One Bridge to Peace provides specific, concrete tools that will allow one willing, caring parent to relate peacefully with even the most bitter and contentious co-parent. This workshop specifically debunks the notion that it takes two willing adults to create an environment of peace and safety for children whose family is in conflict. While the methodology and practical tips seem simple, they are not easy and in fact are highly counter-emotional. One Bridge to Peace simply requires one willing adult–one caring adult who is willing to put aside anger, resentment and pride–to create a peaceful and safe life for the children in their lives. One Bridge to Peace requires one parent to accept and adhere to a philosophy, a set of principles, and specific behaviors that will eventually disarm and re-engage even the most bitter and contentious parent. We have found that the One Bridge to Peace model can be used to reduce conflict in every situation–marriage, work, community, neighborhoods, as well as divorced or divorcing families. Conflict tears away at the very fabric of our lives. Attend a One Bridge to Peace workshop and start building one bridge to peace in your own life and the lives of the children you care about deeply.
Collaborative Attorney Carl Arnold had the opportunity to speak with experienced Neutral Child Specialist Deborah Clemmensen. Carl Arnold asked Deborah Clemmensen about her role as a Neutral Child Specialist and the conversation was recorded. The audio and the the transcript of the interview are available below. Interview with Deborah Clemmensen about the role of a Neutral Child Specialist. Begin transcript: My name is Carl Arnold, with Arnold Law and Mediation. I’m a Minnesota family law attorney and mediator and I’m here with Deborah Clemmensen. She’s a licensed psychologist and neutral child specialist. Carl: Hi Deborah. Deborah: Hi Carl. Carl: So, we’re here to talk with Deborah today about being a neutral child specialist and her services in that regard. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background in working with kids. Deborah:  I’m happy to. I’ve been a licensed psychologist since the late ’70’s and I’ve worked in schools and community mental health centers…and for the last 11 years, I’ve provided neutral child specialist services to help families have a child-inclusive, respectful process to developing parenting plans when they’re going through a divorce or breakup. It’s a very satisfying type of work. Carl: Well, let’s get right to it and say what is a neutral child specialist? How do you define that and what do you do? Deborah: Good question and I’ll tell you how I explain it to new clients and sometimes to the kids that I work with. Neutral means that I never appear in court, that I have the capacity to work with people in problem solving and interest based negotiation without having to be in court or testifying or doing any of the things that are involved with the court process. Child specialist means that I have a chance to work with everyone in the family and find out the point of view of all the folks who, not elders and pets, of course, but all the points of view of children and parents to understand what would be the most developmentally appropriate resolution for parents moving forward after their divorce or breakup. Carl: What is the benefit of this service compared to other ways that a family may go through a divorce or separation process? Deborah: Well, I am just a part of the divorce. I’m the parenting plan part of a divorce, so I can help people to create a road map for how they’re going to move forward as co-parents without having to be in any sort of adversarial process. I think the neutrality is a big help. We can get right down to business and problem solve and think about the developmental needs of children in the family. I think having it be child-inclusive means that kids get some support during a very difficult time. Divorce or breakup is a crisis for a family and to be able to provide kids with an opportunity to share their point of view, someone who’s listening, and to know that that’s going to be part of problem solving that their parents will do. Their parents will hear what I’ve learned from the kids. I think it helps kids to feel a little bit safer moving forward so that strategic support is very important. And I think that having a neutral look at what are the ages and stages of the kids and what do they have to say about how this could work best for them moving forward is invaluable. I have learned a ton from the kids that I’m working with. Carl:  What would be a typical step-by-step part of the process? How does it start? When does it start? What’s the first step and so on? Deborah:  Good question. I believe that having a child specialist on board from the very beginning can be helpful because we anchor the work in the developmental needs of the kids and what’s best for the family system. I like to work with parents from the very beginning. Many parents come to me with the question of how do I talk to my children, how to we talk to our children about what’s going to be happening to our family. I love to help parents create developmentally appropriate “we” statements that they can share with the kids to start that journey. My process begins with a joint meeting with parents and it’s focused on their kids, getting developmental histories, understanding what the parents’ concerns are moving forward and from that point, it