The best way to transition to Shared Parenting after separation or divorce is to have been sharing parenting and housework all along – from the day the kids were born. When we establish a new cultural norm that both parents are involved in caring for the children, then the courts have no problem dividing time equally. Some of my clients have been married 2-5 years, some 10-20 years, some never married, and some same sex couples. What they have in common is they share kids whom they love.

When parents split up, the most important thing is that they shift their relationship from an intimate, romantic one to a more business-like relationship with the common goal of raising whole, healthy, happy children. Studies show that it is the intensity and duration of the conflict that is so harmful to children of divorce.

Parents are taking a more active role these days in deciding their parenting plans. Did you know there are many ways to slice’n’dice 50/50 and still call it equal?

Some parenting time schedules are more prone to conflict than others. One day ‘ping pongs’ such as in a typical non-custodial schedule of one night a week and every other weekend are particularly hard on children. Kids need some time to settle in when they go back and forth between one parent’s home and the other.

No one ever said it’s easy for kids to have two homes. Let’s not make it harder with these one day transitions in the schedule. Some parents split the school week with Mon/Tues for one parent and Wed/Thurs for the other and then alternate weekends.

We can learn from what other states are doing. I think Arizona has one of the best guides to appropriate parenting time schedules for different ages and stages of child development.

Toddlers and preschoolers do better with transitions every few days, school age kids may do well with a 5-2-2-5 schedule, while teens often prefer as few transitions as possible – preferably week on / week off if the parents live close enough to the child’s school to make that possible.

Even a simple change in dropoff time – like Sunday 4pm instead of 6pm can make things go a little easier. With a 6pm dropoff right in the middle of dinner, if the parent dropping off is late, that can create stress all around. 4pm allows a ‘cushion’ so that the transition can go more smoothly. It also gives the child time to settle in so meal time can be a more welcoming, less stressed time.

Some things to consider when deciding on a parenting plan:

1) Can the parents communicate with each other about the kids’ needs without conflict?
2) How close do the parents live to each other – within 5 miles, less than 20 miles, in another city or state?
3) How old are the kids? Toddlers may need different schedules than teens.
4) Where is the children’s school? Are all the children at the same school?
5) Do the parents work outside the home – days/nights/weekends? Does their work involve overnight travel to other cities or states?
6) Do any of the kids have special needs – behavior, learning, dietary, frequent medical care?

Here are some parenting time schedules to consider and some of the pros & cons.


It’s good to include some language in your decree that says you will revisit your parenting time schedule every 3-5 years as circumstances change – people move, change jobs, get into new relationships, and their kids mature so the schedule they agreed upon years ago may need some updating.

EHTC offers monthly co-parenting workshops. In these workshops we cover communication and conflict resolution skills and there’s plenty of time for talking about real-life co-parenting scenarios with other parents. These groups are ONLINE via Zoom so people can log in from anywhere!

For those who need more support than what is offered in these monthly workshops, parents can purchase individual coaching sessions (packages of 6, 12, or 20 sessions which expire one year from date of purchase).

Hopefully in the classes and coachings, parents gain the communication, conflict resolution, and stress management skills they need for resolving day to day challenges. When facing a bigger issue such as    re-arranging a parenting schedule due to a move or job change, finding a care provider to address a child’s health challenge, or seeking help for a child struggling in school, consider mediation – a safe space where the parties are empowered to express what is deep in their hearts, really listen to what the other side is saying, and be open to considering options with a focus on what’s best for the child.

Adina Lebowitz, MA is a family mediator, parenting educator, and wellness coach.
Adina’s primary goal is to help families find less stress and more peace in their co-parenting. She supports parents as they are adjusting to a new separation or divorce, and continues to support them as co-parents whether they are facing day to day parenting challenges, or dealing with the impacts of stress on their lives. She is available to mediate bigger issues that impact their parenting plans like a move, job change, new relationship, or a child’s health challenge.

