The Future is BrightPart 6: Selecting the right team for your family may be essential to the success of your Collaborative Divorce. Collaborative Divorce is often a team process, in which you work with mental health professionals and financial neutrals, as well as with attorneys, to help you achieve the best outcome for your family. One of the keys to your success is selecting a team that can best meet the unique needs of your family. Some divorcing couples and professionals prefer the standardized process in which the full team is assembled at the beginning of the case. In Minnesota, a full team generally consists of two attorneys, (one for each party); a child specialist (if there are minor children); a financial neutral and a divorce coach. The advantage of assembling a full team (often described as the “Cadillac” of the Collaborative Divorce Process) at the very beginning is that you know that you have all of the necessary professionals on board, so that all of your family needs can be immediately addressed. While you may be concerned about keeping your professional costs down, the full team process, if used efficiently, will not necessarily be more expensive. Working with the right professionals at the right time may actually reduce the conflict and, therefore, your overall costs. Perhaps more importantly, even if it does cost you a little more, getting a better outcome for your family may have incalculable benefits and may save you financial and emotional costs down the road. Other families and professionals prefer what I will call the “customized team” model. In this model you and your spouse work together to decide exactly which team members you need to help address the unique needs of your family. This option allows you to put your dollars where they are most needed.  For example, if you believe that you and your spouse need the most help in creating a parenting plan, you may wish to spend more of your money working with a child specialist. Similarly, if your difficulties lie primarily with finances or communication, you may wish to spend more time with a financial neutral or a divorce coach. To learn more about the role of each professional and to get assistance in selecting the right team of professionals for your family, go to or .
The Future is BrightPart 5:  Working with a team of professionals in Collaborative Divorce creates better outcomes. A Collaborative Divorce is one in which the husband and the wife each retain a lawyer for settlement purposes only. In addition, in a Collaborative Divorce, the other professionals on the team, must commit to work or settlement purposes as well. Divorce marks the end of a martial relationship and the beginning of a new life. While divorce is a legal proceeding, future success for your family may have more to do with parenting, financial planning and communication than with legal issues. While lawyers can be helpful on these additional  issues, your family can generally get better assistance, at a lower cost, by turning to professionals with more skills in these other areas. If your primary concern is how to co-parent your children in divorce, you are far more likely to gain valuable insights on how to do this by having your family work with a child specialist with the education and training in child development rather than law. If you are concerned about how to meet your expenses in both households, you are likely to get more initial benefit from working with a financial professional than with an attorney.  Similarly, if your primary concern relates to difficulties in communicating with your spouse, you may want to work with a divorce coach who has the skills and training to help you focus on these important areas. The Collaborative Divorce process is often a team process in which you work with a team of professionals rather than just with attorneys. You may initially be apprehensive about working with a team of professionals believing that it will increase your cost. However, if you plan your process carefully, working with other professionals can reduce your cost and help you create a better outcome. Generally, the work done by the financial professionals and the mental health professionals replaces much of the work done by the attorneys, allowing you to get more skilled help, generally, at a lower hourly rate. One of the keys to success in working with a team is to make sure that you get the level of professional help that best meets the needs of your unique family. Options in working with your Collaborative Divorce Team will be discussed in an upcoming blog. However, if you want information on this now, go to and You can read the final part of this series, here.
