities include doing something special for someone else, taking care of yourself by doing something that makes you feel good, or focusing on your children. Also keep in mind that, for most, it gets easier with time.  
Watching the Winter Olympics, a commercial captured my attention.  The ad included footage of Olympic athletes who fell while competing, thus failing to reach a goal for which they had trained intensely and prepared for years.   Although elite athletes know there is no assurance of winning, their hearts can still break when their hopes and dreams are shattered after a fall before reaching the finish line. As you see in the commercial, the story didn’t end with failure.  Each of the fallen athletes was shown years later, returning to give a winning performance.  The theme of the ad was “there is always a second chance.”  Though not every heartbreaking fall comes with a replay button, we know that life is a constant process of loss and renewal.

Those of us in the Collaborative divorce community are deeply attuned to the emotional event of a divorce.  It is usually heartbreaking for all family members—the divorcing couple, their children and their extended families.  It can certainly feel like a painful fall before the finish line of a marriage is reached.   Hopes and dreams can feel shattered.  We never want the story to end there.

Collaborative Team Practice  is designed to help guide families making their transition through a painful time of loss with safety, respect, dignity and hope for the future.  The Collaborative Team is comprised of professionals from many areas of practice:

Collaborative attorneys are skilled at listening deeply, helping clients set goals and engage in problem solving meetings that are non-adversarial in nature. Neutral Coaches work with clients to bring their best selves to problem solving meetings, and create a relationship plan with them if their future includes co-parenting their children. Neutral Financial Professionals generate creative options to help both clients come through their divorce on the best possible financial footing. Neutral Child Specialists meet with all family members, are supportive advocates for children in the family, and help parents create developmentally attuned parenting plans.

Like a skilled sports team, each member of a Collaborative Team understands his or her unique role in the interplay of helping clients reach their goals while feeling understood and supported in the process of getting unmarried.  We believe in the process and promise of renewal after loss.