In partnership with the Minnesota Shared Parenting Action Group #MNSPAG she encourages schools, worship congregations, doctors/dentists/therapists, and youth activity & sports directors to communicate schedules & appointments to BOTH parents. Sharing information goes a long way towards reducing conflict and enabling co-parents to find less stress and more peace. #kidsneedboth #doit4MNkids

Elan Health Twin Cities LLC (Minnetonka, MN)

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:

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


Collaborative Divorce is a method of divorce that started in Minnesota in 1990 and has now spread to more than 25 countries. The initial defining principle of Collaborative Divorce was that the lawyers would withdraw if the matter became adversarial and went to court. That focal point rapidly led to an evolution toward Collaborative Team Divorce in which Collaborative lawyers team up with Child Specialists, Neutral Financial Professionals, and Coaches to help clients achieve a deeper resolution of their issues.

While the team approach has been very effective, hiring “full teams” of four to six professionals for each case can put the cost of Collaborative Divorce beyond the reach of many families. Therefore, Collaborative Divorce is now evolving once again to offer families an “a la carte” approach that allows them to design a “Collaborative Approach” that meets their needs.

The Board of the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota (CLI), the world’s first Collaborative Law association, wrestled with this issue for more than a year before coming up with a description of this “a la carte” approach that struck a delicate balance between maintaining the integrity of the Collaborative Model and offering affordable alternatives to a broader range of families. Both authors of this article have been on the CLI Board at different times during the maturation of this discussion.

How does collaborative practice work?

In creating these new options, the Board of CLI realized that one of the guiding principles of Collaborative Practice is that it is first and foremost an out-of-court process with a disqualification agreement (meaning that if either person decides to go to court, the lawyers cannot represent the clients in the court process, and the parties will need to find litigation counsel).

This provision allows everyone to focus on problem-solving on behalf of the clients and their children, and reach a settlement that works for both parties and any children. Collaborative Practice is a voluntary process, focused on transparency of information; instead of taking legal positions on issues that draw battle lines in the sand, we use “interest-based negotiation” in which the clients focus on explaining and fleshing out their most important needs and concerns – rather than their theoretical legal rights – so they can reach a deeper resolution.

Generally, we have found that having an interdisciplinary team of professionals, including not only lawyers, but also mental health professionals, financial advisors and more, operating outside the shadow of the courthouse, often provides clients with the best opportunity to achieve these goals and interests. However, we also have come to realize that it is not financially practical for many clients to engage a full team of professionals.

Building a more affordable, accessible model

Therefore, we decided to develop ways in which clients can have many of the benefits of the Collaborative Process (i.e. an out of court focus, interest-based bargaining, and interdisciplinary practice), without having to engage the full “bundle” of collaborative professionals.

The Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota (CLI) has defined itself as an organization of multidisciplinary family law professionals who value resolving family law matters:

  • With respect, dignity, and integrity
  • In a child-centered and family friendly way
  • Using a customized process based on client needs
  • With a holistic blend of legal, financial, parenting, and relationship expertise
  • Focusing on equitable and sustainable solutions
  • Limiting the scope of services to out-of-court problem solving

Bearing all this in mind, CLI has developed a new website that includes new detailed information about a la carte services that we can provide, grounded in the shared values and skills listed above.

The website includes a variety of examples of how clients can use any of the individual professionals in a limited scope, out-of-court manner, in cases such as the following:

  • When couples have resolved issues that must be addressed in their divorce, and they would like a settlement-oriented lawyer to draft all the necessary legal paperwork.
  • When couples are working through a divorce mainly on their own, but would like the assistance of a neutral child specialist – a licensed mental health professional specializing in child-development and family systems, who focuses on helping families craft a child-focused parenting plan.
  • When individuals completed a divorce some time ago and would like input from a neutral child specialist or neutral coach: a licensed mental health professional specializing in communication, relational and conflict-resolution skills, regarding family issues related to their children, or their co-parenting relationship, or ongoing communication with one another.
  • One spouse (or both) would like a neutral financial advisor, a professional with strong financial acumen who can run calculations and options without investment in a particular outcome for either person, to assist in determining options for dividing property in a divorce, but are otherwise comfortable handling the divorce on their own.

In addition, families can combine portions of the Collaborative Process so that families can have “mini-teams” to fit their particular situation. Quite often the type of “mini-team” that is hired may depend on the first professional they select in the a la carte system. For example:

  • Clients who chose to start by working with a neutral financial advisor for a few sessions, may choose to have a child specialist help them on the parenting portions, and simply bring in the lawyers at the end to review and finalize the process.
  • Similarly, a couple with relatively simple financial issues could work with a child specialist or coach at the beginning and bring in lawyers where needed.
  • Clients who begin in the more traditional manner of starting with lawyers may either have the lawyers assist through most of the process or have the Lawyers “step back” while other team members assist with the majority of the work.

