In collaborative dissolution cases, this is a common objection when meeting for the first time with clients.  Another variation is, “I can be a terrific co-parent, just not with my spouse.”  I am often stymied by this reaction.  Of course, I know nothing about the other spouse except the views of my potential client. My initial response is to acquiesce and to reject the collaborative approach.  But depending on the circumstances, both spouses bear the risk of escalating litigation. A better approach is to persuade the spouse in my office of the advantages of the collaborative model, especially if the couple has trouble communicating.  They may have misperceived the resistance of the other spouse.  I consider the context.  The couple has typically been working toward a break-up for a long time.  They have often taken strong positions based upon strained communications.  I encourage the spouse to review the open communications features described in the Participation Agreement. For example, in four-way meetings with clients and attorneys, both spouses can be safely heard without the risk that their words could later be regretted.  In addition, the spouses themselves can set the pace of the process rather than be bound by judicial deadlines.  This may be persuasive in cases where one spouse is more eager to end the marriage.  Resolution is often facilitated when some issues are allowed to “percolate.” Another advantage of the collaborative process is cost savings.  Initially, this seemed to me to be counter-intuitive given the potential number of team members and meetings.  But when the alternative is communicating exclusively through the attorneys, these meetings are a bargain. If a client in my office expresses a favorable view toward the collaborative process, another approach is to communicate directly in writing with the “stubborn” spouse.  The correspondence always contains the caveat that I represent only their spouse and I recommend they obtain their own attorney.  I include a general discussion recommending the collaborative model and provide IACP literature and brochures. The letter accurately states that the vast majority of all divorces are resolved through settlement.  A major advantage with the collaborative process is the emphasis on preserving future relationships (especially where minor children are involved). In discussing the problem of the stubborn spouse, one of my colleagues gave me permission to share the following experience. He consulted with a woman who was knowledgeable and favorably inclined towards a collaborative divorce.  But she was adamant that her husband was too stubborn and controlling to ever agree to anything she suggested.  Nevertheless, she agreed that he could send her husband a letter recommending the collaborative process.  The letter was down-to-earth and explained the practical benefits of enhanced communications and interest-based negotiations. To his client’s surprise, her husband agreed to give it a try and requested a referral to another collaborative lawyer.  As it turned out, the collaborative process proved successful. The take-away for both collaborative professionals and clients is to continue exploring this option even when confronted with resistance from a stubborn spouse.  The process of reaching agreement is facilitated when couples can meet on their own terms.  Also, clients are often attracted to the collegial format.  If a resistant spouse is on the fence, share with them Father Frances Fleming’s sage advice, “Love your enemies.  It drives them nuts.” About the Author Gregory R. Solum, Attorney at Law My goal is to guide my clients to their destination in a manner that is transparent, fluid and valuable. General Practice of Civil, Family, Probate and Appellate Law since 1980/ Mediator (including Family Court) since 1995/ Collaborative Team Divorce since 2000/ University of Minnesota Law School Instructor 1991-2009. www.solumlaw.com
      It may be tempting to save money in a divorce by drafting a decree with your spouse, or by completing a form decree. This is especially true if it appears that you and your spouse are in accord on all issues. But be warned: unintended consequences can arise months or years after your decree has been filed and entered by the Court. Once your decree has been filed by the Court and entered by Court Administration, your decree becomes the legal guide for everything related to your divorce: custody and parenting time, support, property and debt division.  On the surface, these issues can seem simple and many couples attempt drafting their own dissolution paperwork without counsel in an effort to save on the investment of lawyers and other professionals.  While it is true that parties are often in the best position to make decisions about what their families need, attorneys are uniquely trained (and perhaps some are even naturally suited) to imagining something their clients may not be inclined to consider: the worst-case scenario. The worst-case scenario is and should be an ever-present consideration for attorneys as they counsel their clients regarding important decisions that will have long-term impacts on parenting and financial issues. An attorney may be a glass-is-half-full type of person, but he or she has been trained to imagine what could go wrong five years out from a divorce or custody determination.  