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
Former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Sandy Keith
            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
        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[1] 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 not going to be about winning, revenge or punishment.  Rather the collaborative process requires both attorneys and parties to focus on interests and goals instead of positions through a series of joint meetings.  Traditionally these meetings were held in person, but the same meetings can now take place virtually and everything can be handled online.  Starting the process now may be just as good as any other time. You can find more detailed information about collaborative practice and look for professionals to help get you started at the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota. [1] Discernment Counseling is a type of limited scope counseling that helps couples or individuals determine whether to work on their marriage or keep moving towards divorce. See University of Minnesota Couples on the Brink project. Author:  Angela Heart, Heart Law, LLC Angela is a collaborative family law attorney at Heart Law, LLC. Her mission is to enable and empower divorcing couples to have a smooth transition that is family focused during a life changing event. To find more information about Heart Law go to www.heartlaw.net.
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.
Photo Credit: Pexels.com
Photo Credit: Pexels.com
Wouldn’t it be great if families could complete their divorce in a conference room rather than a courtroom? That’s the thinking behind the Collaborative Process and what makes the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota so helpful to divorce professionals and divorcing families. Because of TV shows and just our general culture of “fighting” for our rights, we often think that we have to spend endless amounts of money and fight in court to get a divorce, but that simply isn’t true. In the Collaborative Process, we help families reach agreements without ever setting foot in a courtroom. The Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota (CLI) trains professionals in areas of law, finances, relationships and mental health to work with families outside of court to reach durable and understandable divorce agreements that work for their families. Law school is focused on training attorneys for inside the courtroom. That’s why we need CLI to train attorneys and other divorce professionals to help clients outside the courtroom. This is a major paradigm shift for the legal profession, but it shouldn’t be so surprising that this is the help and advice that families need and want. Because, let’s be honest, who really wants to go to court?
If you want a respectful, affordable and uncontested divorce without breaking the bank, you’ll want to consider a Collaborative Divorce. blur-ceramic-close-up-161010 Do you have a reasonable level of trust and ability to work together with your spous if you have the help of professionals? Does your family makes $60,000 or less per year? If so, then you should apply for the Sliding Scale Fee Program of the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota. One of the most frustrating topics when thinking about divorce is “How much will this cost?” Thankfully, when you come to agreements in our Sliding Scale Fee Collaborative Divorce program you will almost certainly pay a fraction of what you would pay with any other professionals charging full price for their divorce services. Collaborative Divorce saves you money. How is that? First, we apply best practices to help you make the most of the time each professional spends working on your case. We think of this as using the right tool for each step of your divorce. Each of you will have your own attorney for legal adivce and advocacy, but you will do most of your work with specialized mediators to make efficient progress. This makes the process less polarizing and more focused on finding win-win solutions that meet both spouse’s needs as best as possible under the circumstances. Since our professionals don’t have to worry about fighting in court on your case, they can focus on helping you find the best solutions. They don’t waste time drafting time-consuming, hurtful and wasteful affidavits and other documents for contested court hearings for clients who are fighting. Second, in the Collaborative Divorce Sliding Scale Fee Program each professional works at a significantly reduced hourly rate. If your family makes $60,000 or less per year, then our Sliding Fee Scale provides that each professional will help you at a significantly reduced hourly rate (often a fraction of their normal hourly rates). For example, outside of the Sliding Scale Fee program, an attorney in the Minneapolis area will typically charge around $250-$350 per hour. In our program, the highest hourly rate is only $60 per hour. Our attorneys and mediators do not go to court in this program. They are here to help you get everything done in your divorce without setting foot in a courtroom. That frees them up to provide an exceptional Collaborative Divorce process to clients. There isn’t any other program like this in Minnesota. What makes this program different? There are only a few sliding scale fee attorney programs and they only provide one attorney on a sliding scale fee. There are no other programs that provide each spouse with a sliding scale fee attorney and specialized mediators to work with the couple on financial and parenting schedule issues, all in one package. In summary, this Sliding Scale Fee program provides a team of professionals so that we can apply the right professional for each step in the uncontested divorce process. Who is this program designed for? We can help couples who have income within our sliding fee scale and who are willing to pay a reduced hourly rate. This is not a pro bono program with free attorneys. It is significantly less expensive but it is not free. Also, you will need to be willing and able to communicate with your spouse and work together with mediators to resolve your financial and parenting time issues in your divorce, with the help of your own attorneys who will be assigned as part of this program. Who will you be working with? You will be working with attorneys, mediators and other professionals who are members of the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota who volunteer to take part in this program and accept a lower hourly rate for these cases. What’s the first step? What should I do next? The first step is for one spouse to submit a Sliding Scale Fees Intake Form (found on the Sliding Scale Fee page of our website). Then the Sliding Scale Fee Committee will reach out to you within a few days to help decide if your case is a good fit for the program and what you can do next to move the process forward.
