455422869Recently I received a referral from Kristin, a client I represented in 2011 in her collaborative divorce. In thanking her for the referral, I took the opportunity to ask her how she was doing. With her permission, her response is reproduced below. At the time of her divorce, Kristin and her husband had two (2) children ages 10 and 12. Hi Tonda, Nice to hear from you. I will fill you in with some detail for examples of what can lay on the other side of divorce to help you give hope to your clients going through this painful process. Everyone is doing well here; the kids are doing really well splitting their time between our 2 households (4 miles apart). Tom and I have a much better relationship now than when we were getting divorced. We talk several times per week and text, usually daily, mostly regarding kids’ stuff like coordinating activities/homework and just general parenting issues. We also try to meet for coffee sometimes to discuss things more in depth like holidays and vacation planning and kids’ milestones. We see each other at their basketball games, tennis matches, orchestra concerts, etc, even holidays sometimes, and usually sit together with our new spouses. Tom and I both got re-married a couple of months ago and Tom and his wife are expecting a baby in March. I married a pharmacist that I met after the divorce and we got married in Yosemite in August of this year. The four of us get along well and the kids get along well with both our spouses so I have nothing but great things to say about the collaborative process. It really helped us to avoid a lot of un-pleasantries and keep our family together without staying married, which is really great. I hope all is well with you and your practice. I will continue to recommend people look into collaborative divorce as an option. It has been very helpful to us to use the divorce agreement as a structure, but we stay very flexible with rearranging schedules, holidays and vacations etc. We have actually never even had an argument since the divorce. It has helped us build a sense of cooperation and the collaborative process really reinforced putting the kids as the center point for all decisions going forward. One of the things that always stuck in my mind through the whole process was that Tom and I decided that even though we did not have a successful and healthy marriage, we would have a successful and healthy divorce and be successful and healthy parents. Best, Kristin
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.
The popular media makes a healthy profit on promoting disaster, and casting everything possible in the language of disaster.  “Shocking!” and “Horrifying!” are two words we see all too often. Regarding divorce, the popular media has created disaster myths around such topics as:   failure of children (depression, suicide, academic failure, juvenile delinquency), financial failure, higher divorce statistics, etc. What is the truth? To begin with, the United States divorce rate among the general population has been misinterpreted and exaggerated – it is not 50% and growing, and may in fact be 40% or less. Rates are even lower among college educated couples in the United States and may be less than 30%! This means that the chance for marital success in a second marriage may much higher than you think, especially if college education is factored in. Hollywood celebrities and other limited criteria skew the divorce statistics quoted by the media. With respect to children, there are few long-term studies about the impact of divorce (specifically, 3 studies in the United States), and they do not determine disaster for children. The most recent studies indicate that it is the level of marital conflict – NOT divorce – which spells failure for children. What are the factors which can impact children in a positive way? These studies seem to point to two major protective factors:
  1. Not using the children as message carriers between parents
  2. Giving the children permission to love both parents, wherever they go in life.
Modern psychological research indicates that children attach both to mothers and fathers, and in order to be whole people (not absorbing the irreconcilable conflict of their parents), they need to be free to love both parents whether they are in Mom’s house, Dad’s house, school or with extended family.   “Your Dad loves you so much – I’m so glad you had fun with him last week – tell me all about it!” or “You are the most important part of your Mom’s life – aren’t you looking forward to going camping with her next week?” are the kinds of protective statements parents can make to their children. What happens when parents can protect their children this way, even in the face of divorce?  The long-term studies report: even children who may be initially adversely affected by a separation can recover to meet their age-mates and peers in every category – including, they may not be any more likely to experience divorce in their own lives than the general population. What about financial ruin? With options such as Collaborative Divorce, qualified financial experts help couples devise the smartest financial plan possible, to create more net income (reducing taxes) than they had in an intact family, and to help pay debt or other items which can help build a more sustainable cash flow in future.  Couples can decide to be smart instead of reactive in a divorce, and get to a better place instead of ruining their futures. Readers who would like information on the studies cited should contact:   judith_h_johnson@hotmail.com or call: 952-405-2015.
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.