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.
Collaborative Attorney Carl Arnold had the opportunity to speak with experienced Neutral Child Specialist Deborah Clemmensen. Carl Arnold asked Deborah Clemmensen about her role as a Neutral Child Specialist and the conversation was recorded. The audio and the the transcript of the interview are available below. Interview with Deborah Clemmensen about the role of a Neutral Child Specialist. Begin transcript: My name is Carl Arnold, with Arnold Law and Mediation. I’m a Minnesota family law attorney and mediator and I’m here with Deborah Clemmensen. She’s a licensed psychologist and neutral child specialist. Carl: Hi Deborah. Deborah: Hi Carl. Carl: So, we’re here to talk with Deborah today about being a neutral child specialist and her services in that regard. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background in working with kids. Deborah:  I’m happy to. I’ve been a licensed psychologist since the late ’70’s and I’ve worked in schools and community mental health centers…and for the last 11 years, I’ve provided neutral child specialist services to help families have a child-inclusive, respectful process to developing parenting plans when they’re going through a divorce or breakup. It’s a very satisfying type of work. Carl: Well, let’s get right to it and say what is a neutral child specialist? How do you define that and what do you do? Deborah: Good question and I’ll tell you how I explain it to new clients and sometimes to the kids that I work with. Neutral means that I never appear in court, that I have the capacity to work with people in problem solving and interest based negotiation without having to be in court or testifying or doing any of the things that are involved with the court process. Child specialist means that I have a chance to work with everyone in the family and find out the point of view of all the folks who, not elders and pets, of course, but all the points of view of children and parents to understand what would be the most developmentally appropriate resolution for parents moving forward after their divorce or breakup. Carl: What is the benefit of this service compared to other ways that a family may go through a divorce or separation process? Deborah: Well, I am just a part of the divorce. I’m the parenting plan part of a divorce, so I can help people to create a road map for how they’re going to move forward as co-parents without having to be in any sort of adversarial process. I think the neutrality is a big help. We can get right down to business and problem solve and think about the developmental needs of children in the family. I think having it be child-inclusive means that kids get some support during a very difficult time. Divorce or breakup is a crisis for a family and to be able to provide kids with an opportunity to share their point of view, someone who’s listening, and to know that that’s going to be part of problem solving that their parents will do. Their parents will hear what I’ve learned from the kids. I think it helps kids to feel a little bit safer moving forward so that strategic support is very important. And I think that having a neutral look at what are the ages and stages of the kids and what do they have to say about how this could work best for them moving forward is invaluable. I have learned a ton from the kids that I’m working with. Carl:  What would be a typical step-by-step part of the process? How does it start? When does it start? What’s the first step and so on? Deborah:  Good question. I believe that having a child specialist on board from the very beginning can be helpful because we anchor the work in the developmental needs of the kids and what’s best for the family system. I like to work with parents from the very beginning. Many parents come to me with the question of how do I talk to my children, how to we talk to our children about what’s going to be happening to our family. I love to help parents create developmentally appropriate “we” statements that they can share with the kids to start that journey. My process begins with a joint meeting with parents and it’s focused on their kids, getting developmental histories, understanding what the parents’ concerns are moving forward and from that point, it sort of branches off based on the ages and stages of the kids. If the kids are in preschool, we might have a joint family playroom meeting just so I get to know the kids, experience them firsthand and provide that kind of support. We may, at that meeting, talk about what’s happening in the family and give them some grounding. I tell parents to describe me as the helper advocate for kids. If kids are school aged and older, then I do have a structured process: two meetings, one with the siblings together and one with each child independently and we do structured activities to help keep them at the center and out of the middle, to understand how they perceive family roles and functions. What are their hopes? What are their fears? How can we best be responsive? From that point, I do a feedback with parents. At that juncture, parents can decide if they would like to continue to work with me as a neutral child specialist to develop a parenting plan, which allows them to continue to think of themselves as parents making decisions, rather than people in a custody battle. We don’t use those labels. We talk in a different language that’s more family friendly. Carl:  So when people come to you, are they in the out-of-court processes like mediation or collaborative divorce or are they in court? How would you describe to people in what way do you relate to those processes? Deborah:  That’s another really good question. I would say the majority of the work I do is with collaborative teams. Collaborative being a type of alternative dispute resolution process that’s all outside of the court but works with teams of professionals – two attorneys, a neutral coach, a neutral financial person and a neutral child specialist – to all bring our skills to a very systematic and efficient way to help parents and families through this process. Some of my cases, though, come from other routes. I’ve worked with mediators in a team to do a child inclusive process for the parenting plan and I’ve worked with non-collaborative attorneys who believe, along with their clients, that this part of the divorce or the breakup really belongs outside of court, that if it can be done in a neutral setting, that that will set the stage for more positive co-parenting moving forward. Carl:  Where can people find out more information about your services for a neutral child specialist? Deborah:  I have a website. It’s www.deborahclemmensen.com and I go through that process in some detail so parents are prepared for what to expect coming in. I also have a web page on the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota website. That’s www.collaborativelaw.org. On that website, there are lists of professionals. I’m not the only person doing neutral child specialist work, so if folks were looking for someone in a particular geographic location, that would be an excellent resource to find a neutral child specialist. Carl:  Thanks a lot, Deborah. I appreciate having this conversation. Deborah:  It’s totally been my pleasure, Carl, thank you. Carl:  This has been Deborah Clemmensen, Licensed Psychologist and Neutral Child Specialist, and my name is Carl Arnold of Arnold Law and Mediation.