While all of these options involve some professional assistance, couples can sometimes complete the process for as little as $2000-$4000, and still have the benefit of finding deeper resolution, as well as hopefully developing skills to help them beyond the divorce. Of course, cost always depends on how ready clients are to reach settlement.

Following the uniform standards developed to define and regulate Collaborative Practice by lawyers, we have held to the principle that in order to be defined as a “Collaborative Divorce” there must be lawyers for both spouses involved, who agree to withdraw if the divorce goes to court.

However, couples who choose to be self-represented can still get assistance from other Collaborative Professionals (who work with the parties but will not go to court). Similarly, if a client chooses to work without lawyers in an a la carte manner, it is not technically an unbundled “legal” service, but a version of unbundling with some of the components of a Collaborative Team. Whether it is necessary to find other terms for describing these options is still an unresolved issue.

For the time being, our focus has been on trying to create tools for families that will give them as many options as possible, and to make at least some, if not all, of the benefits of the Collaborative model affordable for a wider range of families. We commend this approach to those seeking affordable expert assistance in the divorce process.

Learn more at

Louise-_Livesay-AlLouise Livesay
Founder, Livesay Law Office

Louise Livesay, JD is known for her ability to problem-solve on behalf of her clients in a way that maximizes the best outcome for the entire family. Understanding that most families facing divorce or uncoupling want to have effective co-parenting relationships and be treated with respect and feel heard during the process, she has created a practice focused on fostering healthy families as they transition to a new configuration through non-adversarial methods, such as the Collaborative Process and Mediation. For more information about his practice go to

Ron OuskyRon 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

Tagged with: Collaborative Divorcecollaborative divorce processCollaborative Family LawHiring Divorce AttorneyLimited Scope Legal ServicesUnbundled DivorceUnbundled Divorce ServicesUnbundled Legal Adviceout of courtProblem SolvingRespectful divorceMediationwin-win outcomes

