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 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.

Harry PotterWorking with children, I became a Harry Potter fan out of both necessity and real appreciation.   J.K. Rowlings’ world of wizards and magic is a fantasy, but the themes of these books are human and real. Among the most frightening characters in Rowlings’ epic struggles of power and control, good vs. evil, are the Death Eaters and the Dementors.

The Death Eaters are those in the wizard world who have made a pledge to support Lord Voldemort, whose vision of total domination rather than peaceful co-existence has been distorted by his hate and rage, and obsession with destroying Harry Potter.  The Dementors are the terrifying, soul-sucking wraiths who feed on fear. What a relief that Death Eaters and Dementors aren’t real and aren’t about us! But Rowlings has created a thought-provoking twist.

By the last book, Harry Potter has discovered that he and Lord Voldemort have much in common. Harry alone must determine whether he is capable of making the necessary sacrifice for the greater good of those who depend on him to be their champion. Harry must defeat the Death Eaters and Dementors by conquering his own fear and rage with selfless love. Harry is not perfect, he has made many mistakes and hurt the ones he cares about, but he has this gift within him waiting to be discovered at the time of ultimate crisis.

What I find compelling about the Harry Potter books is the mirror they hold to our world. In our humanity, we all find ourselves having to figure out how to resolve inevitable conflicts and manage strong negative emotions. Parents and children facing divorce are certainly living through an emotional crisis. The question is, do we let rage and fear drive and perhaps distort our actions, or do we seek another way, one that may ask us to sacrifice power and control for the greater good of those who depend on us to be their champions–our children.

Collaborative Team Practice is an alternative dispute resolution process using interest-based negotiation and problem solving to reach agreements and sustainable resolutions. On the team, allied and neutral professionals provide support and guidance to manage strong negative emotions, suggest creative and equitable financial resolutions, and negotiate safe, developmentally responsive parenting plans. It can be a highly effective way to help families transition respectfully during the crisis of a divorce.

We know Collaborative Team Practice may not be the right choice for all families.  However, it is a process that will work for many families. Our belief is that reaching agreements rather than perpetuating conflict is truly the way to be champions for children in the age of Death Eaters and Dementors.

Several times a year, I have the opportunity to present a workshop on child-centered divorce, parenting plans and co-parenting to Daisy Camp. Daisy Camp is the brainchild of Jennifer Morris, a realtor who has realized her vision of providing women with important resources and support during and after a divorce. Jennifer assembles volunteer speakers, many of whom are Collaborative Team Practice professionals, to share information and facilitate discussion on a range of divorce-related topics. Daisy Camp is an amazing Minnesota resource.

