My husband and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary this year. It feels like a big number but I don’t feel old or tired of the marriage. My husband and I have worked hard to keep our marriage fresh and vibrant, and we look forward to the next 20 or 30 years together. But as a collaborative divorce attorney, I know that even happy marriages can come to an end. In fact most marriages are happy, some for many years, before “stuff happens” and one or both spouses decide to end the marriage. Before I became a “collaborative” divorce attorney and was merely a “traditional” divorce attorney, it was frightening to think of going through my own divorce. My experience as a “traditional” divorce attorney made me all too aware of the stress my clients and their spouses underwent in an adversarial process that sometimes exacerbated the conflict between them and put pressure on them to vilify or blame the other. However, since limiting my practice to the out-of-court collaborative divorce process, I am no longer afraid of going through my own divorce if that became necessary. I know that my husband and I would be respected in the collaborative process and that we would work for the greater good of our family and for our mutual future security. While my marriage would be a great loss to me, I know the collaborative process is there to gently, effectively, and efficiently escort me and my husband through this important life event. Don’t be afraid. If you are faced with or considering an end to your marriage, consider a collaborative divorce. You can find out more about it at www.collaborativelaw.org and www.mndivorce.com.
The secret to a constructive and respectful divorce is to start at the end and work backward. Ask yourself, “What do I want my life, my spouse’s life, and my children’s lives to look like when the divorce is all over? What is my vision for the future?”In fact, the first task of clients who choose a collaborative divorce process is to answer these questions and to share their answers with each other. Here are some of their answers: Couple A
- Children/Family We want our children and ourselves to feel that we are a family that loves and cares for each other.
- Relational We want us to look back on this difficult time and be proud of how we handled ourselves and each other. We want both of us to be happy in the future.
- Financial We want our final agreement to ensure equitable life styles and standards of living. We want our final agreement to provide financial security for both of us in retirement and in the event of the death of either of us. We want our final agreement to respect the financial decisions/intent of our respective families to leave us money.
- Process We want a divorce process that supports a positive future. We want a divorce process in which we both feel heard and safe to discuss difficult issues. We want to be comfortable with our final agreement and to have a mechanism for implementing it. We want our divorce process to be cost effective and efficient. We want to minimize the emotional and financial stress of our divorce.
- Children For our son to have a solid, cohesive parenting team who loves him. For our son to be shielded from the negative aspects of the divorce.
- Financial For both households to have financial stability and security. For us to be debt-free by using an intentionally controlled plan of action.
- Relational/Emotional That we create a trusting relationship with each other and the potential for friendship. That we reduce the emotional and financial stress we feel as a result of our divorce.
- Process That the collaborative process be as cost-effective as possible while obtaining the added value that our neutral professionals bring to the process.
- For our children not to feel divided.
- For our children to feel comfortable with both of us.
- For us to convey a sense of harmony to our children.
- To have financial security for both of us.
- To get along with each other after the divorce; to have mutual respect for each other; and to have a pleasant relationship.
In Part I we learned that advocacy in the “rights-based” Court Model is hard on the people involved because by focusing on the 3rd-party decision maker, e.g., the judge, the parties care little about each other’s view. As a result, their relationship can become more adversarial. In Part II we learned that by removing the decision maker in the “interest-based” Collaborative Model the parties become the decision makers who resolve mutual problems based on their defined future needs, interests, and goals. But is the removal of the 3rd party decision maker enough to create a process that is truly “soft” on the people? Most people who have gone through a divorce agree that divorce is much more than a legal event. More importantly divorce is about changing relationships, improving communication, establishing co-parenting, engaging in problem-solving, and securing a stable financial future. But many divorce processes do not adequately address these more important concerns, thus limiting divorce to simply a legal commodity. To gain the added value of improving your relationship with your soon-to-be ex-spouse, of becoming successful co-parents, of mutually planning for the future, and of customizing your financial arrangement to meet the needs of all family members within the resources available, requires the assistance and expertise of NEUTRAL professionals. These neutral professionals include a Neutral Financial Professional, a Neutral Coach, and a Neutral Child Specialist. This team approach is the “secret sauce” used in the Collaborative Model that can transform the experience of this life event into something constructive, affirming, and even peaceful. Obviously, this is of great benefit to children. In addition to the support and expertise provided, the neutrality of the neutral professionals balances attorney advocacy. This permits the attorney to stay in the problem-solving and interest-based advocacy role for his or her client, while the neutral professionals hold the ground for resolution on behalf of the whole family. This interdisciplinary, holistic approach to advocacy and expertise is what distinguishes the Collaborative Model from any other model out there. Collaborative professionals like to say this model contributes to world peace one family at a time. If this approach makes sense to you, tell your friends, family, and colleagues about the Collaborative Model and contribute to world peace.