The worst-case scenario may not be an enjoyable rumination, but it is critically important in drafting strong contracts. Take Couple A, for example.  Couple A was married for 12 years.  They have an eight-year-old child and they own a home, which they purchased together during the marriage.  Couple A decide to divorce in November and to sell the home in the spring when the housing market is stronger.  They agree to share the closing costs and to equally divide the sale proceeds.  They also decide that they will have equal parenting time, but they do not create a specific parenting time schedule.  Couple A feels pretty good about the progress they are making, and they should feel great – many couples are not able to have fruitful conversations about parenting and property issues in the context of a separation.  Couple A signs and files their divorce decree, which awards the home to Wife, pending the sale of the house.  Husband has purchased a townhome a few miles away.  Couple A is glad to have the divorce behind them so they can focus on their child and on moving forward with life. What could go wrong? Let’s check back in with Couple A one year after their decree is entered.  It is late fall and the marital home is still unsold. At the time the divorce was finalized, the realtor recommended repairs that required time and money and the parties were not able to agree on a listing price.  Some offers were made, but the parties felt that the property should sell for more.  Wife has been paying the mortgage for the past year, and the parties have now just received a solid offer.  Wife wants to be credited for reducing the mortgage principal during the year she made mortgage payments and is asking for additional sale proceeds.  Husband does not agree –  he has done some of the repair work on the home and has paid for lawn maintenance.  The decree is silent on principal reduction, and he believes the net equity should be divided equally, as worded in the decree. In addition, Wife has put in an offer on a home twenty miles away from Husband’s new home.  Wife wants the now 9-year-old to attend school near her new home, in a different school district.  Even though the parties agreed on equal parenting time, Husband has been picking up overtime at work to help offset some of his expenses, so Wife has had significantly more overnight parenting time over the course of the last year.  Wife has hired a lawyer and is threatening to take Husband to court to address school choice, parenting time, and the division of equity from the sale of the marital home. If Couple A had attorneys, even to simply review their draft decree, they could have included some provisions to address these foreseeable events.  As a family law attorney, I have encountered many “Couple As,” who, with the best intentions, endeavored to divorce without counsel because they believed it would save them time and money.  However, in many instances, these couples overlook important details and pitfalls that a family law attorney will mitigate by including provisions that anticipate change and communication breakdowns.  In the end, these couples have unnecessarily spent significant amounts of money to resolve issues that could have been avoided by addressing them properly at the time of divorce. If Couple A had engaged in the Collaborative Divorce process and retained collaborative attorneys committed to working only out of court, they would have had conversations focused on problem solving the issues that they later encountered up front. While many divorcing couples can and should make efforts to reach agreements on their own, attorneys offer unique perspective and experience when counseling clients on important agreements.  If you are considering a divorce or have questions about whether the Collaborative Divorce process is right for you (there are many wonderful blog posts on the CLI site explaining why it probably is), contact CLI or browse through the online listing of collaborative attorneys (Find a professional) – most of us offer free initial consultations and love the collaborative work we do. About the Author: Rebecca Randen is a family law practitioner and partner at the firm Randen, Chakirov & Grotkin LLC.  She practices collaborative and traditional family law in the metro and greater Minnesota.  She is a lifelong Beatles fan. www.rcglawoffice.com