By Antoine Ducrot (1814–?) (Koller Auktionen) [Public domain], <a href=I have learned a few things over the years being a divorce and family law attorney and mediator. One thing I have observed is that men are often result-oriented in a divorce (and just generally in life, right?!). They frequently believe that they have a solution worked out. If only their spouse would listen to them, they could have been done with this whole process yesterday. I have also observed that while women are concerned about the terms of the final agreement, they also want to be sure that they go through a thoughtful process to get there. Part of this stems from women’s tendency to value relationships more than men. Another part of this is that men may not appreciate the extent that relationships matter in negotiations. If men understood how much relationships matter in negotiations, they would be more thoughtful in how they approach negotiations in divorce, because as a result they would frequently find that they would get better outcomes for themselves and their spouses. With more open communication comes more potential options that benefit both people.  A great way to approach a negotiation is to start by trying to listen and ask open ended questions in order to honestly figure out what the other person wants and why they want it, in order to better understand their perspective. Without this knowledge, many potential settlement options will go undiscovered, which results in lost opportunities for both people. Of course generalizations about men and women are not always fair or accurate, but what negotiation professionals understand is that—regardless of gender—if a person feels valued and respected, they are more likely to show the same value and respect in return.  The result of this mutual respect is that communication between the two people, in a divorce or other legal process, is more open and honest and more effective and efficient, which almost invariably leads to more potential options for settlement and better outcomes for both people.
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.
First vs. Second Wife Wow, the phrase “First vs. Second Wives” makes me cringe.  There is so much wrong with it, or at least so much to dislike or be uncomfortable about. Let me count the ways (Keep in mind that this is in the context of Spousal Maintenance). It implies that there will be another wife after the first, which is a fair assumption, but still.  It implies that the first and second wives will be at odds with each other over money, which is unfortunate and sad to think about.  It implies that the husband, at least in his first marriage, is the breadwinner. In our culture of perceived independence and self-sufficiency, it may strike us as dependent and therefore inconsistent with current cultural standards. It uncomfortably reminds us that many spouses, most likely the wife and often for good reasons, give up career and educational advancement, and so their future financial independence and self-sufficiency, to stay at home with children for the benefit of the greater family. Then, if they divorce, they are in big financial trouble without consistent and lengthy financial support from their ex. I’ve seen many couples divorce where the breadwinner doesn’t want to or just won’t acknowledge the homemaker’s non-financial contribution to the family and opportunity cost of being out of the workforce or taking a lower-paying, more flexible job.  I’ve also seen many cases where the homemaker never left home after the kids were older, when it would have been more appropriate to find employment, because re-entering the job market was likely the original marital intent. There is an interesting article in Time magazine’s May 27, 2013 edition titled “The End of Alimony” and a short radio segment, along eerily similar lines, on NPR titled “Alimony Till Death Do Us Part? Nay Say Some Ex-Spouses.”  The basic premise of each is that there is growing momentum (but I’m not aware of any such movement in Minnesota) to limit Alimony court awards, or what we in Minnesota call “Spousal Maintenance.” The irony cited is that while ex-husbands used to be the only ones against Alimony, now second wives are also organizing to do away with Alimony, which their husband’s are paying to their ex-wives.  The result, it is argued, makes for a pretty large constituency which legislators ignore at their own political peril. There is no Spousal Maintenance calculator in Minnesota.  Instead it is a case-by-case, facts-and-circumstances analysis. One of the hardest, and grayest, part of the law in divorce is Spousal Maintenance.  It often feels like pulling teeth to get a higher-earning spouse to even acknowledge that the lesser earning spouse has any reasonable financial need.  Striking a balance to reach a fair outcome is the key. Traditionally trained attorneys, in my opinion, often do a terrible job addressing Spousal Maintenance.  Just bringing it up is likely to start a battle that is out of proportion to the reasonableness of the request. That’s why Spousal Maintenance is a great issue to address with a Collaborative Divorce, because at the beginning of a Collaborative Divorce the attorneys and other professionals help the spouses identify their financial resources and shortfalls by analyzing their budgets in relation to their incomes.  They also help the lower earning spouse explore their future career options (including going back to school) and therefore their reasonable financial need.  The answer is not usually “yes” or “no”, in black and white.  The initial answer is almost always “let’s evaluate this”, which is appropriate given the complexity of the question and the importance of the answer.