Opportunity for Better OutcomePart 1:  What is Collaborative Divorce? Collaborative Divorce has spread rapidly throughout the world during the past two decades and has helped thousands of families achieve better outcomes. This series of blogs will focus on how people facing divorce can achieve better outcomes through a Collaborative Divorce. This first blog starts by providing this simple definition of Collaborative Divorce: A divorce in which the husband and the wife each retain a lawyer for settlement purposes only. That’s it. While Collaborative Divorce has many other elements, this one feature defines the process. As simple as this seems on the surface, it is easy to get confused about what Collaborative Divorce means for two reasons: First, because the word “collaborative” is an adjective, (essentially meaning “working together”), that has been around for centuries, the word collaborative, (without a capital c), could be used to describe many divorces where people work together. However, in legal terminology, the phrase Collaborative Divorce (capital C), has come to define a specific divorce process in which the attorneys are retained for settlement purposes only. In a Collaborative Divorce, unlike a traditional negotiation, the lawyers must withdraw if the divorce cannot be resolved out of court. Second, while using lawyers for settlement purposes only is the one defining feature, Collaborative Divorce often has many other elements that add greatly to the success of Collaborative cases. For example, Collaborative Divorce is often a team process in which the clients work with financial neutrals and mental health professionals in addition to attorneys. In addition, Collaborative Divorces generally use a very different method of negotiation called “interest-based negotiations.” These features allow people to get better outcomes in their divorce but are not part of the definition of Collaborative Divorce. Some Collaborative Divorces do not include all of these features. The basic defining characteristic of Collaborative Divorce, (the fact that the lawyers must withdraw if the matter goes to court), was introduced by Stu Webb, a Minnesota attorney in 1990. Stu’s simple but profound idea was that committing to settlement only would open the door to a new way of doing things that would help families get better outcomes. Indeed that is exactly what has happened. Great innovations like working with full interdisciplinary teams and using interest based bargaining are two of the common feature of Collaborative Divorce that have evolved as part of the Collaborative Divorce process as a result of this great commitment. Understanding that Collaborative lawyers are hired for settlement purpose only is the first step in truly understanding Collaborative Divorce.  The next step is to understand why that commitment is so essential to the success of Collaborative Divorce.  Understanding the strength and value of the Collaborative Commitment is covered in the next blog in this series.  For immediate information on these and other questions about Collaborative Divorce, go to  or Read Part 2 of this series
Cable car let go I just saw the pulse-pounding film Gravity, about American astronauts who are stranded in space following an unexpected catastrophe. This is not a spoiler alert—anyone who has seen a trailer for the movie knows this is going to happen. Without giving anything else away, I want to talk about a theme that runs through this film: when there are no guarantees of safety, but holding on is not an option, how do you find the courage to let go? If you are facing divorce, this is a question you may feel forced to answer against your will. For many people, divorce is an unexpected, disorienting catastrophe for which they are not prepared. In an instant, the world is spinning out of control. It can feel as if you are staring into the void, rudderless and without an anchor. There is no longer safety in trying to hold onto the past, but what lies ahead feels absolutely uncertain. “I have to let go, but how will I survive?” is a very real question. “You will make it!” is the answer. And despite how lonely you might feel, you are not alone. There are sources of support that you have never known about, because until now you haven’t had to find them. It is possible to find handholds, but you do need to make some leaps of faith, while acknowledging the reality that there are no absolute guarantees in life. One source of support is Collaborative Team Practice, an out-of-court divorce option that you may never have heard of before. A Collaborative Team provides calm, experienced and supportive assistance through the crisis, and helps families transform the chaos and anxiety that can accompany a divorce into a safer and clearer road map for the future. If this sounds like the kind of handhold you have been searching for as you need to let go, please visit our website at www.collaborative Any of our multidisciplinary team professionals–attorneys, financial neutrals, neutral coaches and neutral child specialists–can provide a free initial consultation to explain the process and inform you of your options. We are here for you, and know that you can find us.
Prof Mnookin at the CMR No.103F“I am so glad we came in together, this has been so helpful.” This is a comment I hear so often from couples after they come in to meet with me together to talk about their divorce process options. Not all attorneys offer the opportunity to come in together but it is becoming a more frequent offering by attorneys who practice Collaborative divorce. Who each of you meet with before you make any decision about how to move forward when there is a decision to divorce, can make all the difference in how things play out during and after a divorce for you, your spouse and children. Imagine, if one person meets with an attorney that focuses on gathering information (how much your spouse earns, nature and amount of assets, whether you want custody of the children, etc.) and assessing the outcome before you have decided how you will more forward with process (Mediation, traditional court process, Collaborative, etc.). It sets the tone for everything that follows, often times setting up a win-lose dynamic. But is that what you want? Most people want as healthy and positive co-parenting relationship going forward that they can have and want to achieve a win-win outcome. On the other hand, if a couple meets together with an attorney to learn about process options before getting into the details of the assets, cash flow/support, etc., you are focusing on the tone and manner in which you move forward, rather than the positions that can be formulated. Couples can then make a mutually informed decision about how to move forward. And the hidden benefit is that, if that attorney is hired by one of you, you already know the philosophy of the other key person in the negotiation; your spouses attorney. Imagine what a difference that can make in creating a more positive divorce experience. It can be an invaluable decision.