      Since its inception in Minnesota 30 years ago, the Collaborative Divorce process has helped families in all 50 states and more than 25 countries find a healthier way to end their marriage without going to court.   However, this respectful alternative to contested divorce has largely remained unavailable to families in greater Minnesota.  The recent advent of virtual practice and Zoom meetings has changed this landscape and opened up new possibilities for the statewide availability of Collaborative Divorce. The Collaborative Divorce process was created in 1990.  Minnesota attorney Stu Webb, discouraged by the emotional and financial side effects of adversarial divorce, piloted a new approach in which attorneys would be involved for settlement purposes only.  Because Collaborative divorce attorneys were disqualified from going to court, these attorneys needed to become effective and creative negotiators and problem solvers.  The result was a process in which divorcing couples could design customized outcomes for their families and not go to court. As the Collaborative Divorce concept grew throughout North America and the world, it evolved into a team process.  By using specially trained neutral experts in child development, family systems and divorce-related finance in addition to their Collaborative attorneys, clients are able to bring this added expertise to their parenting and financial resolutions, and likely reduce the financial cost of their divorce.  The process is tailored to the needs of the family using professionals based on the skills and expertise they need. It has been an unfortunate reality for accessibility that specially trained Collaborative professionals are typically concentrated in metro areas, including in Minnesota.  But with the social distancing required by the pandemic, almost all divorce professionals are working with and representing clients online, typically through Zoom meetings.   This means that a couple’s distance from Collaboratively trained professionals is no longer an obstacle.  Individuals in greater Minnesota, can now have access to a full Collaborative team without leaving their homes. To learn if a Collaborative Divorce is right for you and your family, please visit the website of the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota at www.collaborativelaw.org.  There you will find detailed information about the Collaborative process, as well as names and bios of Collaborative professionals who practice this family-friendly, problem-solving, and future-focused process.  Collaboratively trained professionals will be happy to offer you free informational meetings via teleconferencing to help you make the decision about whether this process, and a particular attorney or neutral professional, feels right for your needs. Collaborative Practice Highlights:
  • The entire process is legally and ethically done outside of court
  • The result of the process is customized to the particular needs of a divorcing couple and/or family
  • Clients can build a team of Collaboratively trained attorneys, neutral financial experts, mediators and mental health professionals (coaches and child/family specialists) who focus on problem solving and dispute resolution
  • Collaborative professionals can offer specialized ala carte services in specific areas of particular need for clients, e.g., financial plans, parenting plans, conflict resolution, preparation and review of legal documents, and more.
  • Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota (CLI) website: collaborativelaw.org
  • Find a Professional: https://www.collaborativelaw.org/find-a-professional/
  • CLI Blog: collaborativedivorceoptions.com
  • CLI Mailing address: 4707 Highway 61 N, #217 | White Bear Lake, MN 55110
The Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota and the North Dakota Collaborative Law Group are nonprofit organizations focused on transforming the way families divorce by helping them create customized solutions and stay out of court. For more information or to find a Collaborative professional near you visit www.collaborativelaw.org (CLI) or www.nddivorce.com (NDCLG) About the Author: Shared by the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota Public Education Committee    
Former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Sandy Keith
            Thirty years ago, in 1990, a family lawyer in Minneapolis named Stu Webb had an idea.  He thought the idea was good enough to share with the Minnesota Supreme Court Justice at the time, “Sandy” Keith.  Stu’s letter of February 14, 1990, to Chief Justice Keith starts out: Dear Sandy, I met you at a party . . . several years ago. Stu did not even know Sandy Keith!  But undaunted, Stu plows ahead: I think I’ve come up with a new wrinkle that I’d like to share with you.  One of the aspects of mediation that I feel is a weakness is that it basically leaves out input by the lawyer at the early stages [of the mediation process]. . ..  By that I don’t mean adversarial, contentious lawyering, but the analytical, reasoned ability to solve problems and generate creative alternatives and create a positive context for settlement.  …[Y]ou and I have both experienced, I’m sure, those occasional times, occurring usually by accident, when in the course of attempting to negotiate a family law settlement, we find ourselves in a conference with the opposing counsel, and perhaps the respective clients, where the dynamics were such that in a climate of positive energy, creative alternatives were presented.  