For Free Sounds Good to Me! It occurs to me that just as in the rest of our lives, some of the best things in divorce are free. Here are more than a few free items that I came up with on a recent afternoon. Initial Consultation Most importantly, many atttorneys and other divorce professionals offer free (or low cost) initial consultations to help you understand your options.  I enjoy offering free consultations because I can make the most impact on a person’s life by helping them at the very beginning before they waste time and money. General Divorce Information It’s free to keep reading this blog!  There are many helpful articles to help guide your decisions.  You can learn what is involved in divorce and how to choose professionals to help you with the divorce process. Read my Family Law blog called Always Family Center for free information about many Family Law topics. Learn more about Collaborative Divorce here. Want to look through the statute on divorce to get an overview of the law? It’s available for free here. Go to your local library.  They all have a section on divorce and other legal topics.  Why not take advantage of the free books at your local library?  You already paid for it with your taxes, right! Parenting in Divorce You can view an 8 hour online class for divorcing or separating parents called Parents Forever for free or very little cost provided by the University of Minnesota. Children’s Expenses Here is a link to the Minnesota Department of Human Services publication titled Understanding Child Support: A Handbook for Parents. If you are curious about how the Minnesota Guidelines Child Support Calculator works, that’s available for free here. If you want to look through the statute on child support to get a more in-depth view of the law, it’s available for free here. Budgets Do you want to know what your budget is? Just look at your checkbook or last credit or debit card statement and make a list of the most common expenses. Thinking about moving out and living somewhere else and want to know how much it would cost?  For rentals, just look online or make some phone calls from ads in the paper, all for free. Parenting Plans Want to create a great parenting plan?  Consult with a Neutral Child Specialist.  You can find one here.  Look for the area titled “Find a Professional by Profession” and then chose “Child Specialist”. Here is probably the best available court system parenting schedule guide, which happens to be from Arizona (But helpful regardless of where your kids live!).  Here’s the Parenting Agreement Worksheet from the Minnesota Court system.  Again from Minnesota, here is A Parental Guide to Making Child-Foccused Parenting Time Decisions. Sending an email to your child’s other parent to tell them that you appreciate something about their parenting is free. Picking up the phone and talking with your ex about your child’s upcoming events is free (or nearly free). Want to search for a Collaborative Divorce attorney or financial professional or coach or child specialist? It’s right here on the Minnesota Collaborative Law Institute website.
Collaborative Divorce NotesThere is such a thing as a Do-It-Yourself Divorce.  Not that I recommend it, but it’s out there.  As an attorney who focuses on Family Law, Mediation and Collaborative Practice, I discourage this route to end a marriage, mainly because of details that can be missed.  My definition of a Do-It-Yourself divorce is one in which you and your spouse are handling the entire legal process without any attorney help.  This includes gathering information, making decisions, and completing the legal paperwork and processing that paperwork with the court.  This is not something you should be doing without help! Perhaps surprisingly, there are many people who do indeed choose this path: to divorce without the help of an attorney.  Especially for those with no children and little to no assets or debts, and likely a shorter marriage, it’s not uncommon.  There are free forms available on the Minnesota Supreme Court website that can be printed and used.  However, in the following circumstances, clearly an attorney would be helpful: if you have children; significant assets or debts; if you own a house and/or land; if you have been married for many years; if one spouse earns a lot more money than the other. So, after you determine it is a good idea to procure an attorney to ensure the specifics of your divorce, what next?  Are you looking for a courtroom battle?  No, of course not.  Then why not consider a Collaborative Divorce? What is a Collaborative Practice divorce, anyway?  The most basic definition requires that both spouses have attorneys and everyone signs an agreement not to go to court. The idea is to settle the matter without ever setting foot in a courthouse.  Even in a Collaborative Practice divorce the paperwork would be filed at the courthouse, but the attorneys and the clients would never need to have a hearing or even go to the courthouse.  The paperwork would just be filed by mail. Collaborative Practice divorce is an out-of-court settlement process where the attorneys are hired to settle the case and not to go to court and where other neutral professionals often help on the case to provide neutral meeting facilitation, child-focused input or special financial expertise. Collaborative Practice means more than just the technical completion of the divorce process.  It means a commitment to settling the case out of court.  It means using neutral experts help educate clients about the unique emotional, child-related and financial circumstances of their particular case and to explore potential settlement options. For Collaborative Practice professionals, being a member of the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota means regularly participating in additional training above and beyond their underlying professional continuing educational requirements.  We do this in order to focus specifically on the client experience and out-of-court negotiation and settlement. As with most things, of course, you get what you pay for.  While a do-it-yourself divorce is possible, if instead you are looking for a cost-effective, quality process, take a look at Collaborative Practice divorce.  You will be rewarded with a high-quality method that includes professionals that take extra care and training to learn ways to resolve cases outside of court and neutral professionals that will help educate you about your specific circumstances and help you explore your options, all while agreeing not to set foot in a courtroom.