woman reminiscing There has been some buzz about the new film on Netflix called Marriage Story about a couple, Charlie and Nicole, with a son, Henry, going through divorce. I decided to watch it since this is my area of practice and a prospective client referenced it last week in a consultation.  It started with the couple stating all these things they loved about the other person with pleasant images of life together.  I was ready for an uplifting movie, until about 8 minutes in, when I learn that the couple is in a divorce meditation session and Nicole refuses to read her list out loud of what she loves about Charlie.The mediator says he likes to start mediation with a “note of positivity” to set the stage for working together.   Noble idea, but is that the best way to start? I don’t know any mediators that start that way.  I wondered if people now think that is how all mediations start.  While I too try to start from a more positive place, I start by asking clients to identify the goals they each have for the process and outcomes so we can see if they have any common visions for the future in separate homes.  I am amazed how often people have common goals around their kids and other outcomes and many times support goals that are specific to one person.  But I don’t think I would start by asking them to share a written list of qualities they love about their soon to be former spouse.  That is more appropriate for marriage counseling. What a different dynamic that sets in mediation.  When one person wants the divorce and the other one doesn’t, it starts the process from a place of internal conflict.  It was visible in the movie.  I just don’t think mediators do that and it paints an inaccurate picture of the process. But, I appreciated how Charlie and Nicole were trying to work together in mediation.  Unfortunately, the film spent very little time on the topic of mediation. Instead, at the 20 minute mark, the story moved in the direction of the Nicole, played by Scarlett Johansson, hiring the LA attorney Nora Fanshaw, played by Laura Dern, a sexy, savvy attorney that you want to trust, but your gut tells you, “Not too fast.”  When Charlie, played by Adam Driver, goes to find his own attorney, feeling distraught that Nicole suddenly switched directions and hired an attorney, the first attorney he talks to recognizes that Nora is on the other side, clearly knowing how she operates, and says his rate is $900/hr, he needs a retainer of $25,000 and they will need to do forensic accounting for $10,000-$20,000.  Everything indicates an expensive, high stakes fight.  He then starts asking all these questions to elicit information so he can immediately start strategizing about all these angles to take and “Win!” Charlie realizes what he is walking into, leaves and eventually lands on hiring Bert Spitz at $400/hr, played by Alan Alda, after there is no one else to hire because Nicole has met with all the other “good attorneys” in order to get them disqualified from being able to meet with Charlie.  But in the end, reasonable sounding Bert isn’t tough enough against Nora so, Charlie decides to go with the $900/hr attorney afterall. Well, the whole thing devolves into a knock down drag out court battle over money, custody (including a custody evaluation), and the attorneys revealing every dark secret about the other parent and “slinging mud,” in order to convince the judge to rule in their favor.  Your heart breaks for Charlie and Nicole, but especially for Henry, caught in the middle. And then I heard my own voice say, “That is exactly why I am a Collaborative attorney, instead!”  It is clear that neither Nicole nor Charlie ever thought they would go down that vicious road but what is clear, is that the divorce took on a life of its own.  Nicole left everything to Nora to handle and decided not to question how she operated. What was also clear to me was who they each chose to represent them had everything to do with how things went.  Charlie and Nicole were not asked what was important to each of them or what they wanted for Henry.  From the moment they met the attorneys, the attorneys were building their case, setting up the chessboard and thinking about what moves to make to win the game despite the casualties. Why does that matter?  When an attorney can only think in the win-lose mind frame, that they have all the answers and that everything has to follow what they think is the right path, you are giving up all power over your family and your life. Most people I meet with want to be in charge of these major decisions that will impact their life and family.  It is important to stop and think about what is important for you, your kids, and your family.  You are still part of a family system, even when you are getting a divorce.  You are just changing the family configuration, setting new boundaries and expectations, and figuring out how to divide the assets and manage cash flow living separately.  Working with attorneys who understand this, who are focused on problem-solving and reaching a win-win outcome out of court, makes all the difference for clients and their family.  And if you have two attorneys who trust each other professionally, that is an asset to you and your spouse.  The Collaborative Divorce process offers just that: a respectful, transparent, child-focused, problem-solving out-of-court approach for divorce.  Ask yourself what story you want your children to say about their parents’ divorce when they are 25? Choose wisely.
In part I of keep more of your money in your family; choosing your process wisely I wrote about the well known traditional litigated court based divorce process and mediation. In this issue, I will cover Collaborative Divorce. Collaborative divorce is an option you and your spouse should thoroughly explore before making any choice about divorce process. It is my belief that you and your spouse should first decide upon process before you ever hire an attorney. You can then match the right attorney to the right process. Just because they are, a divorce attorney does not mean they can be effective and efficient in all processes. In a collaborative divorce , a collaboratively trained attorney through the entire process represents each spouse. A financial specialist helps couples sort out their financial issues including gathering all the financial data necessary for the divorce decree and presenting it to their respective attorneys in a format that helps attorneys review the numbers more efficiently. Contrast this with you and your spouse providing each of your attorneys the financial data, the two attorneys talking together about the financial data and then going back to you their client to discuss those conversations then going back again to the other attorney to discuss. Let me ask you on just this one basic step in the financial process, do you think you would