sort of branches off based on the ages and stages of the kids. If the kids are in preschool, we might have a joint family playroom meeting just so I get to know the kids, experience them firsthand and provide that kind of support. We may, at that meeting, talk about what’s happening in the family and give them some grounding. I tell parents to describe me as the helper advocate for kids. If kids are school aged and older, then I do have a structured process: two meetings, one with the siblings together and one with each child independently and we do structured activities to help keep them at the center and out of the middle, to understand how they perceive family roles and functions. What are their hopes? What are their fears? How can we best be responsive? From that point, I do a feedback with parents. At that juncture, parents can decide if they would like to continue to work with me as a neutral child specialist to develop a parenting plan, which allows them to continue to think of themselves as parents making decisions, rather than people in a custody battle. We don’t use those labels. We talk in a different language that’s more family friendly. Carl:  So when people come to you, are they in the out-of-court processes like mediation or collaborative divorce or are they in court? How would you describe to people in what way do you relate to those processes? Deborah:  That’s another really good question. I would say the majority of the work I do is with collaborative teams. Collaborative being a type of alternative dispute resolution process that’s all outside of the court but works with teams of professionals – two attorneys, a neutral coach, a neutral financial person and a neutral child specialist – to all bring our skills to a very systematic and efficient way to help parents and families through this process. Some of my cases, though, come from other routes. I’ve worked with mediators in a team to do a child inclusive process for the parenting plan and I’ve worked with non-collaborative attorneys who believe, along with their clients, that this part of the divorce or the breakup really belongs outside of court, that if it can be done in a neutral setting, that that will set the stage for more positive co-parenting moving forward. Carl:  Where can people find out more information about your services for a neutral child specialist? Deborah:  I have a website. It’s and I go through that process in some detail so parents are prepared for what to expect coming in. I also have a web page on the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota website. That’s On that website, there are lists of professionals. I’m not the only person doing neutral child specialist work, so if folks were looking for someone in a particular geographic location, that would be an excellent resource to find a neutral child specialist. Carl:  Thanks a lot, Deborah. I appreciate having this conversation. Deborah:  It’s totally been my pleasure, Carl, thank you. Carl:  This has been Deborah Clemmensen, Licensed Psychologist and Neutral Child Specialist, and my name is Carl Arnold of Arnold Law and Mediation.
Child concernedWhile divorce is often expensive, when you look back on your divorce many years from now, the financial cost is not likely to be your most significant concern. If things do not go well during your divorce it is more likely that your real regrets will have more to do with the “real cost” of divorce; the impact on your children and on your emotional state. Can this “real cost” of divorce be reduced? Yes, but it takes hard work. The cost of your marriage. Of course, the first thing to think about is whether the divorce is necessary. If you are considering starting a divorce that you think can be avoided, make sure you explore all of your options before you give up on something you have worked to build. I am not talking about continuing to be unhappy in your marriage. I am only urging you to think about whether finding a way to become happy within the marriage may be a possibility and to consider whether the idea of happiness outside the marriage could be a mirage. If you have determined that the marriage cannot be saved (and I realize this may not be within your control), your next focus needs to be on how to avoid the real “cost” or damage that divorce can create. The cost of conflict to your family. Almost all divorce cases settle before going to trial. However, many people experience conflict during the settlement that can cause long term damage to their co-parenting relationship or their ability to move forward with their lives. So how do you achieve a settlement without high conflict and still protect yourself in the divorce process? Good settlements require a high degree of commitment. If you, and the professionals you hire, are truly committed to reaching a settlement that works for you and your children, you can achieve an outcome that reduces conflict and protects your other important interests. While your commitment will make the most difference, you also want an attorney that is committed to getting a good settlement as well. Almost all attorneys today will say they want to help you achieve an acceptable settlement. However, the difference between wanting a good settlement and committing to settlement is night a day. If getting the best settlement, and avoiding the real “cost” of divorce is important to you, you should consider hiring an attorney that is fully committed to settlement. Collaborative attorneys are attorneys who commit, in writing, to achieve a settlement that is acceptable to you. At the beginning of their case, both Collaborative attorneys sign a written document stating, in essence, that if they cannot get an acceptable settlement, they will be fired. The commitment to settlement causes everyone to use methods that are more effective; including full transparency, negotiation based on big picture goals, working with other professionals for more efficiency and reducing the posturing and arguing. To learn more about the Collaborative Process, and to find attorneys who are experienced in this area, go to or