In Part I we learned that “rights-based” advocacy in the Court Model is hard on the problem but also hard on the people. Advocacy in the “interest-based” Collaborative Model is also hard on the problem, but SOFT on the people. How is this possible? In the Collaborative Model, the parties voluntarily agree to reach a settlement outside of court. Thus the 3rd party decision-maker, e.g., the judge, is removed from the collaborative process. Instead, the decision-maker is the parties themselves!
Parties going through a divorce need to understand that advocacy in the “rights-based” Court Model and advocacy in the “interest-based” Collaborative Model are different; and advocacy in each of these models feels different as well. Bear with me while I examine Advocacy in the “rights-based” Court Model in Part I in preparation for discussing advocacy in the “interest-based” Collaborative Model in Part II followed by the “power of neutrality” in Part III. Trust me, this is interesting. In a rights-based model, “rights” are independent standards of fairness or legitimacy that are formally established in law or contract. Usually different rights or entitlements are at stake in a particular case. Here, each party and their attorney is playing to the decision-maker, e.g., the judge, or playing to a prediction of what the decision-maker would decide based on application of the law to the facts of the case.
Recently I received a referral from Kristin, a client I represented in 2011 in her collaborative divorce. In thanking her for the referral, I took the opportunity to ask her how she was doing. With her permission, her response is reproduced below. At the time of her divorce, Kristin and her husband had two (2) children ages 10 and 12. Hi Tonda, Nice to hear from you. I will fill you in with some detail for examples of what can lay on the other side of divorce to help you give hope to your clients going through this painful process. Everyone is doing well here; the kids are doing really well splitting their time between our 2 households (4 miles apart). Tom and I have a much better relationship now than when we were getting divorced. We talk several times per week and text, usually daily, mostly regarding kids’ stuff like coordinating activities/homework and just general parenting issues. We also try to meet for coffee sometimes to discuss things more in depth like holidays and vacation planning and kids’ milestones. We see each other at their basketball games, tennis matches, orchestra concerts, etc, even holidays sometimes, and usually sit together with our new spouses. Tom and I both got re-married a couple of months ago and Tom and his wife are expecting a baby in March. I married a pharmacist that I met after the divorce and we got married in Yosemite in August of this year. The four of us get along well and the kids get along well with both our spouses so I have nothing but great things to say about the collaborative process. It really helped us to avoid a lot of un-pleasantries and keep our family together without staying married, which is really great. I hope all is well with you and your practice. I will continue to recommend people look into collaborative divorce as an option. It has been very helpful to us to use the divorce agreement as a structure, but we stay very flexible with rearranging schedules, holidays and vacations etc. We have actually never even had an argument since the divorce. It has helped us build a sense of cooperation and the collaborative process really reinforced putting the kids as the center point for all decisions going forward. One of the things that always stuck in my mind through the whole process was that Tom and I decided that even though we did not have a successful and healthy marriage, we would have a successful and healthy divorce and be successful and healthy parents. Best, Kristin
Recently I received a LinkedIn endorsement from Christa, a client I represented in 2008 in her collaborative divorce. In thanking her for her endorsement, I took the opportunity to ask her how she was doing. With her permission, her response is reproduced below. At the time of her divorce, Christa’s two (2) daughters were 16 and 17, and Christa only worked part-time. Hello Tonda, How nice to hear from you! Life has been good on my end. I’ve move forward professionally and personally–continued to work in psychiatric research, first part-time and then, for the past 4 years full-time. In addition, I’ve been building my private counseling practice, which led to 60+ work hours per week. The practice is going well enough that I was able to resign my salaried position effective this November. It’s not easy leaving a place that feels like a curious and lovable community, but for the sake of living a full life, choices needed to be made. In October 2008, a mutual friend introduced me to a man who is now my husband. He was married before and has 2 children–his son is the same age as my oldest daughter (23), and his daughter is 15. We were married February last year (2013) on Key West. Almost my entire family came over to be there for us–including some nieces and nephews. It was lovely. Two weeks later, my former husband got married as well to a woman he had been dating since our separation. The girls are doing very well. My oldest daughter will be graduating this coming spring with a major in education and mathematics. My youngest daughter will graduate next December, and then plans to get her MA degree in child psychology. After struggling with grades and transitions the first year, they have both become straight-A students. My youngest daughter said something interesting the other day while we were driving. She said, “Mom, I can’t even imagine you and dad being together anymore; it’s not like I don’t remember, but you guys are so different, and all my friends can’t even believe the two of you were ever married. I mean, how did you make it work for so long?” Today, both my daughters see the benefit of their parents having divorced and moved on. My former husband seems happy, has a good relationship with his daughters and brought a great woman into his life. I’m happy as well, and likewise have a wonderful connection with my daughters. Both daughters are relieved they don’t have to worry about either one of us, and both of them like our choice of new partners. Everyone is well and happy. I’m very grateful for the part you played in giving me the information and support I needed to take the step toward divorce that had frightened me so much. Not once did I regret this transition. I appreciate the divorce process was not hostile. You were calm, wise and nurturing when I was in the grips of anxiety. Sure, there were hurt feelings and it’s very stressful going through this process. However, it left two people free to move forward and build a meaningful life. It also freed our children from the worry they had for parents who just could not be happy together. So: thank you, thank you, thank you!!! All the best, Christa