Yoga - Tree poseWelcome! Namaste, as they often say at the beginning and ending of Yoga classes. If you are going through a divorce or separation, one of the best pieces of non-legal advice I can give you is to take up Yoga (or reengage with your existing practice with renewed determination). Now, you may be wondering: “What in the world is the connection between divorce or separation and Yoga?” Well, Yoga can help fight stress, depression and anxiety, among other health benefits, which are common health and wellness issues to address when you experience conflict in your life. As a Collaborative Practice Lawyer and Family Mediator, who works in the middle of family conflict on a daily basis, I have benefited from practicing Yoga as a means to reduce my stress level, to increase my resiliency to stressful situations and to improve my overall fitness level. If it works for the professionals you are working with, it could just as easily work for you. I recommend Yoga to anyone going through divorce or other family conflict or significant life transition.  Yoga just provides a nice mix of low-impact physical movement and increased stress resilience. There are many different types of Yoga, but in most western Yoga studios, Yoga practice is about connecting with your physical and mental self.  There is a focus on being mindful of your breathing and feedback from your body as you move through the poses or as you simply sit or lay still.  It often incorporates a portion of meditation practice that teaches us to observe our thoughts non-judgmentally which helps us further observe our physical reaction to our thoughts and feelings and, as a benefit, to feel less negative physical reactions to stress. To learn more about Yoga, you may want to check out your local Yoga studio(s), which you can find by Googling Yoga and looking through the local results.  Also look online at Yoga Journal.  I am a subscriber of Yoga Journal and have copies on-hand at my office for clients.  For my own personal practice, I’ve been very tempted to try out streaming online classes from myonlineyoga.com, which has a huge selection of classes and has a very low monthly cost. It goes without saying that it is incredibly helpful to be able to maintain a sense of calm during tense discussions (yes, even in Collaborative Practice!) about important things such as parenting schedules for the kids and different options for dividing assets and debts.  What if you could do a better job of keeping your cool and keeping your focus on your long-term goals and concerns, instead of how mad you are about what your spouse just said? Give Yoga a try.  Namaste.
Where should I sit? This is a common thought walking into any new room.  This is especially true if you are involved in a legal discussion and emotions are high. In a memorable Collaborative Practice training I attended a couple years ago, the instructor encouraged us to think about conference room space at our respective offices.  We were to think about our seating space from the perspective of a client and also from the perspective of the other participants.  We had a thorough discussion on the pros and cons of where to park various participants and a role-play about seating; who should sit where?  Why? It is a little like solving a puzzle, trying to find the best seating position to attain a comfortable and effective discussion. Should the attorneys sit next to each other and the clients sit next to each other?  Should it be grouped by attorney-client pairs on each side of a table?  Should the clients sit across the table from one another?  Is it better to have the clients sit directly across or diagonal from one another? Does this sound like what you would think a group of attorneys would get together to talk about?  No, this type of discussion is way outside the realm of traditional litigation-based attorney training.  This is the Collaborative way of thinking. Collaborative Attorneys and other Collaborative team members are trained and experienced in thinking not just about the legal aspects of a case, but also the non-legal aspects of the client experience. Seating at a group meeting is just one example. It is quite simple:  when people are comfortable, they are better able to think with a clear head.  These non-legal factors in the client experience play an important part in negotiating successful and durable settlements. It is common for attorneys to say that most of family law is not about the law.  What they mean is that the law is only part of the equation and that emotions and other factors play a major role in resolving a case.  Collaborative teams are uniquely trained to think about and value these non-legal factors in helping their clients negotiate legal solutions.