I’m sharing this post with my readers because of the simple message of opportunity it carries for anyone facing divorce. If you know of someone about to face divorce, you would be doing him or her a great favor by sharing this article. You will help educate, inform, and provide the opportunity for choice and hope not only for the person you know, but also for their entire family. This post is reprinted here with permission of Pauline Tesler, a Collaborative colleague who hails from California. Pauline is the co-founder and first president of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, frequent lecturer, and trainer. Divorce as Temporary “Diminished Capacity” You don’t need to be a lawyer or a psychologist to know that going through a divorce is one of life’s roughest passages. It can cause a myriad of emotional responses that can at times feel overwhelming and limit your ability to think clearly or make good choices. Unfortunately, this occurs at the very time you are called upon to make some of the most important decisions of your life. For many people, the ending of a marriage is a time of temporary “diminished capacity.” By diminished capacity, we mean a period during which the person you thought you were on your best days—competent, thoughtful, considerate, reasonable, fair-minded, resilient—disappears for days or weeks at a time. The person you generally know yourself to be gets replaced temporarily by an unfamiliar and frightening self who can hardly summon up enough energy to get out of bed, wallows in fear, confusion or anger, or jumps to hasty conclusions in order to end the conflicting impulses about what to do and how to behave. Recovering from the shock of a failed marriage involves moving through that initial period of diminished capacity, until gradually, more and more of the time, your pre-divorce “best-self” is back at the helm. Most people can expect to feel something like their old, pre-divorce selves in eighteen to twenty-four months from the time of the divorce decree, though it happens more quickly for some and more slowly for many. During that recovery period, it is quite common for people to veer suddenly and dramatically from day to day, or even hour to hour, between optimism and darkest pessimism, between cooperative good humor and frightening rage. You may be experiencing such intense emotions as you come to terms with the possible—or actual—ending of your marriage. Most people do, at least some of the time. Keeping the focus on best intentions and good decision making in light of that reality is what collaborative divorce is all about. Thinking clearly about what kind of divorce you want and how you’ll get there may be an unfamiliar concept to you. Most people are surprised to learn that the choices made right at the start of the divorce process have great impact on what kind of a divorce experience they will have. Even when people do understand the high stakes of those early choices, thinking clearly and making intelligent choices at that time can be very challenging, because divorce is an emotional wild ride like no other. Even very reasonable and civilized people can find unexpected, hard-to-manage emotions popping up at the most inconvenient times, particularly during the early months of a separation and divorce—exactly the time when you will be making decisions that determine what kind of divorce you are likely to get, and how your divorce will affect the rest of your life. When you choose collaborative divorce, a team of professional helpers from the fields of law, psychology, and finance will provide coordinated support and guidance to help you and your partner slow down, reflect, focus on values, aspire to high goals, make good choices, work together constructively while avoiding court, plan for the future, and reach deep resolution. In our experience, this kind of coordinated professional help isn’t available anywhere else but in collaborative divorce. If you choose it, you and your spouse can count on professional advice and counsel that will:
  • encourage both of you to remember your goal: the best divorce the two of you are capable of achieving
  • educate and remind you about the divorce grief and recovery process so that you can choose to operate from your hopes rather than your fears
  • help you focus on the future rather than the past, and on your deepest personal values and goals for the future rather than what the local judge is permitted to order
  • make it possible for your financial advice to come from a financial expert, and your parenting advice to come from a child specialist, so that your lawyer is freed to do what lawyers do best: help you reach well-considered resolution
  • keep you and your spouse focused on how your children are really doing, and how the two of you can help them move through the divorce with the least possible pain and “collateral damage”
  • teach both of you new understanding and skills that will help you be more effective co-parents after the divorce than you may be capable of right now as your marriage ends
  • make sure you and your spouse have all the information you’ll need to make wise decisions—not just information about the law, but also about finance, child development, grief and recovery, family systems, negotiating techniques, and anything else that will help you devise creative lasting solutions
  • emphasize consensus and real resolution, not horse-trading and quick fixes
  • help you maintain maximum privacy, creativity, and self-determination in your divorce.
Divorce is never easy, but making the collaborative choice helps you to move through a challenging life passage with dignity, intelligence, and respect. [Excerpted and adapted from Introduction and Chapter One of Collaborative Divorce: The Revolutionary New Way to Restructure Your Family, Resolve Legal Issues, and Move on with Your Life, by Pauline H. Tesler, J.D., and Peggy Thompson, Ph.D.] To learn more about Collaborative Divorce here in Minnesota check out our website at
For me, February brings to mind two things: cold weather (especially for us mid-westerners) and Valentine’s Day. If you are a divorced woman, the latter might make you cringe. So how can we get through this month on a positive, upbeat note? With Valentine’s Day on a Friday this year it’s going to be hard to hide from it, so let’s embrace it! Here are some tips to help you survive Valentine’s Day:
  • Gather your single friends for dinner or a ladies night out!
  • Do you have the kids that night? Make the day about them and your love for them! Make a special project, meal, or dessert.
  • Treat yourself to a spa day! If it is not in the budget this month invite a few girlfriends over for at home spa treatments. Enjoy some wine and make it a sleepover!
  • Send yourself flowers or chocolates. It may be materialistic, but purchase something that brings you pleasure. Treat yourself the way you’d like to be treated.
  • Do something active, take a yoga class or go for a run.
Divorce is a transition. Remember that it does not define you and it is in no way a reflection of who you are.
As a Collaborative Attorney, this sort of thing makes me proud to be a Member of the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota (CLI). I’m really excited to share that this May, CLI is hosting a four-day, international symposium to explore love and forgiveness in Collaborative Practice. The event is titled “Divorce: What’s Love Got to do With it?” This event, to my knowledge, isn’t for people experiencing divorce. It’s for professionals who help people that are going through a divorce. Now, why you may ask is this important? Well, I think it’s really cool that a group of dedicated professionals is really thinking about how to make things better for divorcing families and families experiencing other life-events that we include under the label Family Law. A grant from The Fetzer Institute is making it possible. You’ll want to check out their website; it’s really cool. Here is a sample of their take on love and forgiveness in the world:
We believe in the transformative power of love, love that protects us in our vulnerability while also impelling us to tend to the needs of others. We believe that forgiveness can also be transformative, a process that further extends the healing power of love. We accept that these forces have power: power to heal, and power to transform even the most difficult, troubled situation into something that is generative, affirming, and life-giving. In a world that seems dominated by aggression and separation, we are part of a broad and deep yearning for something different.
I recently submitted my application to be a part of the host committee and to help brainstorm after the symposium is all done as part of the implementation committee to figure out ways to incorporate love and forgiveness into Collaborative Practice on a local and practical level. To learn how love and forgiveness can play a part in your family, contact Arnold Law and Mediation or locate another Collaborative Professional.