Recently I did a radio interview about how divorce impacts children during the holidays. One of the first questions asked was, “Isn’t it true that divorce traumatizes children, especially during the holidays?” My response was that divorce is a crisis for a child, but parents can ensure that it doesn’t become a trauma. A crisis fades to a painful but manageable memory, but a trauma feels life-threatening, and can reverberate throughout a lifetime. If a holiday becomes traumatic, a feeling of dread or deep sadness may accompany the holiday year after year.  I’d like to share five things divorcing parents can do to help their children cope and find moments of  holiday joy during a divorce. The first is for parents to commit to de-escalating conflict to ensure their children are not put in the middle. This ideally involves both parents pushing the pause button on arguments, but even if only one parent opts to not engage in negativity and conflict, the atmosphere will improve around children. Parents need to be mindful to keep from being triggered, and this is good self-care during a divorce. I always recommend the book The Four Agreements to my clients to help them learn ways to disengage from conflict. A second consideration concerns holiday gatherings of extended family or friends. Parents may need to set clear expectations that negative things will never be said about the other parent in the presence or hearing range of the children. Children should be encouraged and supported by both parents to enjoy holiday time and events with each parent and extended family. A third way to support children during the holidays is to stay attuned to them and spend time with them doing things they enjoy. This is a good time to distill holiday celebrations to their essence, and not go into overdrive. If you are in the midst of a divorce, your emotional energy is likely depleted and you may be in crisis yourself. Keep things simple, but show your children they are loved with the gift of your attention and interest. Fourth, it can help to honor the familiar while creating new holiday rituals. If co-parenting is harmonious enough, children may be soothed by maintaining a familiar ritual like decorating the tree, or gathering as a family for a couple of hours on Christmas morning to open stockings. Parents attending children’s school concerts or church pageants together can be similarly reassuring. Finally, I help parents create We Statements during a divorce to provide explanations for their children in a clear, developmentally appropriate, non-blaming and authentic way. A We Statement detailing holiday plans in advance can help children prepare and know what to expect. We Statements are especially effective when prepared and shared jointly by both parents.
Cinderella Castle, Disney WorldRecently I received an email from a former client I met through Daisy Camp. This was a welcomed experience, as I value hearing back from parents once they have had the opportunity to experience co-parenting following their divorce or break-up. This message was a day brightener, describing how helpful their parenting plan had been as a guide and road map. Co-parenting can be challenging, and parents may  hit rough patches for any number of reasons. For these parents, the details in their plan had helped them successfully reach joint agreements and resolve their differences, and they felt good about how their co-parenting relationship had evolved. I was very pleased to get such a positive update, but then came the proverbial icing on the cake. These parents, with whom I worked with years ago during their divorce, had just taken their children together on a trip to Disney World. This was the experience of a lifetime, and their daughters were ecstatic to have both parents there. Apparently there were many raised eyebrows when the parents announced their intention to take this joint trip, but this reaction just made them smile. They knew why and how they were able to make this dream come true for their daughters. It was their mindful transformation from getting divorced to becoming resilient and successful co-parents. What a beautiful divorce story their daughters will be able to tell in the future! Focusing on the needs of children, and keeping children at the center and out of the middle helps create the motivation and vision to do the hard work my former clients were able to accomplish so well. I loved getting permission to share their inspirational story. My dream as a neutral child specialist in Collaborative Practice is that some day soon their story won’t be considered extraordinary, but typical. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all future divorce stories told by children contained healing moments of hope, laughter and grace, made possible by their parents?
