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?
One of the reasons that divorce is such a challenging life transition is its public nature. A couple might keep their problems private as they try to work through them. But if a rift opens that can’t be mended, the couple will have to share some very difficult news with friends and family as they separate from one another. Few of us will have to reveal emotional personal issues to as wide an audience as Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos recently did. The statement that Jeff released on Twitter suggests that he and MacKenzie are trying to make their split as amicable as possible by usin three insightful ideas that could help anyone struggling through a divorce.
- Be open and honest with those closest to you.
- Be grateful.
- Focus on the positives ahead.
April 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.
In Part 1, vortex was defined as: 1) a whirling mass of water or air that sucks everything near it towards its center; 2) a place or situation regarded as drawing into its center all that it surrounds, and hence, being inescapable or destructible. The second definition provides a visual for what many think a divorce “looks like.” While the end of a marriage is emotionally tumultuous and devastating, the actual legal process of uncoupling does not have to be. But, it is critical that you choose a process that promotes healing. The Collaborative Process does just that. Collaboration is a holistic approach to divorce. It can be utilized by couples who are ending either a marriage or significant relationship, or who have a child or children together. Although some people question whether it is an appropriate process when domestic abuse or mental health/chemical dependency issues are present, many others think it can (and should) at least be attempted. If you don’t want to be another “divorce horror story,” the Collaborative Process will likely be a great fit. Collaboration focuses on the future (i.e., the relationship of co-parenting in two homes) rather than the past (i.e. the vilification of one spouse); is a win-win for both partners (rather than a court-imposed win-lose); and emphasizes the well-being of the entire family. You don’t air your dirty laundry in court, and you aren’t (literally) judged. In fact, you never set foot in a courtroom. The negotiation model is interest-based/win-win, rather than positional/win-lose. You pay attorneys to help you solve problems, not argue and keep you stuck in the past. Every family is unique, so every family deserves a unique solution. And if you have young children, please keep in mind they need you present and available. You can’t be present when you are fighting the other parent in court. In Part 3, we will discuss the various professionals in the Collaborative Process and how their expertise can help you avoid the divortex.
My family is going through Olympic withdrawal. Well, O.K., not really. But we watched the events we were interested in and rooted for Team U.S.A. Of course, Michael Phelps stole the show, and Ryan Lochte stole the…well, let’s not go there. At any rate, it was interesting. What continues to stick with me, though, is the catchy phrase in one of the commercials (I don’t remember which commercial) but it’s from Maya Angelou’s “Human Family” poem. As in the commercial, the poem ends with, “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.” This phrase is repeated twice in both the poem and the commercial. The rhythm is undeniable, and the words unforgettable. The truth is…we are. This made me think back to one of my sociology classes in college, and those human traits that are universal, regardless of the country, village, or tribe in which a person lives: a smile represents happiness; crying signals sadness; and we all need food, water, sunlight, and air to survive. As the poem goes, “In minor ways we differ; in major, we’re the same.” Certainly, in our families we are, to some extent, the same. So, when the “leaders” of a family decide to part ways, their differences should be relatively minor, right? Sadly, depending on the divorce process the couple uses, those minor differences could blow up and out of control. It doesn’t have to be that way. In the Collaborative divorce process, the goal is to find common ground and focus on the items the divorcing couple agrees on (the “alike” part). “Keep the children out of the middle.” Check. “Let the children attend the same school.” Check. “Make sure everyone’s needs are met.” Check. We focus on similarities, needs, and “alikeness”, and therefore interests, rather than differences and positions. We aren’t that different. At least we aren’t that different in major ways. Unique, we are. So, let’s not invent imaginary differences, which can create major conflict. That takes so much negative energy. Using a process that focuses on the positive, the “alikeness” of the two people ending the marriage is certainly more, well, human.
As many know, because Minnesota is a no fault divorce state, one spouse not being ready does not need to stop the process from moving forward. The ready spouse can file for divorce and the process moves on in court with little control of the reluctant spouse. A potential client recently came in for a consult and, as often is the case, her husband was struggling to move forward in the process. They were at very different points on the divorce readiness scale – she was ready, he was not. This is quite typical. The other spouse is sometimes called “reluctant” or “in denial.” When one spouse is looking for a non-adversarial, out-of-court alternative (like mediation or collaborative divorce), there is more of a need to bring that other spouse along. The reluctant spouse really can delay the process and interfere with the non-reluctant spouse’s desire to divorce. This potential client said something very interesting to me. She said, “I know I am committed to collaborative divorce, but I am learning that this does not have to be a collaborative decision.” This realization was profound. She realized that she could control the process (with her husband’s agreement), even if her husband never agrees with the decision to divorce. It is common during the divorce process to have spouses be at different comfort levels with the decision to divorce. These levels of readiness can change throughout the process and even vary greatly from one meeting to another. The challenge often lies with helping the reluctant spouse commit to a collaborative process, while acknowledging his or her disagreement with the process. A good collaborative attorney can strategize ways to bring the reluctant spouse into the process and help move things forward. Ways to teach him or her about the divorce options and lay out the pros and cons of different processes for divorce. To learn more, contact Kimberly Miller.
