Marie and Tim are divorced, but decided to enter CBS’s Amazing Race and spend 24 hours a day together tackling obstacles under constant stress with $1 million on the line. They ended up in 2nd place and did not win the million, but think about how wonderful it is to see exes working together in a way that gets them all the way to 2nd place in a highly competitive race on reality TV. In their Race bios they both complained that the other does not listen well and always needs to be right. Tim wrote, “I would like us to be able to communicate what’s best for each other as an ‘us.’” In the Collaborative Divorce process we begin by asking the couple about their goals for finances, children, housing and their own relationship. Do they want to stay friends? Do they want to stay connected to in-laws? If there are children, do they want to share activities with their re-structured family? Often, divorcing couples will identify the exact same goal Tim identified above. Collaborative Divorce recognizes that dissolving a marriage does not have to be the same as ending the relationship. Many couples prefer to stay friends. In the Collaborative Process, couples can work with a neutral divorce coach to have honest conversations about their patterns of interaction and communication. It is an opportunity to say, “Yeah, we both want to always be right and neither of us listens very well.” That kind of frank, open communication can lead to the ability to continue a rewarding relationship and, apparently, even try to win a million dollars together! Tim and Marie, I wish you had the million. Thank you for showing us that a couple can end their marriage, disagree with each other, have typical relationship conflicts, get frustrated with each other AND stay friends who can work together for a common goal whether it is for themselves, their children or the possibility of a million dollars.
The divorce process can be so difficult it is hard to imagine anything positive coming from it. However, in Collaborative Team Practice your family is surrounded by professionals who understand the complications of relationships, the emotional distress of divorce and how to navigate this process with open communication, balance and respect. When a family takes advantage of the professionals’ knowledge, skills and guidance the divorce process turns into an opportunity to communicate and work together in new ways. Families generally come to divorce because they have been immersed in negative patterns that are not working. Spouses or partners don’t feel heard, respected, valued, appreciated, free to be themselves and/or balanced. One or both in the relationship have worked hard to try to turn it around, to do better, to make it work, but the established patterns are formidable. In the actual divorce process itself, there are brand new options. You have made the difficult decision to separate or dissolve the marriage so the pressure is off to “fix the relationship.” Now the focus is on accepting the end of the partnership or marriage and re-establishing and strengthening your separate selves. Your new job is to form a co-parenting relationship. This is very different from the partner or spousal relationship. We seek to have our own needs met within a spousal relationship which is the part of the relationship that is most likely to become broken. In a co-parenting relationship you are not expecting to have your own needs met, instead the goal is to meet the needs of your children. Doing what is best for your children is something that both of you want. The Collaborative Professionals guide you through the divorce process of deciding how to divide assets and debts and establish separate living arrangements and most importantly to develop a parenting plan. This is an opportunity, with assistance, to talk to each other differently and to rediscover and build upon the strengths you each have to work together for your children.
How do you say good-bye to someone who is still there? A person who has been an integral part of your daily life, shared your adventures and your routine is now gone… and not gone. Last week I attended a conference by Pauline Boss on Ambiguous Loss. She reminded me that divorce is an example of loss that is indefinite and messy. Signing the final decree ends the divorce process and defines your new legal status. You are divorced now but the person is still there; at events, through friends, extended family, work connections, and/or, of course, children. We don’t like ambiguity. We prefer control and certainty. We seek a beginning and an end. We crave closure. In the divorce process it is helpful to find the certainties where possible, and thank goodness there are some. People move into separate homes, disentangle finances, start to plan their own schedules and make independent decisions. I think it is more difficult to prepare for the many uncertainties; how will you communicate, when will you see each other – intentionally or unintentionally, how do you cope with feeling relieved one minute and anxious the next? It is essential to take time and make space for the emotional challenge of saying a complicated good-bye to someone who is still there. Remember, in reality we handle ambiguity every day, we just don’t think about it; traffic, weather, other people’s reactions, unexpected phone calls. We survive this by processing what we can and can’t control. When life feels too uncertain do something concrete, something you can control; read a book, do a puzzle, clean the kitchen, talk to a friend. In the difficult process of divorce recognize that this good-bye is conditional and complicated. Allow time to grieve, to feel confused, and to adjust. Look for opportunities to set personal goals, celebrate independence, affirm inner strengths, spend time with people who are supportive, do things you enjoy and, above all, take good care of yourself.
Where can I hire an attorney with heart? I get that question all the time. Okay, so not exactly that question, but isn’t that what we mean? We ask for a “good” attorney or a “reasonably priced” attorney or one “who cares and will listen to me.” In Collaborative Team Practice, attorneys work with other professionals who have training and experience in the non-legal areas of divorce. Those other professionals help the clients with the financial information, the child/parenting issues, and the emotional rollercoaster of the process, while the attorneys focus specifically on the legal aspects. Why would an attorney want to work in Team Practice? In the traditional model they do it all. They set up the spreadsheets and explain financial options, help their clients come up with a parenting time schedule and referee the arguments and emotions. All of that takes a lot of hours, and to be perfectly honest, that turns into a lot of billable hours. Attorneys who limit their work to the legal aspects of the divorce have less billable time. They work side by side with experts who specialize in the other essential areas of divorce. Since they are only doing one piece of the work they get just one piece of the billable hours. So, again, why do they do it? Team practice attorneys are members of the broader community of attorneys out there who are motivated by putting their clients’ interests first. I know from professional experience that they understand how difficult divorce is and want to be of service. They want their clients to get the full support a team can provide. Contrary to all of the humor about lawyers, there is an abundance of really good, caring attorneys. Team Practice Collaborative Attorneys absolutely have heart.