keep more of your money in your family? Do you want to be paying two attorneys to do this financial data gathering or would you prefer to pay one financial specialist? A financial specialist is the one person who is in the best position to help you keep more of your financial resources in your family throughout the divorce process. They can save you taxes, come up with some creative options, and other ideas that allow both you and your spouse to create the best financial outcome for each of you given your existing resources. In any divorce with minor children, a parenting plan is created and documented. In the collaborative divorce process, this is usually completed with a child specialist. This person helps parents articulate and document a well thought out plan to co-parent their children. The child specialist meets with the parents and often times meets with the children separately and then with everyone together. This level of attention to the family well-being is not found in other processes. You can of course work with two attorneys or a mediator to come up with a parenting time schedule and perhaps another piece or two of a well thought out plan. What you are not likely to get is a complete parenting plan that increases the likelihood of your children successfully navigating your divorce with you and your spouse. Also available in the collaborative divorce process is a neutral divorce coach. The divorce coach helps spouses communicate effectively during the divorce process and come up with a plan for post divorce communication and relationship. This can lower conflict, which can decrease costs. If emotions run high at some point during the divorce process, a coach acts to ground you in the areas that are important to you. This enables both you and your spouse, to effectively communicate your needs, interests, and concerns all necessary to produce the higher-level outcome intended to last for a long time. It is interesting to me that I often hear people say they are concerned about divorce costs when learning about collaborative divorce. Yet the collaborative divorce process minimizes attorney involvement since much of the work with the neutral financial specialist, neutral child specialist, and neutral divorce coach is completed without attorneys present. Attorneys usually are the highest paid professionals in any divorce process and most are not trained in financial issues, child and family systems, or other family relationship dynamics. What attorneys are trained in is the law. So imagine yourself utilizing a divorce process providing you with a menu of professional resources to help you and your family work with specialists in their respective fields and yet always have access to your own attorney who will be your advocate.   Of the three processes discussed in this two issue article which do you think will allow you to keep more of your money in your family, traditional litigation, mediation, or collaborative divorce? Remember to help you keep more of your money in your family choose your process wisely. In Part II of Keep More of Your Money in Your Family, I will write about choosing your attorney wisely.
561097939-man-inserting-coin-into-piggy-bank-gettyimagesGetting married sometimes can be expensive if you let it. Getting unmarried can be even more expensive if you and or your spouse allows it to get that way. In divorce, emotions are high and often contribute to higher levels of conflict. Conflict is expensive. Many divorcing couples want to know how they can keep more of their financial resources between themselves and in their family. After all the more that goes to pay for divorce costs means less for each spouse and for their children if they have children. In this upcoming series, I will write about some tips on how to keep more of your financial resources in your family. Here is the first tip:
  1. Choose your process wisely. Study your options and know what you and your spouse want. I ask divorcing clients what would need to happen in your divorce so you could look back three years from now and say this was a successful transition for your family and you. Paint that picture for me. Be honest with yourself.
    1. If you want a knock down drag out divorce, you know the Katie bar the door kind or I will show him/her, or I will make him/her pay, a more traditional litigation process certainly fits that bill. Moreover, that bill will be very expensive. On top of that, someone else, a judge, will be making decisions for you since you and your spouse are not able to reach agreements on your own.   If you think, you are going to win and be the victor you have already lost because there are no winners in divorce. Most judges tend to think the best outcome if they have to decide your divorce is one when both spouses equally share the pain and both spouses are somewhat dissatisfied.
    2. You may consider mediation. Most people have heard about mediation. Mediation can be less expensive than a traditional court based process.   Mediators however, are not able to provide legal advice. This is true even if the mediator is an attorney. Sometimes couples choose to have their own lawyers present at mediation sessions to overcome the no legal advice dilemma. Mediators, even if they are an attorney are not able to draft/prepare final divorce decree documents. If a mediator helps you reach agreements, you, and your spouse take those agreements to an attorney to draft the final documents and that attorney can only represent one of you, not both spouses. I always encourage my divorcing clients to each have their own attorney when reviewing any final documents resulting from mediation. You may run into one or both of the attorneys encouraging you not to accept the mediated agreements or parts of the agreements. In my practice, I recommend to clients attorneys that I know and have worked with, are settlement oriented, and not inclined to escalate conflict in an already mediated agreement. That is not to say there will not be some tweaks here and there because there always are and for good reason.
In part II of Keep More of Your Money in Family, I will talk about collaborative divorce, the professionals involved, and how it can help you keep more of your money. Stay tuned more to come.