In that context, everyone contributed to a final settlement that satisfied all concerned—and everyone left the conference feeling high energy, good feelings and satisfaction. More than likely, the possibility for a change in the way the parties related to each other in the future may have greatly increased.  As a result, the lawyers may also develop a degree of trust between them that might make future dealings more productive. So, my premise has been:  Why not create this settlement climate deliberately?  . . . I would do this by creating a coterie of lawyers who would agree to take cases . . . for settlement only.  . . . I call the attorney in this settlement model a collaborative attorney, practicing in that case collaborative law.  This little history might end here but Chief Justice Sandy Keith did respond to Stu’s letter(!!): Dear Stu, Many thanks for one of the most thoughtful letters I have received these past months.  Congratulations .  . . on the model you are setting up in the family law area.  . . . I know it will be successful.   . . . I think you have thought it through better than most attorneys and I think it is a very valid model in the family law area. Both Stu Webb and Sandy Keith were pioneers in family law practice.  Sandy was a pioneer in using a mediation process in family law; Stu was a pioneer in creating a collaborative process in family law.  Thanks to them, out-of-court processes—mediation and collaboration—are benefiting clients all over the world.  Sandy Keith—former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice, former Lieutenant Governor, former State Senator, and former family law attorney—died October 3, 2020.  His support of the Collaborative process is not forgotten. Footnote from Stu Webb, 10/6/20: Here is the link to the Star Tribune Obituary of Sandy Keith, who died last Saturday, October 3 at 91!  I could say that Sandy is responsible for releasing Collaborative Law to the world!  In 1990, when I self-questioned the credibility of the concept, I wrote him a letter describing the process and, essentially, highlighting some potential advantages of it over mediation (which was his former practice specialty!)  Instead of defensively ‘shooting it down’, he Immediately sent a short note back, basically saying ‘wonderful, go for it’!  And years later, I had the honor of participating in a Collaborative Law case with him in my home office!  WHAT A GUY!! Star Tribune Obituary \Sandy Keith: https://www.startribune.com/sandy-keith-former-minnesota-supreme-court-chief-justice-dies/572638202/ About The Author Tonda Mattie, has been a Family Law attorney for over 40 years and has practiced exclusively Collaborative Family Law since 2006.  She has been involved in the Collaborative Law movement since 1992.  She has been past President and past Co-President of the Collaborative Law Institute (CLI) of Minnesota.  She has headed the CLI Training Committee as chair or co-chair since 2004.  She is engaged in the practice of her dreams using a collaborative process that 1) allows good people to be their best despite the crisis they are in; 2) is centered on the well-being of the children; 3) creates a safe environment for difficult conversations; 4) focuses on the future rather than on blame and past grievances; 5) identifies and meets the needs and interests of all family members; 6) empowers parties to control and create their own mutual settlement; and 7) creates a climate in which healing can begin to occur. Visit her website at www.mndivorce.com
Frustrated with the world of politics today? Unless you are reading this from your hospital bed, having just awakened from a long coma, I am going to guess the answer is yes. Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, it’s likely that you have about had it with all of the acrimony and with the arguments being made by “the other side”. Probably the one thing we can all agree on is that everyone on “the other side” is quite disagreeable, both in their opinions and their manner of expressing their views. If you have bravely ventured out into the world of political discourse in an attempt to influence “the other side”, whether at a gathering of friends or family, or on some social media site, there is a pretty good chance you came away even more frustrated after the experience. Any naïve thoughts you may have had about the other person changing their mind likely hit a brick wall that, by the end of the exchange, had become, if anything, even stronger in its resistance. If “the other side” argued back at you there is a pretty good chance that your brick wall got fortified as well. You and “the other side” achieved the very opposite of what you both wanted to achieve, and you both were left in a state of frustration. As a divorce lawyer, I am struck by how similar all of this is to how most couples behave when they are in conflict.  I am hoping there is something about watching these political arguments that may create a true learning opportunity for these couples.  