I hope that young children were not still up and watching the *Academy Awards broadcast when Will Smith got out of his seat, walked up the concourse, and forcefully slapped Chris Rock for making a poor joke at the expense of his wife Jada Pinkett Smith. But even if children didn’t watch it live, they are likely still being exposed to the ongoing coverage and analysis of this startling event on social media and mainstream media. Disagreement abounds over which man was most in the wrong. Some posters and oped writers try to justify each man’s actions. There have been thoughtful critiques about toxic masculinity in our culture, and how it inevitably leads to violence of one kind or another. Many believe Chris Rock was bullying Jada Pinkett Smith by publicly mocking her bald head, especially given her alopecia. Some respond that comedians insulting celebrities at “star-studded events” and roasts has become something of the norm and is to be expected. Some say Will Smith’s retaliation was also bullying behavior, since Smith was trained to box like a professional for the film Ali and is much bigger and stronger than Rock. But others respond that his response was justified to “protect” his wife. (I confess, I thought Pinkett Smith’s grimace of disgust and exaggerated eye roll at the weak joke was a pretty potent response in and of itself). What does this whole event model for our children, who emulate adult behavior? Is mocking others, especially for things they can’t control, ever justified? Does saying “Just kidding!” after a cruel remark make it okay? Should bystanders go along by joining the mocking laughter, or do they have a responsibility to call out bullying behavior? Is lashing out aggressively after a perceived put-down ever justified? Does being “in the heat of the moment and not thinking clearly” make an impulsive violent response, okay? Should bystanders go along by saying nothing, or do they have a responsibility to call out violent behavior? What does this event say about how women and girls should expect to be treated? In the Me Too era, a time when native women have disappeared in shocking numbers, when human trafficking and domestic violence are still huge social problems, we know that women do need the strong protection of laws and social norms. Is this kind of protection the same or different than what happened at the Oscars? If you haven’t already, I encourage you to watch the documentary “When We Were Bullies.” This film was also featured briefly at the Academy Awards as a nominee for best short documentary. Ellen Bruno, the creator of the masterful film Split about the children of divorce was a creative consultant for this film, which is extremely well done. It focuses on a 5th grade bullying incident and the lingering effects, 50 years later, on those who participated. Like this essay, it raises important questions and examines context and perspective, but does not aim for simplistic resolutions. As parents and adults who care about children, we need to have open conversations with them, and ask curious questions about bullying behavior vs. respectful behavior and the difference between control and power. We need to ask ourselves what it really means to create safety for others, and what responsibility we all share when safety is violated. And we need to always be aware that the most powerful tool in the adult toolkit is modeling the behavior we want our children to emulate and taking responsibility rather than blaming others for any time we (as humans) fall off the high road. *Since this article was written, Will Smith has apologized publicly for his inexcusable behavior at the Academy Awards ceremony. He has been banned from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Awards ceremony for 10 years. Author: Deborah Clemmensen, M.Eq., L.P. is a Neutral Child and Family Specialist in Collaborative Practice and Family Law firstname.lastname@example.org
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
It may be tempting to save money in a divorce by drafting a decree with your spouse, or by completing a form decree. This is especially true if it appears that you and your spouse are in accord on all issues. But be warned: unintended consequences can arise months or years after your decree has been filed and entered by the Court. Once your decree has been filed by the Court and entered by Court Administration, your decree becomes the legal guide for everything related to your divorce: custody and parenting time, support, property and debt division. On the surface, these issues can seem simple and many couples attempt drafting their own dissolution paperwork without counsel in an effort to save on the investment of lawyers and other professionals. While it is true that parties are often in the best position to make decisions about what their families need, attorneys are uniquely trained (and perhaps some are even naturally suited) to imagining something their clients may not be inclined to consider: the worst-case scenario. The worst-case scenario is and should be an ever-present consideration for attorneys as they counsel their clients regarding important decisions that will have long-term impacts on parenting and financial issues. An attorney may be a glass-is-half-full type of person, but he or she has been trained to imagine what could go wrong five years out from a divorce or custody determination. The worst-case scenario may not be an enjoyable rumination, but it is critically important in drafting strong contracts. Take Couple A, for example. Couple A was married for 12 years. They have an eight-year-old child and they own a home, which they purchased together during the marriage. Couple A decide to divorce in November and to sell the home in the spring when the housing market is stronger. They agree to share the closing costs and to equally divide the sale proceeds. They also decide that they will have equal parenting time, but they do not create a specific parenting time schedule. Couple A feels pretty good about the progress they are making, and they should feel great – many couples are not able to have fruitful conversations about parenting and property issues in the context of a separation. Couple A signs and files their divorce decree, which awards the home to Wife, pending the sale of the house. Husband has purchased a townhome a few miles away. Couple A is glad to have the divorce behind them so they can focus on their child and on moving forward with life. What could go wrong? Let’s check back in with Couple A one year after their decree is entered. It is late fall