Recent articles in the New York Times and the StarTribune (March 29, 2014) covered Gwyneth Paltrow’s announcement that she and her husband of 11 years, Chris Martin, were consciously uncoupling. In other words, getting a divorce. I was struck by how the term “conscious uncoupling”—coined by LA therapist and author, Katherine Woodward Thomas—neatly describes what happens in the out-of-court divorce process called Collaborative Law aka Collaborative Practice. Collaborative Practice uses a collaborative approach to respectfully honor the marriage that is ending and intentionally plan for the best possible future for all family members. What is accomplished by many couples in Collaborative Practice is what the term “conscious uncoupling” implies: mutual respect, integrity, being mindful of the well-being of children, planning for the future by problem-solving in the present, being empowered to make informed decisions, and creating a climate for healing. A new era is upon us, one where ending a relationship does not have to be adversarial, judgmental, or harmful. If it takes a celebrity to lead us into this new era, I am all for it. Gwyneth, you go girl!
Halloween is my favorite holiday. I always dress in costume even if I am not going to a Halloween party. In the past, I have dressed as Ms. Piggy, Jacqueline Onassis Kennedy, the Medusa, a Cone Head, the Pinball Wizard, and stuck my head inside a carved pumpkin, just to name a few. It’s the time of year for tricks or treats. While treats are the standard fare, I sometimes think it would be fun to give out tricks instead. Tricks are not appropriate, however, in your divorce process. But many people feel they have been tricked when they find out later they agreed to an ill-conceived settlement. Even if technically there had been no trickery in the settlement process, what was probably missing from it was the transparency and education needed to make informed decisions. By using the collaborative divorce process, you and your spouse are assured of complete transparency of all facts relevant to making an informed decision about your settlement. Furthermore, you both receive the added value of consulting with the appropriate expert to thoroughly understand what the facts mean, be they financial facts, child development facts, legal facts, or communication and relational facts. Making informed decisions is critical to achieving a successful and durable settlement customized to the future needs of your family. No tricks. And yes, treats are still possible despite a divorce.
As a Collaborative Divorce Attorney, I have seen many clients who are ambivalent about getting a divorce. How do I know they are ambivalent? Because, in addition to the story they tell me, I ask potential clients to take the following survey: Even though divorce is a legal process, your emotions and your perspective on divorce, and those of your spouse, are very important and cannot be separated from the legal process. To assist me in beginning to understand your views about proceeding with divorce, please answer the following questions. 1. People have different attitudes towards their divorce. Please check which of these statements most closely fits your own attitude right now.
( ) I’m done with this marriage; it’s too late now even if my spouse were to make major changes.( ) I have mixed feelings about the divorce; sometimes I think it’s a good idea and sometimes I’m not sure. ( ) I would consider reconciling if my spouse got serious about making major changes. ( ) I don’t want this divorce, and I would work hard to get us back together. 2. Readiness for Divorce People come to the divorce process with different degrees of readiness to divorce. Some may not want the divorce and are not emotionally prepared to participate in the process, while others have been ready for some time and feel impatient to get things moving. And there is a wide range of feelings in between. Please rate yourself on the scale below by circling the number that best describes your readiness for divorce today. 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 _________________________________________________________ I’m absolutely not I’m ready to move ready for this divorce forward immediately This survey was created by a group of collaborative divorce attorneys working with Dr. William Doherty of the University of Minnesota. After giving this survey to people whose divorces had already been filed in court (Hennepin County, Minnesota), it was determined that in 12.6% of the filed divorce cases both spouses in the marriage were not sure they wanted the divorce! This led to the recognition that there was a failure to provide services to this group of people. That has now been corrected. Couples who are ambivalent about divorce can now gain clarity about whether to move forward with a divorce or to move forward with a plan to restore the marriage to health. This clarity is achieved through specialized counseling called Discernment Counseling. Discernment Counseling is a focused, short-term process involving no more than 4 to 6 sessions. A Discernment Counselor helps the couple…
- gain clarity and confidence about what steps to take next with their marriage;
- understand what has happened to their marriage;
- look at problems from the perspective of each spouse;
- determine whether past counseling has been helpful or not so helpful;
- evaluate the possibility of solving their problems and restoring their marriage to health; and
- make a joint decision about whether or not to move towards divorce.