At the most recent Daisy Camp, I was pleasantly surprised when a former Collaborative client joined the group right before my presentation. I had provided neutral child specialist services for her family a year ago, meeting with her children to understand their perspectives on how family could work best for them during and after their parents’ divorce, and assisting parents in the creation of their developmentally responsive parenting plan. My client told the group she was there for a refresher on child-centered co-parenting, especially with an ex she often found frustrating to work with. Other women in the group shared stories and concerns about the challenge of keeping children at the center and out of the middle. We discussed the impact of divorce on kids, and the importance of keeping a crisis from becoming a trauma for children. Our discussion was thought-provoking and emotionally powerful. At the end of the workshop, my former client revealed how difficult it had been during her divorce process to internalize messages about keeping children at the center and out of the middle, not blaming the other parent, and preserving her kids’ relationships with someone by whom she felt so betrayed. She has remained on a co-parenting high road on behalf of her children, even when she felt she was doing this unilaterally, and is more convinced than ever that this has been of benefit to her children and is the right thing to do. This personal revelation was a gift to the group. Her final gift to the group was a heartfelt message of hope. She said while she was in the midst of a highly stressful divorce, she couldn’t have imagined how much healing could happen in a year. Her parting words, “Believe me, it gets better!” rang strong and true, both for her, and equally importantly, for her beloved children.
What are the stories that adult children of divorced parents have to tell?  This was the question that sparked an incredible project by photographer Karen Klein, culminating in two Broken Circle books. Karen interviewed young adults in the U.S. and Dominican Republic asking two questions: how was your life affected by your parents’ divorce at the time it happened, and how has their divorce affected your plans for the future?  The responses from the participants are authentic, heartfelt and eloquent, and the candid photographs accompanying the text add a valuable dimension to the stories. Not surprisingly, many of the stories have raw and painful edges. Divorce is extremely difficult for children. The young adults in the Broken Circle project who experienced feelings of abandonment and loss, or those for whom parental conflict was high or remains active are still struggling to find equilibrium and a sense of emotional security. Many participants acknowledged to Karen that this was the first time they could remember having the opportunity to talk about how they felt about the divorce.  Their participation in the project was cathartic and healing. However, what is hopeful is that not all the stories were negative or bleak.  The young adults whose parents had divorced in a respectful or amicable way, and those whose parents were on friendly terms as co-parents tended to express acceptance, balance and hope for the future. It also seemed these young adults had not experienced the divorce as a taboo subject for discussion while growing up. Collaborative Team Practice is a way to divorce with dignity and respect. The process helps a divorcing couple make a successful transition to effective co-parenting through advocacy from skilled and compassionate Collaborative attorneys and expert support from a Neutral Coach. The Neutral Child Specialist on the team ensures that children’s voices will be heard in a safe way, and that children will experience support at a critical juncture in their lives.  The Neutral Financial Professional helps divorcing parents create financial resolutions tailored to meet their specific needs as the family restructures. Though the family circle will not be the same, Collaborative Team Practice can help ensure that the new family constellation is not “broken” but transformed so children’s stories in the future will primarily be those of hope.
As a Neutral Child Specialist, I often meet with parents who have not yet told their  children about their decision to get divorced or unmarried.  I encourage parents to create a We Statement that helps children understand what is going to happen without putting them in the middle of conflict between their parents. Many books and articles written about children and divorce stress the importance of telling kids the divorce is not their fault, and they are not to blame.  Here are three developmental reasons why I encourage parents not to use the words fault or blame in their We Statement. 1.  Young children still mastering language can easily become confused about negation.  These children may translate “it’s NOT your fault” to “it IS your fault.” Young children may believe this and internalize the idea without questioning it. 2.  School-age children are developmentally focused on understanding fairness, causality and the dynamic of good guys vs. bad guys.  If told they are not to blame, many children will wonder, “well then, who IS to blame?”  With this thought, children can find themselves unhappily stuck in the middle. 3.  Teenagers have even more knowledge and sophistication about relationship dynamics, and may feel compelled to learn and pass judgment on “the truth.” It is especially important to not introduce fault or blame in the discussion with teens. What then is the alternative to using the words “it’s not your fault” or “you’re not to blame”  if parents want to reassure their child that he or she had nothing to do with parents’ decision to get unmarried? I recommend an affirmation such as, “You are the most important person in the world to us.  We love you and cherish you, and will always be your mom and dad and take care of you.” These words communicate in a positive and supportive way what children need to hear from parents during this difficult discussion, and are an important part of an empathetic We Statement. Stay tuned for future posts about We Statements.
MTI Automotive Egypt | JLR Family Day Event | Cars & CigarsNo matter when a divorce commences, it is practically inevitable that there will be at least one special event—a child’s birthday, a graduation, a holiday, a family reunion—that occurs during the divorce process. Determining how to celebrate such events can add stress to an already difficult situation. It is understandably the case that many divorcing parents are not ready, willing or able to jointly plan or celebrate a family event, and they should not feel pressured to do so.  Children will feel supported by parents who succeed in keeping them at the center and out of the middle, and that alone is a huge accomplishment.  Despite how parents feel about each other, their children should experience freedom to enjoy special events and celebrations planned by each parent. Parents should be supported and encouraged to coordinate and alternate the hosting of special events for their children with as much courtesy and good will as possible. But what about divorcing parents who are not in high conflict and are generally co-parenting well?  Sometimes parents can feel pressured by cultural expectations about what should happen in a divorce, e.g. divorcing parents should have separate birthday celebrations for their kids; divorcing parents should not jointly host a graduation party; soon to be ex-in-laws should not be invited to an extended family gathering at the other parent’s home. Many parents opt to redefine cultural expectations regarding divorce, especially those that would limit their ability to jointly and positively celebrate milestones, holidays and birthdays with and for their children.  These parents are able to create an environment in which their kids can relax and enjoy jointly celebrated events.  As a neutral child specialist in Collaborative Practice, I have learned that many children value whole family celebrations despite parents getting unmarried. Some parents have asked me if their kids may misperceive joint celebrations as a sign their parents are reuniting, but that is unlikely to happen if parents explain the situation clearly.  “We have always enjoyed celebrating special times together with you, and we will continue to do this once in a while.  This doesn’t mean we’re going to get married again, but it does mean we love being your mom and dad.” I will never forget the little boy who told me, “You know the twinkle in their eyes that parents get when their son comes down the stairs on Christmas morning?  I’m sad that both my parents won’t get to have that this year.”  When his divorcing parents heard their son’s words, it was an easy decision for them to celebrate Christmas morning together that year.
Kids at zebra crossingAngelina Jolie has been a news-maker lately for her courageous decision to disclose her personal health care response to having a breast cancer gene. You may have noticed in her media interviews how often she has referred to “my partner, Brad Pitt.” Jolie and Pitt are among many parents raising children and creating lives together without being married. Some couples do this by choice and others by historic exclusion from the opportunity to get married (an inequitable situation that has changed with the recent passage of marriage equality legislation in Minnesota).

