Ask anyone who has ever gone through a divorce whether they have recommendations for how the process could have gone better and I bet they would have a list of ideas. They would likely identify a need for their legal counsel to have communicated more frequently with them and to have helped more to educate them about their options at each step of the process. They would likely say they worried that their legal counsel had a perverse incentive to provide more services (more hours of billable work) seemingly regardless of the effectiveness of those services because they billed by the hour and the client didn’t see or understand much of the work that the attorney was doing. Many professions, including law and medicine, are rethinking the most basic aspects of the services they provide and how they provide them and are defining new ways of doing things. I was reminded of this when reading an article in the New York Times titled When Medicine is Futile, which addressed the issue of whether medical providers are sometimes (or even as a matter of standard office policy) over-treating patients during end-of-life medical care. The article brought up the issue of whether medical providers—in the name of patient protection and patient care—may actually be working against the patient’s best interests (even affirmatively harming patients) by administering an inappropriately excessive—and futile—list of medical interventions. The article references a new report by the Institute of Medicine titled Dying in America: Improving Quality and Honoring Individual Preferences Near the End of Life (2014). Some of the recommendations for improved care include increased provider-patient communication, education of medical providers in alternatives such as palliative care, increased patient planning and decision making, and different payment structures that may better align with patient care quality more than just the quantity of the services provided. The gist of the recommendations to improve patient care relate mostly to increased communication, increased education of providers and patients about alternative options, and creating systemic incentives to reward quality patient care over simply providing a high quantity of billable services. Similar to a hospital emergency room, courtrooms offer intensive and expensive services. In the court system, attorneys rack up immense billable hours based on providing clients with a large quantity of paperwork to submit to the court. In the courtroom, attorney-client communication, client education about their options for resolution and client power to make their own decisions can be lacking. The legal system, like the medical system, is going through a paradigm shift where legal service providers are rethinking even the most basic aspects of the services they provide and how they provide them and are finding new ways of doing things. Collaborative Practice providers implement best practices similar to those recommended for the medical profession referenced in the report mentioned above, only in the area of legal representation instead of medical care. In the Collaborative process, there is an increased focus on the quality, rather than just the quantity, of legal services. This change in focus is inherent in the agreement of the clients and attorneys that they will not go to court to resolve their conflict as part of the Collaborative process. In the Collaborative model, clients meet with a team of professionals to share information, learn about alternatives that might not have been considered, and evaluate their options in an open discussion. This provides clients with increased knowledge about their options, increased communication with professionals, and true decision-making authority.
A friend of mine who knows I am intricately woven into the divorce-planning and alternative dispute resolution circles in the Minneapolis St. Paul metro recently asked me if I knew a certain divorce attorney. He knew of a person who was not feeling too well about their choice of a divorce attorney. I told my friend that I did not recognize the name. Being a little curious, I searched the web for this individual. What I found was that family law was one of about eight other areas of law this person practiced. I wondered just how much family law this attorney does in relationship to all the other practice areas listed. Little does my friend know, his question inspired my writing this blog post. Would you go to a painter if you needed a new roof? Would you go to a heart surgeon for a fractured arm? Hardly, you say. Why is it then when people have decided to end their marriage they first choose to see someone who is not a subject matter expert in the areas causing conflict between them and their spouse? They want this person to fix all their problems when that person probably does not have all the skill sets to solve all of the issues that present themselves in a divorce. I would submit that there is no one person who has all the skill sets necessary to effectively deal with all the intricacies of a divorce. Perhaps the conflict is about co-parenting the couple’s children. Would it make sense to seek out a neutral child specialist to help the parents sort out the rough spots and more importantly benefit their children for years and really for their lifetime? Maybe the conflict is over financial matters. You would think a neutral financial specialist would be able to offer the most value to the couple in those situations. A couple not able to communicate effectively may benefit the most by seeing a neutral divorce relationship coach who can help both spouses manage their emotions which in turn frees up the flexible thinking they will need as they work through getting unmarried. If legal questions arise, you would think an attorney who primarily works in family law matters would be the best resource. What I have described above is the client centered team model approach to a collaborative divorce. A team of professional experts in their own subject matter areas working for you and your family’s behalf. If you would like to learn more about this respectful and dignified way to divorce without court click on www.collaborativelaw.org to check it out.
