CounselingAs 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…
  1. gain clarity and confidence about what steps to take next with their marriage;
  2. understand what has happened to their marriage;
  3. look at problems from the perspective of each spouse;
  4. determine whether past counseling has been helpful or not so helpful;
  5. evaluate the possibility of solving their problems and restoring their marriage to health; and
  6. make a joint decision about whether or not to move towards divorce.
The clients I see who are ambivalent about divorce are greatly relieved to know this service exists. It provides them with a structured process where both parties can join in the decision of what to do about the marriage. If the couple decides to try to restore the marriage to health, they move to specialized counseling to create a plan for that to happen. If the couple decides to end the marriage, they are in a much better place to undertake a constructive and peaceful divorce. For more information about Discernment Counseling and to find a Discernment Counselor please go to and
How do you turn a divorce process into a healing process? By envisioning your highest goals for what you want to accomplish during the divorce and after the divorce has ended.  This is what happens in a Collaborative Divorce process. Unlike the traditional divorce process where the focus is often what happened in the past, the collaborative divorce process focuses on the future.

At the commencement of a collaborative divorce, the divorcing couple identify and share their vision for a healthy divorce and a healthy life after divorce. Here are some of the visions couples have shared with me in my work as a Collaborative Divorce attorney.

Beth and Peter’s Vision Children
  • For our children to see us co-parent with each other in a non-conflictive way.
  • For us to live in close proximity to each other while raising our children.
  • For us to live in stable environments while raising our children.
  • For our children’s lifestyles to be affected as little as possible by our divorce within the resources available to us (e.g., emotionally and educationally; that we continue with the educational plans we have made for our children; that our children live in the same community).
  • For our children to have as much stability and security in their lives as they require.
  • For us to be fully involved with raising our children.
  • For both households to be financially resilient.
  • For us to develop independently in terms of financial security.
  • To have the flexibility in one’s work schedule to be present with the children as their schedules require.
  • For Beth to have the opportunity to explore educational, training, and other career opportunities with the goal of becoming financially independent.
  • To respect the financial decisions made by us and our families, including the decision of Peter’s family to leave him money.
  • For us to be in a co-parenting relationship our children can count on.
  • For us to be respectful of each other into the future.
  • For us to create a new, healthy family relationship with each other.
  • For us to look back on this difficult time in our shared life and be proud of how we handled a time of conflict and communicate it to our children when the time is right.
Erin and Matt’s Vision (no children)
  • That we have confidence in the decisions we make.
  • That we make a transition to a friendly relationship when completed with the collaborative divorce process.
  • That we have a feeling of peace and resolution.
  • That we have a positive financial outcome that meets both of our needs.
  • That we both have financial security.
  • That the emotional distress of the divorce is minimized.
  • That we are able to promote cordial relationships with each other’s extended family and mutual friends.
  • That we keep in mind the possibility that Erin will move out of the State.
  • That the settlement take into consideration Erin’s need to finish school.
  • That Matt is able to remain in the homestead and maintain a reasonable budget.
  • That Erin is able to purchase a modest home and meet her living expenses.
Jeff and Ann’s Vision
  • 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.
Creating a vision of the future is the key to crafting settlements that achieve those visions.  And so the healing begins.