children-cute-drawing-159823April is Autism Awareness Month, the two month anniversary of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, and the 19th anniversary of Columbine.  Why talk about ASD and school shootings in the same sentence?  And why a divorce blog?  I will get to that.  But as a lawyer-mom, these two issues are at the forefront of my mind, and probably the minds of many parents and educators these days.  We should rest assured that our kids would know what to do during a lock-down because they have spontaneous drills throughout the year, right?  Ugh…what am I saying?  The fact that kids NEED lockdown drills is downright outrageous!  Nonetheless, I wondered what the younger kids are told and what happens during these drills.  Well, lucky me, when I recently volunteered in my son’s elementary school classroom, the school had a lock down drill.  And one word sums up the experience: chilling. Lockdown drills are very different from the fire and tornado drills we had as kids.  I’m sure everyone remembers the fire drills – exit the classroom quickly and get away from the building.  Or the tornado drills – go out to the hallways, away from the doors and windows, and cover your head with your hands.  Up until about 1999, THOSE were the drills Minnesotan kids experienced.  In fact, most the time, much to our teacher’s chagrin, we were laughing and joking around.  A lock down drill, however, has a very different vibe.  The kids must be EXTREMELY quiet.  They huddle into a specific area and are instructed to remain eerily still.  This had been a bustling class (and school) just moments before, but now it was so quiet, you could hear a pin drop.  This was a class of 30 second graders, so I was stunned at the deafening silence.  Just when I thought it was over (it seemed like forever, but was probably two minutes) someone rattled the door handle.  Forcefully.  Not a peep from the kids, but I jumped.  Luckily, they didn’t see me or they might have erupted into giggles.  We had to continue to remain quiet and motionless.  Interestingly, I don’t remember what happened next; that is, I don’t recall if there was a bell or another signal indicating the drill was over (I think I was sort of in shock).  The kids went about their business, working on their projects, like it was no big deal.  Only it was a big deal.  At least it was to me and the other adults in the room.  I just looked at the staff, wide-eyed, and shook my head. School lock downs are now a reality for school-aged children.  It makes my heart ache.  I asked my son that evening why they have lockdowns and he nonchalantly said it was in case anyone wants to break into the school.  That was it.  Simple enough.  But as we grown-ups know, there is nothing simple about this. My son is a “mover and a crasher,” so I was relieved he made it through the drill.  But I thought about the other high-needs/special-needs kids in his school.  For any child who has physical needs or doesn’t cognitively understand the drill, simply can’t be quiet and remain calm, needs to move, or overreacts when accidentally bumped or touched by a classmate, what would that child do in this drill?  Or, God forbid, in a REAL situation? With more and more kids being diagnosed with ASD, what protocols are in place for them?  Is there a special section in their IEP about drills?  There ought to be. This made me think about special-needs kids whose parents are going through a divorce.  The teachers are aware of kids’ needs (or should be).  So, too, should the divorce team.  A child’s symptoms often reemerge or worsen when they are stressed, which could happen during parental conflict and/or separation.  Child specialists can work with the parents and the child’s pediatrician and/or therapist to help create a parenting plan that is in the child’s best interests.  Like it or not, otherwise fit and loving parents need to work together for there children’s sake.  Fortunately, the Collaborative process can help parents really focus on their kids, by putting them in the center, rather than the middle, of the divorce process.  Every family situation is unique.  Every family and every child deserve a creative plan to help move them forward, restructure, and get to a new “normal.”  Drill and lockdown protocols included.
pexels-photo-256485 There is a “new” way of going through divorce that puts clients in charge.  It’s called “Unbundled Legal Service” and it means that the clients get to have legal advice without having the lawyers take over the full case.  This allows clients to get legal advice, and whatever else they truly want, without having to pay lawyers to do things they could do themselves. The word “unbundled” may seem like a strange phrase if you did not realize there was a bundle in the first place.  Most clients do not realize that, when they retain a divorce lawyer in the traditional model, the lawyer is authorized (sometimes even required) to engage in the full range of services, from information gathering, to responding to all relevant communications, to reviewing all documents related to the case. Unbundling lets the client choose which things the lawyer will do for them; and which things they will do for themselves. This provides an opportunity to have more control over cost and, sometimes, acrimony. Lawyers charge high hourly rates. When they are providing important legal advice or analyzing complex issues, these hourly rates can be a very wise investment. The decisions you make during your divorce can impact your finances by tens of thousands of dollars and, helping you make important decisions regarding your children may be priceless. On the other hand, paying your lawyer to wait at the courthouse, or drive downtown, or gather your bank records, does not make economic sense. In addition to helping clients save some of their resources for themselves, unbundling can free up funds for clients to spend on other important resources, such as a child specialist to help them co-parent their children, a financial expert to help them make good financial decisions, a coach to help them with communication, or a therapist to help them adjust to the emotional impact of the divorce. While unbundling of legal services is being heralded as a brave new trend, it is, in many ways, a throwback to an old idea; the attorney as “legal counsel” – a concept that was much more common in earlier days.  It is only recently, in the more adversarial climate of the past century, that the notion of lawyer as “hired gun” has become widespread. Frustration with both the acrimony and expense of the adversarial approach have caused many divorcing people to forego getting legal advice altogether.  Unbundling, or the renewal of attorneys as legal counsel, is allowing people to have the best of both worlds; sound advice combined with control over cost and acrimony. Unbundled divorce has many different variations.   One popular form of unbundled divorce is called Collaborative Divorce, where clients choose to have the lawyers focus solely on settlement.  Because 97% of all cases settle, hiring lawyers to focus only on settlement helps clients make sure that their legal fees are spent on things that matter to their future.  To learn more about Collaborative Divorce go to www.collaborativelaw.org and www.ousky.com.