The reality that I just described; the dynamic that most arguments lead to chaos, frustration, and a deepening of divisions is an important insight. And what better time to learn it than when you are going through a divorce. Trust me, as someone who has “been through” numerous divorces, the maddening events that are playing out on the political stage, bear an amazing resemblance to conversations I have regularly observed in my office during the past three decades. Two people, seized with emotions, bent on getting another person to agree with them, stay awake at night thinking of great arguments to persuade their spouse that they are right, or worse, thinking of “good” attorneys who can do that for them. If you are in the middle of it (either politics or divorce), you are likely so caught up in your frustration with “the other side” that you have little insight about what you are doing that is actually making your life worse. However, if you are able to stand back, if only for a moment, both with the political arena and arguments with divorcing couple, it is fairly easy to see that all we are doing is pouring gas on a raging fire.  Once you come to that realization, you may find yourself wondering what the alternative might be. Our inner voice immediately retorts that “we can’t just give in”, thinking, from the standpoint of our ego, that fight or flight are the only true options. Is there a third option? There is. It has different names, but the most common phrase that negotiators use is “interest-based bargaining.” I will skip that jargon and simply call this alternative “dialogue” for the moment. Dialogue, in the sense I am using it, is one of those ideas that is simple but not easy. It starts with the idea of letting go of arguments and changing minds and focusing instead on seeking common ground or at least a basis for common understanding. What I have observed, at least with divorcing couples, is that if we can reframe the discussion away from “arguments to change minds” and on to dialogues aimed at achieving common understanding, it is possible to achieve common goals.  This type of dialogue is a central tenet of something called Collaborative Divorce.  To learn more about Collaborative Divorce, go to www.collaborativelaw.org.  In the meantime, watch what is happening on the political stage and see if there might be some valuable life lessons that will help us become a better nation, and better families. About the Author Ron Ousky, JD, is a Collaborative Attorney and mediator who has dedicated his practice to making sure that families facing conflict understand their options.  He believes that families facing divorce are in a unique situation to make a better life for their families and he is dedicated to helping them find the resources to build a better future.  For more information about his practice go to www.ousky.com
        Children begin their lives constantly observing and emulating our use of language. A baby watches, listens and models her mother’s face saying “Ohhhh,” moving her own lips to form the shape of that sound. A toddler in his car seat repeats the word his parent blurted out when cut off suddenly in traffic, usually to the great chagrin of the parent. My 5-year-old granddaughter cocks her head seriously and says, “Well, actually, the most interesting thing is…..” just the way her mom does. Knowing they are listening, seeking to understand, and emulating how we talk, adults must be mindful of what we say and how we say it in the presence of children. This may be especially important during the life crisis of a divorce, when children are already feeling vulnerable and anxious. Similar to being cut off suddenly in traffic, negative emotions during a divorce can quickly heighten, along with the risk of blurting out words one will later regret. When under stress, the guard rails filtering words can become wobbly or fall off altogether. It’s not just angry, sarcastic, insulting words that children internalize, it is also the meaning of those words in the context of relationships. Children are deeply hurt and frightened when parents fight with each other, and not infrequently, will beg them to stop. What does it mean to them that the two most important adults in their lives are attacking each other this way? We live in an era when disrespect, insulting and belittling words and verbal abuse are regularly tweeted out in all caps. Sadly, this has the effect of normalizing unfiltered language. This is hard enough to manage as an adult but giving vent to verbal rage will never be anything but damaging to a child. So, what can parents do if they feel triggered? They need to slow it down. Two simple techniques to help create more mental and emotional space under stress are:
  1. Mindful breathing: taking at least four deep, slow belly breaths before responding; and
  2. Softening your eyes: focusing on relaxing the muscles around your eyes so they fall back into their sockets.
Both techniques will relax tension in your body, which helps to clear your head, strengthen your guardrails, and give you time to respond rather than react. If this can create more emotional safety for your children, it is well worth the effort. Author: Deborah Clemmensen, M.Eq., L.P. is a Neutral Child and Family Specialist in Collaborative Practice and Family Law