For Free Sounds Good to Me! It occurs to me that just as in the rest of our lives, some of the best things in divorce are free. Here are more than a few free items that I came up with on a recent afternoon. Initial Consultation Most importantly, many atttorneys and other divorce professionals offer free (or low cost) initial consultations to help you understand your options.  I enjoy offering free consultations because I can make the most impact on a person’s life by helping them at the very beginning before they waste time and money. General Divorce Information It’s free to keep reading this blog!  There are many helpful articles to help guide your decisions.  You can learn what is involved in divorce and how to choose professionals to help you with the divorce process. Read my Family Law blog called Always Family Center for free information about many Family Law topics. Learn more about Collaborative Divorce here. Want to look through the statute on divorce to get an overview of the law? It’s available for free here. Go to your local library.  They all have a section on divorce and other legal topics.  Why not take advantage of the free books at your local library?  You already paid for it with your taxes, right! Parenting in Divorce You can view an 8 hour online class for divorcing or separating parents called Parents Forever for free or very little cost provided by the University of Minnesota. Children’s Expenses Here is a link to the Minnesota Department of Human Services publication titled Understanding Child Support: A Handbook for Parents. If you are curious about how the Minnesota Guidelines Child Support Calculator works, that’s available for free here. If you want to look through the statute on child support to get a more in-depth view of the law, it’s available for free here. Budgets Do you want to know what your budget is? Just look at your checkbook or last credit or debit card statement and make a list of the most common expenses. Thinking about moving out and living somewhere else and want to know how much it would cost?  For rentals, just look online or make some phone calls from ads in the paper, all for free. Parenting Plans Want to create a great parenting plan?  Consult with a Neutral Child Specialist.  You can find one here.  Look for the area titled “Find a Professional by Profession” and then chose “Child Specialist”. Here is probably the best available court system parenting schedule guide, which happens to be from Arizona (But helpful regardless of where your kids live!).  Here’s the Parenting Agreement Worksheet from the Minnesota Court system.  Again from Minnesota, here is A Parental Guide to Making Child-Foccused Parenting Time Decisions. Sending an email to your child’s other parent to tell them that you appreciate something about their parenting is free. Picking up the phone and talking with your ex about your child’s upcoming events is free (or nearly free). Want to search for a Collaborative Divorce attorney or financial professional or coach or child specialist? It’s right here on the Minnesota Collaborative Law Institute website.
Abraham Lincoln, one of my heroes, spoke to a divided nation in 1861 and expressed a hope that everyone, north and south,  would be touched by “the better angels of our nature”.     file3921269374368 These poetic words are often ringing in my ears when I sit with a divorcing couple hoping that they might be able to summon their best selves during difficult times. Divorce can be so emotionally challenging that it is easy to excuse people who cannot bring their better angels to the process.  It would be wrong to judge anyone who, when facing divorce, becomes so blinded by fear or anger that they seem unable to summon their better natures. Yet, as a divorce attorney, someone who has a responsibility to help clients achieve better results, I cannot escape the fact that my job requires me to help them, (and if possible their spouse) find their better selves.  I do know from nearly three decades of experience that they will make better decisions and get better outcomes, particularly for their children, if they can find their “better angels”. Until ten years ago, I did not think it was even possible to help clients find their better selves. Hardened by 20 years of practicing divorce law, I had come to believe that I had to, for the most part, accept irrational and self destructive behavior from my clients.   However, during the past ten years, through the Collaborative Process, I have found that there are ways to help people find their better selves and, therefore, achieve better outcomes. This has been partly due to the training that I have received from my Collaborative Colleagues to help clients in new ways.  It is strengthened by the fact that the other attorney will work with my client’s spouse in the same manner; and by the fact that the clients can get the support of a child specialist, financial neutral and coach who will help them both bring their best selves to the table.

The most common mistake I have seen couples make during divorce might surprise you. It’s something that is done unknowingly. It’s done with good intentions. It’s something our culture has taught us to do.

So what is it? It’s choosing an attorney before choosing a process. When confronted with the reality of separation or divorce, your first step may be to ask friends, co-workers or family members for the names of good family law attorneys. Seeking a referral from a trusted acquaintance seems to make sense given the extremely personal nature of this legal event. It certainly is preferable to doing a Google search.

It’s important to realize, however, that, in addition to having varying degrees of competence, different attorneys use diverse methods of conflict resolution. A well-intentioned family member or friend may recommend a litigation attorney who is most comfortable in a courtroom. If you think you will need a judge’s help in reaching a fair resolution, you should look for a lawyer with this particular skill set. On the other hand, if you are more concerned about the impact your separation will have on your children, and prefer to maintain more privacy and control during the process, Collaborative practice may be a better process option for you and your family. If that’s the case, you and your spouse or partner should look for attorneys who specialize in the Collaborative process.

Separation and divorce are among life’s most challenging events. Choosing the right process first, then attorneys, is the safest way to proceed.