and the marital home is still unsold. At the time the divorce was finalized, the realtor recommended repairs that required time and money and the parties were not able to agree on a listing price. Some offers were made, but the parties felt that the property should sell for more. Wife has been paying the mortgage for the past year, and the parties have now just received a solid offer. Wife wants to be credited for reducing the mortgage principal during the year she made mortgage payments and is asking for additional sale proceeds. Husband does not agree – he has done some of the repair work on the home and has paid for lawn maintenance. The decree is silent on principal reduction, and he believes the net equity should be divided equally, as worded in the decree. In addition, Wife has put in an offer on a home twenty miles away from Husband’s new home. Wife wants the now 9-year-old to attend school near her new home, in a different school district. Even though the parties agreed on equal parenting time, Husband has been picking up overtime at work to help offset some of his expenses, so Wife has had significantly more overnight parenting time over the course of the last year. Wife has hired a lawyer and is threatening to take Husband to court to address school choice, parenting time, and the division of equity from the sale of the marital home. If Couple A had attorneys, even to simply review their draft decree, they could have included some provisions to address these foreseeable events. As a family law attorney, I have encountered many “Couple As,” who, with the best intentions, endeavored to divorce without counsel because they believed it would save them time and money. However, in many instances, these couples overlook important details and pitfalls that a family law attorney will mitigate by including provisions that anticipate change and communication breakdowns. In the end, these couples have unnecessarily spent significant amounts of money to resolve issues that could have been avoided by addressing them properly at the time of divorce. If Couple A had engaged in the Collaborative Divorce process and retained collaborative attorneys committed to working only out of court, they would have had conversations focused on problem solving the issues that they later encountered up front. While many divorcing couples can and should make efforts to reach agreements on their own, attorneys offer unique perspective and experience when counseling clients on important agreements. If you are considering a divorce or have questions about whether the Collaborative Divorce process is right for you (there are many wonderful blog posts on the CLI site explaining why it probably is), contact CLI or browse through the online listing of collaborative attorneys (Find a professional) – most of us offer free initial consultations and love the collaborative work we do. About the Author: Rebecca Randen is a family law practitioner and partner at the firm Randen, Chakirov & Grotkin LLC. She practices collaborative and traditional family law in the metro and greater Minnesota. She is a lifelong Beatles fan. www.rcglawoffice.com
Since its inception in Minnesota 30 years ago, the Collaborative Divorce process has helped families in all 50 states and more than 25 countries find a healthier way to end their marriage without going to court. However, this respectful alternative to contested divorce has largely remained unavailable to families in greater Minnesota. The recent advent of virtual practice and Zoom meetings has changed this landscape and opened up new possibilities for the statewide availability of Collaborative Divorce. The Collaborative Divorce process was created in 1990. Minnesota attorney Stu Webb, discouraged by the emotional and financial side effects of adversarial divorce, piloted a new approach in which attorneys would be involved for settlement purposes only. Because Collaborative divorce attorneys were disqualified from going to court, these attorneys needed to become effective and creative negotiators and problem solvers. The result was a process in which divorcing couples could design customized outcomes for their families and not go to court. As the Collaborative Divorce concept grew throughout North America and the world, it evolved into a team process. By using specially trained neutral experts in child development, family systems and divorce-related finance in addition to their Collaborative attorneys, clients are able to bring this added expertise to their parenting and financial resolutions, and likely reduce the financial cost of their divorce. The process is tailored to the needs of the family using professionals based on the skills and expertise they need. It has been an unfortunate reality for accessibility that specially trained Collaborative professionals are typically concentrated in metro areas, including in Minnesota. But with the social distancing required by the pandemic, almost all divorce professionals are working with and representing clients online, typically through Zoom meetings. This means that a couple’s distance from Collaboratively trained professionals is no longer an obstacle. Individuals in greater Minnesota, can now have access to a full Collaborative team without leaving their homes. To learn if a Collaborative Divorce is right for you and your family, please visit the website of the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota at www.collaborativelaw.org. There you will find detailed information about the Collaborative process, as well as names and bios of Collaborative professionals who practice this family-friendly, problem-solving, and future-focused process. Collaboratively trained professionals will be happy to offer you free informational meetings via teleconferencing to help you make the decision about whether this process, and a particular attorney or neutral professional, feels right for your needs. Collaborative Practice Highlights:
- The entire process is legally and ethically done outside of court
- The result of the process is customized to the particular needs of a divorcing couple and/or family
- Clients can build a team of Collaboratively trained attorneys, neutral financial experts, mediators and mental health professionals (coaches and child/family specialists) who focus on problem solving and dispute resolution
- Collaborative professionals can offer specialized ala carte services in specific areas of particular need for clients, e.g., financial plans, parenting plans, conflict resolution, preparation and review of legal documents, and more.
- Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota (CLI) website: collaborativelaw.org
- Find a Professional: https://www.collaborativelaw.org/find-a-professional/
- CLI Blog: collaborativedivorceoptions.com
- CLI Mailing address: 4707 Highway 61 N, #217 | White Bear Lake, MN 55110
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: https://www.startribune.com/sandy-keith-former-minnesota-supreme-court-chief-justice-dies/572638202/ 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 www.mndivorce.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
Children begin their lives constantly observing and emulating our use of language. A baby watches, listens and models her mother’s face saying “Ohhhh,” moving her own lips to form the shape of that sound. A toddler in his car seat repeats the word his parent blurted out when cut off suddenly in traffic, usually to the great chagrin of the parent. My 5-year-old granddaughter cocks her head seriously and says, “Well, actually, the most interesting thing is…..” just the way her mom does. Knowing they are listening, seeking to understand, and emulating how we talk, adults must be mindful of what we say and how we say it in the presence of children. This may be especially important during the life crisis of a divorce, when children are already feeling vulnerable and anxious. Similar to being cut off suddenly in traffic, negative emotions during a divorce can quickly heighten, along with the risk of blurting out words one will later regret. When under stress, the guard rails filtering words can become wobbly or fall off altogether. It’s not just angry, sarcastic, insulting words that children internalize, it is also the meaning of those words in the context of relationships. Children are deeply hurt and frightened when parents fight with each other, and not infrequently, will beg them to stop. What does it mean to them that the two most important adults in their lives are attacking each other this way? We live in an era when disrespect, insulting and belittling words and verbal abuse are regularly tweeted out in all caps. Sadly, this has the effect of normalizing unfiltered language. This is hard enough to manage as an adult but giving vent to verbal rage will never be anything but damaging to a child. So, what can parents do if they feel triggered? They need to slow it down. Two simple techniques to help create more mental and emotional space under stress are:
- Mindful breathing: taking at least four deep, slow belly breaths before responding; and
- Softening your eyes: focusing on relaxing the muscles around your eyes so they fall back into their sockets.
Divorce is never an easy topic, nor should it be an easy answer – but what about during a pandemic? Is disrupting your family’s life to separate into two households the right thing to do when a pandemic is taking place? There is never going to be a “right” time to divorce. Once a couple figures out either on their own or through counseling that their problems cannot be solved, a constructive divorce is often the next step. Courts are open and those cases that can be resolved without any court hearings are moving more rapidly than ever through the now virtual court system. The collaborative divorce model has been around for awhile, but using it now during the pandemic can make your divorce more efficient, while still bringing in the professionals as needed for your particular situation, including financial planners, mortgage brokers, child specialists, divorce coaches or mediators. Collaborative may be the right process for you if you want the following:
- To stay out of court,
- To work things out on your own,
- To make a plan for the future for both parties looking at your family’s interests and needs,
- To maintain a private, safe environment to exchange ideas and options,
- To put your family first.
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
- 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.
- 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.
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.