I recently met with a man (I’ll call him John) whose wife wanted to divorce.  He was very much against ending the marriage.  He went to the office of his wife’s attorney presumably to discuss settlement, but instead received his Wife’s proposal for settlement set forth in a Summons and Petition.  Over the next six months, he attempted to meet with his wife to discuss her proposal or alternatively what could be done to save the marriage. Though the couple was “getting along” while continuing to live together, no meeting took place to discuss the divorce or the possibility of reconciliation.  When John came to meet with me, a collaborative divorce attorney, he handed me two un-opened letters he recently received from the District Court. The first was a notice for an Initial Case Management Conference (ICMC) court appearance which he had missed.  The second, was a notice for a default hearing the next day to grant the divorce!  At issue, was up to $50,000.00 that John would lose if the divorce was granted based on his wife’s proposal in the Petition.  Obviously, I advised John to appear at the default hearing and throw himself on the mercy of the court to delay the default hearing so he could participate in the divorce proceeding. Regardless of whether or not John’s version of the facts are completely accurate, it can be confusing to know if and when a legal proceeding is commenced.  In Minnesota, a divorce action is commenced when you are personally “served” with a Summons and Petition for Dissolution of Marriage.  “Service” is most frequently accomplished when a person over the age of 18 years old—who is not your spouse—delivers you a copy of a Summons and Petition signed by your spouse, now called the Petitioner.  If the Petitioner is represented by an attorney, the documents are also signed by the attorney. “Service” does not need to be done by the sheriff or police.  It is frequently performed by private process servers.  It can also be performed by your neighbor or a relative.  The documents simply needs to be handed to you by a person over the age of 18 (but not your spouse) who later files an Affidavit with the Court swearing on that date he or she delivered to you a Summons and Petition.  Once service on you has been made, the clock starts ticking as to when you must respond to the Petition.  If you fail to respond appropriately, the Court can grant the Petitioner a divorce based on the proposal set forth in the Petition. This is what happened to John.  He did not realize he was officially served when the legal assistant at the attorney’s office handed him a Summons and Petition.  It was more confusing because the documents were not signed by the wife’s attorney.  Instead, the wife signed the documents “pro se”, meaning she was representing herself.  It became even more confusing because the parties continued to live together and the wife made no mention that an ICMC court appearance was scheduled. The wife appeared at the court hearing, but never mentioned to John that he had failed to show up, nor did she mention the default hearing date.  Nevertheless, John was at risk of having the divorce granted by the court.  Lesson learned: Consult with an attorney if you are not sure a legal action has been commenced and open your mail! By contrast, this could not happen if John and his wife had agreed to use a collaborative process for their divorce.  In a collaborative process, the parties agree to commence the divorce together by signing a Joint Petition.  No service is necessary.  Everybody knows what is going on.  Everybody participates equally in reaching a settlement before the legal documents are drafted and filed with the court. I have since learned that John appeared in Court at the default hearing.  As a result, the Court continued the hearing so that John could participate in the divorce. Whew!  That was a close one.
Tonda with her new dreadlocks.
Well, I’m doing it. Right now. I am at the salon having my hair teased, twisted, and permed into dreadlocks.  I have been waiting a year for this, growing my hair out to six inches in length.  It was with dread and excitement that I made the appointment with the Hair Police salon.  Was this a stupid thing to do?  Does it have anything to do with the fact that I turn 60 this summer? My husband worries that it will be bad for my business as a Collaborative Divorce attorney.  My youngest child is appalled.  My two older children say go for it.  My colleagues are vicariously fascinated.  What will my clients think?  Will they take me seriously?  Will they want me to share with them their journey through divorce? My feelings are insignificant and yet similar to feelings my clients feel as they make the decision to end their marriage.  Many struggle with the decision for years.  It is with dread that they make the decision to start the divorce.  It will affect their spouse; it will affect their children. It will affect their family and friends.  The change will be momentous for all family members. For some couples, they approach their divorce together; with dread but also with a promise for the future that change provides.  For other couples, one spouse feels forced to undertake the divorce journey whether they want it or not.  For this spouse the trepidation can overwhelm any hope for the future.  But as with all change, there is always hope and opportunities.  By using a collaborative process for their divorce, couples can be supported to find the hope, the opportunity and the excitement that this change offers. For me, a change in hairdo, especially a change as strange as dreadlocks, is exciting, daring, liberating and refreshing.  Life after dreadlocks is something to look forward to.  
ID-10018139In my Collaborative Divorce practice, I frequently talk to clients about identifying their “interests” in the divorce.  This is a difficult concept to understand, but is the key to reaching a resolution in a divorce that meets the needs of all family members. “Interests” are in contrast to “positions” in the divorce.  An interest is the motivation or value behind a particular position.  An interest is frequently inspirational and may be far broader than a position.  A position is a particular outcome.  The difference between an interest and a position is frequently illustrated by the following story. Two children were arguing over who would have the last orange in the kitchen.  They each took the “position” that the orange should be theirs.  Their argument included angry cries of “You had the last orange!” or “I was here first.”  Unable to resolve the dispute without resorting to blows, they brought the issue to their mother.  The obvious solution is for Mom to slice the orange in half and give each child one-half of the orange.  Seems like a good outcome, doesn’t it?  But at this suggestion the children were even unhappier.  So, instead, she asked each child what he or she wanted to do with the orange.  The first child replied, “I want to bake a cake.  I need the zest of the orange to add to the batter.”  The second child said, “I want to make orange juice.”  He needed the juice and the pulp of the orange.  Obviously, by understanding the underlying interests of each child, it was determined that both children could get what they wanted—the rind for a cake and the juice for orange juice. In collaborative divorce, this is called a win-win outcome.  Win-win outcomes are possible when interests are identified and the interests of all parties are met.