Trust The “Rule of Relationship” is one of the most powerful forces in our lives. Often we are not even aware of its existence. In a divorce, it can be more powerful than the rule of law. Here is how it works. Let’s assume you and your spouse are separated but you do not have any legal document regulating your separation or parenting. You have informally agreed to share weekends with the children and you pick the children up from your spouse’s home of Friday, promising to return them by 6:00 p.m. on Sunday. What if you decide not to return the children at that time? You will not have broken any law since there is no divorce or court order. Yet the consequences of your decision may be even more severe than any punishment a court could order as you have violated the “Rule of Relationship.” You may have damaged trust in a manner that could be very difficult to repair. Maintaining some level of trust is crucial in almost all situations. It is tempting to think that, in a divorce, there is no trust. Indeed, your spouse may even have been unfaithful causing you to believe that all trust is lost. But, in reality, there is almost always some degree of trust that exists in any relationship. If you literally had no trust at all, you would not ever allow your spouse to even be in the presence of your children, since you need to trust them to provide for their well being and safety, for at least some portion of their week. Despite the broken promises that can give rise to a divorce, most people are able to find a way to retain some basic level of trust, out of necessity and concern for their children. Trust is generally regulated by the “Rule of Relationship” and not by laws. Trust can only be created or lost through behavior. When it comes to regulating day to day behavior no court or government, no matter how well intended, can intervene on a daily basis to address these difficult situations. Parents are often left with their own laws, the Rule of Relationship,” to help them parent their children and regulate their lives. That is one of the reasons more and more parents are choosing out of court solutions, such as Collaborative Practice, to help them resolve their issues out of court. Working parenting issues out of court, where the laws of relationship and responsibility can help rebuild trust, can help your parenting plan go more smoothly and gives your children a true role model for developing trust in their lives.
hugDivorce is never truly good. But a bad divorce can create many years of devastation.  If you have a friend or family member approaching divorce it can be difficult to watch the economic and emotional turmoil unfold, particularly if there are children involved.  As a friend, or a family member, you want to help; but can you? In my 30 years as a divorce lawyer, I have seen how friends and family members can provide much needed support and comfort that has helped my divorce clients get through this process in a much healthier way. At the same time, I have often watched well meaning friends and family members give my clients advice that actually made the divorce more adversarial. If you know someone who is going through divorce and want to help, here are five things to consider.
  1. Encourage them to seek counseling, if appropriate. Whether they are trying to save the marriage or simply manage the emotional turmoil and grief during this difficult time, a good counselor can be even more important than a divorce attorney. They will soon be making some of the most important decisions in their lives during a time in which their sense of reason and judgment may be impaired by emotions. Getting help with the emotional and psychological aspect of divorce is crucial.
  2. Give them support and encouragement; but not legal advice. If you have been through a divorce, or have experienced the divorce of close friends, you may be tempted to advise others based on your observed experience. This advice, though well intended, can often be quite harmful.
  3.  Encourage them to truly research their options. Most people rush into divorce without truly understanding their choices.  As  result they often choose a method that is not the best alternative for their family.
  4.  Help them understand that civility is not weakness.  Divorce can create fear and anger that tempt people to seek “a pound of flesh.” Few families can emerge from an adversarial divorce unscathed. Help them understand that resolving their divorce in a civil and respectful manner can actually get them a better outcome.
  5.  Avoid demonizing the spouse. Divorce often creates a delusional reality that causes people to see their spouse in a very negative light. Accepting  your friend’s emotionally impacted negative view off their spouse can even seem like the “supportive thing to do.” Usually it simply adds to the misperceptions that make future co-parenting more difficult.
People facing divorce need emotional support and friendship as much as they need professional help. If you can provide that support, without giving into the temptations to do more, you will be doing your friend or family member a great service.
How do you turn a divorce process into a healing process? By envisioning your highest goals for what you want to accomplish during the divorce and after the divorce has ended.  This is what happens in a Collaborative Divorce process. Unlike the traditional divorce process where the focus is often what happened in the past, the collaborative divorce process focuses on the future.

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

Beth and Peter’s Vision Children
  • For our children to see us co-parent with each other in a non-conflictive way.
  • For us to live in close proximity to each other while raising our children.
  • For us to live in stable environments while raising our children.
  • For our children’s lifestyles to be affected as little as possible by our divorce within the resources available to us (e.g., emotionally and educationally; that we continue with the educational plans we have made for our children; that our children live in the same community).
  • For our children to have as much stability and security in their lives as they require.
  • For us to be fully involved with raising our children.
  • For both households to be financially resilient.
  • For us to develop independently in terms of financial security.
  • To have the flexibility in one’s work schedule to be present with the children as their schedules require.
  • For Beth to have the opportunity to explore educational, training, and other career opportunities with the goal of becoming financially independent.
  • To respect the financial decisions made by us and our families, including the decision of Peter’s family to leave him money.
  • For us to be in a co-parenting relationship our children can count on.
  • For us to be respectful of each other into the future.