What support options exist for these families when parents make the difficult decision to break up? And what support options exist for parents who never formed a permanent relationship but intend to co-parent? What might Collaborative Team Practice have to offer these parents and families?

Collaborative Team Practice can provide a very stable container for parents seeking to end their partnership in a dignified and respectful way, and to create a road map for future co-parenting. Depending on the legal, financial and parenting issues to be resolved, parents can select a team of professionals specifically tailored to their circumstances and needs. As a neutral child specialist, I have been privileged to work with many non-married couples and non-coupled parents to create developmentally responsive parenting plans to guide co-parenting. These are clients who take to heart the notion that kids deserve the best safe parenting they can get from both parents. The future for these children feels brighter, more hopeful and more coherent.

It takes courage and mindfulness to co-parent after a break up, or if parents have never been in a committed relationship. But we know that effective co-parenting is a cornerstone of health and resilience for children. Parents deserve all the support they can get, and Collaborative Team Practice can help provide that support.

2201935912_69205e215a_zI had a familiar conversation recently, this time on the golf course.  As with life, golf is both precise and random: precise because there are exactly 18 holes to play, and random because a golfer never quite knows how the ball will fly from time to time nor with whom the starter will pair you up to play.  We were paired with two great golfers who both happened to be named Sean.

Sean #1 asked what I did for a living.  I gave him my elevator speech about being a Neutral Child Specialist in Collaborative Team Practice  and he said, “Wow, that sounds awesome… must be really hard work.”  My response is always that sometimes it’s hard work, but mostly it’s very rewarding to help families make the difficult transition from married to unmarried with less acrimony and stress for kids.  Sean got a faraway look in his eyes and said, “I can sure see that.”

What he was seeing in his mind’s eye, I can only imagine.  But often I will hear from young adults with whom I share my work that they wished Collaborative Team Practice had been available to their family when their parents were getting divorced.  I have yet to meet anyone who said, “Well, I for one am very grateful that my parents’ divorce was highly acrimonious and adversarial because it was so character-building for me.”

We can’t pretend that ending a marriage will be a pain-free proposition, especially if there are children involved.  Divorce is a life crisis for all family members.   Collaborative Team Practice is designed to help keep the crisis of divorce from ever becoming a trauma for a child, because there is a profound difference how each impacts the child’s resilience and sense of hope.

If you are a golfer, here’s another way to think about it.  Collaborative Team Practice is both precise and random:  precise because there is a structured, supportive format for the process and random because of unique family circumstances and unpredictable challenges that arise from time to time.   But the pairing of a family with a Collaborative team has great potential value.  Collaborative Team Practice helps parents keep their eye on the ball and the ball on the fairway, away from hazards and deep rough where it could easily get lost.

ListeningAs a neutral child specialist, I value the opportunity to learn from the children with whom I work, all of whom have parents who are ending or have ended their marriage or partnership.  Parents add a neutral child specialist to their Collaborative team because they see the benefit of children having a voice and getting the support of a mental health professional during a very difficult time in their lives. I will never forget the very wise voice of a little girl who told me, “Deb, I’m not gonna tell my friends that my parents are getting divorced—that sounds too jaggedy.  I’m gonna tell them my parents are getting unmarried, because that means the same thing.”  How simple and how brilliant! It is true that our neural nets for the word “divorce”  include a lot of jagged associations that sound painful and scary to parents, and even more so to their children.  The term “unmarried” helps create a new and more hopeful neural net of associations during and after a divorce or break up. How different to a child’s ear to hear that her family is changing how it works rather than her family is broken?  To understand that parents will co-parent rather than have joint custody?   To believe that children will be kept at the center and not in the middle?   Listening to children’s voices helps keep a crisis in their lives from ever becoming a trauma—and that is priceless.