157282282Divorce court should be your LAST resort. After all, do you want a complete stranger in a black robe deciding the fate of your future? You do not want a judge to decide where your children will live, how much time you get to spend with them, or deciding your financial future. Once you go to court you lose the control. There are ways to stay out of the courtroom. Sitting down with your ex to work out as many issues as possible will help facilitate a settlement. Sound too easy (or maybe too difficult, if coming to agreements with your ex seems to be a difficult feat), enlist in the help of a Collaborative attorney. As part of the Collaborative law method, both parties retain separate attorneys whose job it is to help them settle the dispute. In the Collaborative process most of the formal steps are waived or postponed so that you and your spouse can focus on your divorce issues. The collaborative attorneys, along with you and your spouse, sign a contract that commits you to reach a settlement with your spouse. No one may go to court. If that should occur, the collaborative law process terminates and both attorneys are disqualified from any further involvement in the case. Having a good attorney who is a problem solver, rather than someone who creates problems, is important. You want an attorney who works with and for you, and not someone who will create unnecessary battles. Another good approach to avoiding divorce court is mediation. Mediation is used as a means of resolving cases without the need to go to trial. Mediation allows for you, your soon-to-be-ex spouse and respective attorneys to resolve issues using a third party, the mediator. A good mediator will work with the parties to settle everything with input from you as well as your attorneys. A mediator can help work out agreements on distribution of property and assets, child custody, child Support/maintenance, retirement, and taxes. Sometimes agreements come easy, sometimes they take time and a lot of work. When agreements are hard to reach, that is when the mediator intervenes. As said previously, the last thing anyone wants is to go to trial, however sometimes going to trial is simply unavoidable. What if you still find yourself in a divorce trial? Be sure to read Daisy Camp’s next blog post on, “What it Means to go to Trial in a Divorce.” Also, a wonderful book to read on the subject is the book, “The Collaborative Way to Divorce: The Revolutionary Method that Results in Less Stress, Lower Costs, and Happier Kids – Without Having to go to Court.” by Collaborative Attorneys, Stuart Webb and Ron Ousky.
78364212 Many years ago when I had recently moved and was looking for a new dentist, I simply looked through the phone book and found a dentist that was located nearby and set up an appointment. Later, when I arrived at the dentist’s office for my appointment, the receptionist asked how I had heard of them and I responded, “I just found you in the phone book”. She said “Oh, that’s too bad. That’s a risky way to find a good dentist.” I often remember that memory when potential clients come to my office in Northfield, Minnesota to have a free initial consultation. I think, “Did they just find me in the phone book?” I ask potential clients how they have heard of me and they often respond that they were referred by their therapist or their attorney (who may not practice Family Law or Mediation). Sometimes they say that they found me in the phone book or through my website or they simply say they found me “online”. I think to myself, “That’s too bad. That’s a risky way to find a good attorney or mediator.” I don’t actually say that to them, but that’s what I’m thinking. If I were in their shoes and was looking for an attorney, I would ask a therapist or other local attorneys for their recommendations. Often these professionals have personal relationships with various attorneys in the community and even if they don’t have a specific recommendation they would know who would be able to point you in the right direction. When looking for an attorney, be aware that legal “ranking” of attorneys is a dark art. When I get emails or letters asking me to “rank” other attorneys, I simply delete the email or recycle the letter. I don’t trust these ranking systems and neither should you. I would look for professionals who focus their practice in Family Law. Like any other profession, people get really good at what they do often. So, I figure it’s more likely that an attorney who does a lot of Family Law will be more likely to be effective and efficient in that area of law. I would look for someone who has training, and who keeps up their continuing education requirements, in mediation. I say this because mediation training helps people see all sides of a disagreement and helps give professionals the tools to effectively diffuse conflict and work towards constructive solutions. You want effective conflict resolution to be a focus of every professional in your case. Beware of attorneys that tell you that you “deserve” a certain outcome or that assures you that a court would view your case a certain way. I’ve been to court many times where the spouses attorney has promised their client that the judge would rule a certain way, only to have the judge decide the case in a totally different way. Then I wonder what those attorneys tell their clients afterward about why their guarantees were wrong in the end. I specifically tell clients that there are no guarantees when it comes to court. I do this because I’m in court for over 200 court hearings a year and, because of that extensive court experience, I know that I can’t fully predict what the judge will do. So, never trust an attorney who tells you that a certain judge always rules a certain way or assures you that a court will view your case a certain way. A good place to start looking for a Collaborative Professional is on the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota website. There you can search by geographic area and by profession. If your primary concern is about mental health or how to approach your partner about using the Collaborative process, you may want to search for and speak with a “Coach”. A Coach is a mental health professional who has training in the divorce process and mediation and can help you understand your options. If your primary concern is financial, you may want to search for an speak with a “Financial Professional”. They can help you understand how financial issues can be understood and resolved. If your primary concern is your children, you may want to search for a “Child Specialist”. They are trained mental health professionals who have special experience working with kids and families and they can help you understand how to speak with your children about what is happening and how you and your partner can be there for your children during this difficult time. If you are concerned about any or all of these issues you can always speak with an attorney about the legal issues involved and they can help you understand how these other professionals can help you.
Divorce is a challenging and life-changing experience for all family members, and most divorcing parents worry about how their children will be affected in the short and long term. Because divorce is such a significant event for children, these concerns are understandable. As a neutral child specialist, when helping parents address their concerns, I encourage them to consider three guiding principles.