  • For us to create a new, healthy family relationship with each other.
  • For us to look back on this difficult time in our shared life and be proud of how we handled a time of conflict and communicate it to our children when the time is right.
Erin and Matt’s Vision (no children)
  • That we have confidence in the decisions we make.
  • That we make a transition to a friendly relationship when completed with the collaborative divorce process.
  • That we have a feeling of peace and resolution.
  • That we have a positive financial outcome that meets both of our needs.
  • That we both have financial security.
  • That the emotional distress of the divorce is minimized.
  • That we are able to promote cordial relationships with each other’s extended family and mutual friends.
  • That we keep in mind the possibility that Erin will move out of the State.
  • That the settlement take into consideration Erin’s need to finish school.
  • That Matt is able to remain in the homestead and maintain a reasonable budget.
  • That Erin is able to purchase a modest home and meet her living expenses.
Jeff and Ann’s Vision
  • For our children not to feel divided.
  • For our children to feel comfortable with both of us.
  • For us to convey a sense of harmony to our children.
  • To have financial security for both of us.
  • To get along with each other after the divorce; to have mutual respect for each other; and to have a pleasant relationship.
Creating a vision of the future is the key to crafting settlements that achieve those visions.  And so the healing begins.
Love Design 2009 - OpeningLove and Divorce?  You don’t hear those words together very often.  After all, divorce means the end of love, doesn’t it? Well, yes and no. Yes, divorce means that a certain type of romantic love has ended, at least for one spouse. But having watched thousands of divorces over thirty years,  I have been an eye witness to the fact that much of the love lives on.  Certainly, when there are children, the love between the parents and their children does not go away.  Indeed, sometimes it emerges with even more strength in the way that all crises have the potential to draw us closer. I have even also seen love, or at least loving behavior, sustained by husbands and wives who choose not to fully extinguish a flame that once burned so brightly.   Admittedly love is an awkward word to use in this context and I have not often heard my divorcing clients use the word love when talking about their soon-to-be ex-spouse.  But love is more than just a feeling.  One of the Webster definition’s of Love is “the unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another.” People that divorce can choose to continue to have concern for their former spouse, for the sake of the children, for the sake of their own integrity, or simply because they choose to do so. Our divorce laws require couples to acknowledge an “irretrievable breakdown of a marriage relationship,” but it does not require people to forfeit their love and affection for each other and it actually encourages divorcing parents to behave in a way that shows concern for each other. One of the things I like about the Collaborative divorce process is that it allows and, where possible, even encourages, couples to behave in a loving manner. Indeed, next May, the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota, along with the Fetzer Institute is actually hosting a worldwide symposium to find ways to expand the ways that love, compassion and forgiveness can help divorcing families. So maybe, just maybe, for some courageous divorcing couples, love can have a lot to do with it.
The Age of InnocenceMy wonderful in-laws were married for more than 71 years.   During their later years, visitors to their apartment were surprised to see a copy of The Collaborative Way to Divorce on their bookshelf.  The confusion was remedied after it they explained that they felt compelled to display the divorce book their son-in-law had co-authored. The situation with my in-laws always reminded me of the old joke about the couple who decided to divorce in their late 90’s,  claiming that they had waited so long because they wanted “to wait until all the children have died”. In my 30 years of divorce practice, I have never met a couple who waited quite that long, but I have often heard clients tell me they were waiting “until the kids were grown.” I sometimes fear that this approach may have caused them to postpone marital counseling, or other marriage saving measures, until the bloom has fully gone off the rose.   Still, I understand the desire to hold off on divorce to spare the children at least some of the pain. In practice, “waiting until the children have grown” generally means that, when the youngest child has reached the age of 16 or 17,  one of the parents decides they are close enough to the finish line to start down the path toward divorce.  These families are generally grateful that they have generally spared themselves the difficulties of having to work out a parenting schedule for young children.  However, most of them also come realize that their children, grown or not, are still affected about the divorce. Grown children want their parents to get along, maybe as much as young children do.  It is always sad to hear about a young man or woman who has to spend part of their wedding day worrying about whether mom and dad can be in the same room.   Thankfully, parents who want to spare their children from that anxiety choose methods like Collaborative Divorce, that allow them to remain friends, or at least retain mutual respect, that keeps their children out of the middle, long after they have grown.