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
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