Co-parenting can be exhausting, especially if your communication skills while you were married were not great to begin with. During your divorce you may have asked yourself, “If we couldn’t communicate effectively while we were married, how are we going to when we are divorced?” It can be extremely difficult to get past the painful history you may have with your ex and overcome any built-up resentment. However, it can be done and it should be for the sake of your children. Below are three areas to work on to build more effective co-parenting communication skills.
- The Blame Game. Are you guilty of the “blame game?” In our household every time something went wrong blame had to be placed on someone. Late to an appointment – somebody’s fault. Food too spicy – somebody’s fault. Sidewalk is slippery – somebody’s fault. I just couldn’t understand why we had to place blame on someone for everything. It’s ok to be upset about something without having to constantly blame someone. Did your child forget to finish a school project while at his dad’s house? Sure the natural reaction is to blame your ex, but rather than focusing on who is to blame for something going wrong, focus on how to fix it. Co-parenting takes team work, and pointing fingers doesn’t work well on a team.
- Moving On. Put the past behind you. Sure you are still hurting from “XYZ…” but until you are able to put it behind you it will continue to come up and with continue to debilitate your co-parenting skills. If you are having trouble and haven’t already sought out therapy or counseling, please do so. Going to therapy doesn’t mean you are excepting blame for something that may have happened in the past, but rather seeking therapy means you are electing to seek out healthy ways to put the past behind you.
- Think before you speak. Divorce and co-parenting are full of emotions. It’s easy to act and speak in the moment and later regret it. We can’t always be intentional with our words, but there are times that we can take a step back and carefully choose our words. For example, it is too easy to rattle off an emotional email in the heat of the moment, instead make a vow to yourself that before responding to an email you will wait one hour to respond or go for a walk before responding.
Divorce is a crisis in the life of a family. It is not actually a legal crisis, though it requires this expertise to ensure that legal resolutions are reached regarding financial matters. It is not a theoretical crisis. It is a genuine emotional crisis. What does this mean for children? Some years after I began my therapy practice with children and families decades ago, a researcher named Judith Wallerstein published the results of her longitudinal study on the negative impact of divorce on children. The data were a wake-up call, shocking to some, sobering to all. Mental health experts responded by saying parents and social institutions needed to be more attentive to the impact of divorce on children. A book was written advocating bird nesting—parents rather than children transitioning to and from the homestead—as an alternative “custody” arrangement for families (an option we now know to be a temporary rather than permanent solution). Questions began to be raised on the impact of parenting time arrangements that essentially minimized otherwise healthy and loving relationships between parents and children. At the time Wallerstein’s study was published, the options available for divorcing parents were largely adversarial in nature. The focus was “rights based,” not based on supporting co-parenting and keeping children out of the middle of the crisis. Many of the parents with whom I work attest to the emotional trauma they experienced when their own parents divorced. In fact, it is likely these divorcing parents were assured by their attorneys that “children are resilient—your kids will be fine.” But we know that children do not become resilient in a vacuum. They need adults to create environments of support and attention to their needs. Collaborative team divorce offers a clear and powerful alternative for parents who love their children and want to envision a hopeful future for them. Families work with a multidisciplinary team of professionals with specific skills and experience. Mental health expertise is woven throughout the process, both to specifically support children and to provide parents with the best possible grounding for effective co-parenting. If you want to know more about how your family can weather the emotional crisis of divorce with the most dignity and respect for the needs of your children, please learn more about Collaborative team practice at this link to the website for the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota.