Guiding Principle #1: The crisis of divorce should never become a trauma for children. 

Although divorce will almost always be painful and difficult for children, it is entirely possible for parents to keep it from becoming traumatic. Children can be traumatized when trapped in an environment of high conflict, danger, abandonment or abuse. None of these words should describe a child’s experience of divorce.

Guiding Principle #2: Children must be kept in the center and out of the middle of their parents’ conflict.

It is understandable that divorcing parents will experience conflict with each other. It takes mindfulness and empathy for parents to set the kind of clear boundaries that keep their children from being drawn into the conflict. Being in the middle always impacts children negatively. It is toxic to use children as confidantes, ask them to take sides against the other parent or disparage the other parent in their presence. The decision to take the high road and not put children in the middle is one that parents will never regret.

Guiding Principle #3: There is such a thing as a good divorce for families.

Judith Wallerstein’s longitudinal research on the impact of divorce on children painted a bleak picture of negative, long term developmental, social, academic, emotional and behavioral effects. Wallerstein studied families who divorced in 1971, a time when family law was typically adversarial and divorce was socially stigmatized.  In 1994, Constance Ahrens wrote The Good Divorce: Keeping your Family Together when your Marriage is Falling Apart based on her own longitudinal study. Ahrens found that when divorced parents could reduce conflict, communicate effectively, and co-parent cooperatively, their children did not experience long term adverse effects.

These children continued to feel a reassuring sense of family, transformed from under one roof to under two. With the right kind of personal and professional support, parents can make a healthy transition from a divorced couple to effective co-parents. Making this transition successfully makes a huge difference in the quality of life for children.

Non-adversarial methods of divorce undoubtedly enhance parents’ ability to create child-centered outcomes. Since 1990, there has been a sea change in family law, including models of collaborative practice, mediation and cooperative divorce. When divorce must happen, choosing a child-centered divorce process is another decision that most parents will never regret. For more information on Collaborative Team Practice, please visit the website of the Collaborative Divorce Institute of Minnesota.

choosing an attorneyChoosing an attorney is a critical decision and not to be taken lightly. Equally if not more important is who your spouse chooses to have as their attorney. You can follow all the steps in this series of posts on choosing an attorney but if your spouse doesn’t do the same thing or something similar the likelihood of a successful cooperative or possibly collaborative divorce process is significantly reduced. This means an increased chance of litigation or at least a contentious process, which will be at your expense and your family’s expense. If you are like most of us, you will want to keep as much of your hard earned dollars in your family. In an ideal world, which we know exists only in our minds, the two attorneys not only know each other but have worked on cases together representing opposing clients and have achieved settlements that both spouses can live with. I will close this post with some basic questions you may want to consider asking attorneys when doing your research and interviewing. This is not meant to be an all-inclusive list. Add your own questions you deem important.
  • Do you only work on divorce cases or do you practice other areas of law? If not exclusively divorce work, what percentage of your work is handling divorces?
  • How long have you been working with divorce cases?
  • How do you approach handling a divorce case? Tell me how you would proceed with a divorce case like mine.
  • How many divorce cases do you typically handle in a year?
  • What divorce processes do you use?
  • During the past 3 years approximately what percentage of your cases have been:
Litigation___________% Cooperative_________% Collaborative________% Ask them what specific training they have had in collaborative divorce and if they are a member of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals. *The percentages above will give you a good idea of the divorce process used more frequently by the attorney. NOTE: If they don’t know about cooperative or collaborative divorce processes they likely practice primarily in a litigation manner.
  • Would other people be working on my case with you? If so what are their qualifications and how is their time billed?
  • What is your hourly rate and how do you bill for it? What exactly is billed besides your time? I.E. travel, copies, long distance calls, emails, etc.
  • Do you require a retainer? If so, what is the amount? If I decide not to work with you will it be completely refunded?
  • What do you expect from me as your client?
  • What should I expect from you as my attorney?
Following these suggestions will not guarantee you a successful relationship with a divorce attorney, but I believe it will help increase the likelihood of that happening.  Remember, do your homework, research, interview, reflect and, as I mentioned, sometimes you just have to go with your gut. If you need/want help finding a divorce attorney in the Minneapolis/St. Paul seven county metro areas, feel free to contact me. I know and have worked with many of them. I wish you all the best as you continue this journey and major life transition.