Once you have created a budget and projected your expenses into the next 12 months, there are additional steps you can take on a daily and monthly basis to improve your cash flow. Remember your goal is positive cash flow that allows you to save money for short and long term goals such as remodeling your kitchen, taking an exotic vacation, helping your child with college and saving for retirement. Add these ideas to your list of budgeting for a new life: Pay yourself first. Too many people make the mistake of saving if they have money left over at the end of the month. By setting up a pre-determined amount of savings that is automatically transferred from your checking account each month, the money will be out of sight and you will enjoy the results of savings growth. If you receive your payroll electronically, your employer may agree to deposit a pre-determined portion of your payroll right into your savings account, too. Give yourself a cash allowance. Oddly enough, if you have a set amount of cash to spend on lunches or small purchases for each week, it’s harder to spend it. Try it! Use shopping lists. Avoid spending money on things you don’t need by planning your shopping trip with a list. Shopping will be faster and you’ll spend less if you stick to the list. Make sure that the items on your list are also part of your budget! Distinguish between wants and needs. Paying down debt and saving money are needs. Buying cool leather boots or a new tool set might be wants. To be sure, wait a day or two before buying them and see if it’s keeping you awake at night. If it isn’t, it’s a want you can do without — at least for now. Pay down high-interest credit cards. Finance charges on credit cards can quickly devour any savings you’ve managed to achieve elsewhere in your budget. Pay more than the monthly minimum or negotiate a debt payment plan to pay down high-interest cards. And, once you pay them off, follow these tips so that you charge only what you can pay off each month. You’ll have more money to save or spend on wants as well as needs! With these tips and others (like enlisting the help of a Certified Financial Planner® professional), you will keep track of your budget, be accountable and anticipate a financially secure future! You could even model a thing or two to your kids and friends!
The world is full of divorce experts willing to give you “free” advice about how to handle your divorce. Divorce is so common today that everyone from your hair stylist to your parents are likely to have advice about how you should handle your divorce. There are several reasons why this amateur advice is almost always detrimental. Here are just a few:
- Lacking Context. The opinions that most people have about how to divorce is significantly biased by a small slice of information that is out of context. A divorce usually involves numerous issues. It is very difficult to know how one issue should be handled without having a thorough understanding of all of the other issues. Skilled divorce attorneys can help put these issues in context in ways that will help you get a better settlement.
- Emotional enmeshment. Many of your friends or families members may have an emotional reaction to your divorce that will alter their advice. Often that emotional reaction triggers a desire to protect you by urging you to take a more aggressive stance. This generally leads to stirring up acrimony that will actually make it more difficult for you to achieve your highest goals.
I heard an advertisement on the radio this morning for a litigating divorce attorney. This attorney discussed the importance of removing the emotion from divorce and treating the divorce itself as a business transaction. I understood her point – emotions can be messy or interfere with rational decision making. However, emotion is often the biggest part of divorce. Or, it often feels that way to clients. How can we ask clients to strip that piece out of the process? Rather, as a collaborative attorney, I believe that emotion can be used to healthily guide clients to mutually agreeable resolutions that have long-term staying power. I embrace the opportunity to take the client where they are at – emotions and all – and guide them towards resolution. Engaging a mental health professional or coach in the process can sometimes be the greatest asset provided to clients and allow them to balance the emotions with the necessary business-like decisions. Treating a divorce as a business transaction often leads to client’s making decisions for purely financial reasons. Using emotions and feelings of fairness or equity may lead to clients feeling as if the resolutions more completely address their needs. For example, if one spouse cheated on the other, an emotional response of anger or vindication may lead to the hurt spouse to ask for more financial pay-out. This sort of punitive outcome is not supported in the law and rarely agreed to out-of-court. However, if the parties have a co-parenting relationship or more emotional needs, a purely business-like interaction may never address some of the underlying emotions. Facilitating a discussion about how both parties are feeling and what they may need in order to move forward may been more beneficial to the clients than any financial resolution. Some clients want an apology or a better understanding of why something happened. Others may need to put in effort to establish a shared narrative or story for others. The finances matter – sometimes most of all. The collaborative process embraces the financial side of divorce, but also allows for a more holistic and complete approach that can address emotions, if the clients so desire.