In the early days of separation and divorce you may find the idea of growing from your divorce difficult to believe. You may be in a state of depression or denial wondering how your life will carry on, much less that you will grow from this life change. It may be difficult to find the silver lining, yet the simple truth is that you can (and will) grow from this. You may or may not have had much of a choice in whether or not you are getting a divorce, but you DO have a choice whether to grow up or grow down through this process. In a bad or difficult marriage it is easy to see how a person might grow from getting a divorce, but all divorces bring the opportunity for growth. Your divorce will likely change the way you view the world. Your life may be functioning completely different than before. Maybe you are having to look for a new career or add a part time job to make ends meet, or maybe you’ve been out of the workforce for years and your divorce is forcing you back in. Maybe you’ve had to move to an apartment or back in with your parents or a friend. Maybe your kids are at a new school as a result of your divorce. Maybe your entire social circle has now changed. It’s how you view these changes and react to your new normal, that promotes growth. Growth from your divorce can appear in a number of ways. Emotionally, spiritually, physically, etc. Even something as simple as learning a new skill that your spouse had always managed like trimming the shrubs, or online bill pay. Spiritually your faith might deepen or may struggle as you get through some trying times. Emotional growth may take a bit longer. There may be some dark and difficult days before you start to grow emotionally, but slowly it will happen. Your priorities will change and grow. If you have shared custody with your children you will likely start to value your time together all that much more. Some things that were priorities during your marriage may no longer hold a significance to you. Growth after divorce becomes a way to cope. Growth after divorce becomes a way to survive. Growth after divorce becomes empowerment. Growth after divorce becomes a new, better you.
The Four Agreements is a best-selling book by Don Miguel Ruiz that articulates principles people can choose to follow to stay out of conflict with others. These principles are extremely relevant and helpful for parents going through a divorce or break up. I have written in the past about the Second and Third Agreements (The Second: I will not personalize anything the other person says, does, thinks or believes; and the Third: I will make no assumptions). This blog focuses on the First Agreement: I will be impeccable with my word. The First Agreement agreement is the foundation of trustworthy and effective co-parenting communication. To be impeccable means to be truthful. It means to speak with the intention of being respectful rather than negative, critical or hostile. It means to avoid spreading gossip, innuendo and half-truths. It is a commitment to not use words as weapons to attack and try to hurt another person. It means to only promise what you fully intend to follow through on. At first glance, the First Agreement seems like the easiest, especially since most of us are wired to generally see ourselves as the “good guys”. We are always truthful, and all our co-workers find us reliable and respectful. When we’re not impeccable with our word, we are justified, right? We were provoked by the truly bad behavior of the other parent. We were just trying to defend ourselves from their endless snark. We were “just joking, for crying out loud.” We were finally standing up for ourselves, and isn’t that our right? I get that our amygdalas have loud voices when another person has struck a nerve. But there are three filters to apply to non-impeccable words: do they help if my goal is to co-parent effectively? Do I feel like a better person for having said them? And most importantly: Could my giving vent, being hostile, being judgmental, smearing my co-parent or lying to my co-parent ultimately hurt my child? Too often the answer to the last question is yes, it can and it will. Bill Eddy is a lawyer and social worker who co-founded the High Conflict Institute, LLC. Bill has been reaching out to family law courts and divorce professionals to equip them with tools to help parents follow the First Agreement during and after a divorce or break up, though he does not use the language of the Four Agreements in his work. One of these tools I often recommend to my clients is the BIFF (Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm) email protocol. BIFF emails can work wonders to shift acrimonious exchanges to those that are businesslike and productive. For more information and more ideas about how to become an impeccable communicator go to www.newways4families.com.
In an election year, we are exposed to an abundance of rhetoric. As candidates debate and advertise to convince people to vote for them, I listen for words reflecting respect, dignity, the ability to listen deeply and the capacity to work effectively with those who may hold different beliefs. High conflict resulting in governmental gridlock puts people at risk, especially those who are most vulnerable. Yet listening to potential leaders, I hear repeated versions of “I will never compromise.” Though this may be intended to project strength and resolution, does it not also sound rigid and contentious? What human values does this type of rhetoric represent? How expensive in time, money and emotional resources does endless gridlock become for the people depending on resolution? Divorcing parents are faced with the necessity to make many decisions affecting the future of their family. Their children are the most vulnerable family members, counting on their parents to work things out. What happens to children when their parents disagree and then refuse to compromise? When parents become rigid and disrespectful of each other, how does the ensuing gridlock impact their children? How expensive in time, money and emotional resources does this process become? Collaborative Practice is a method of alternative dispute resolution incorporating the values of respect, honesty and fairness. From the beginning of the process, clients are supported by their attorneys and by neutral professionals on their team to engage in interest-based negotiation to ensure both parents’ true concerns are heard, rather than positional negotiation that can easily lead to heightened conflict and expensive gridlock. For more information about how Collaborative Practice might work for your family, please check out the website of the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota.
Collaborative divorce is an out-of-court, non-adversarial process for dissolving a marriage. It is common for one spouse being ready to move forward with divorce and the other spouse struggling to move forward in the process. Parties can be at very different points on the divorce readiness scale – one is ready, one is not. This is quite typical. The spouse not wanting to move forward is sometimes called “reluctant” or “in denial.” Because Minnesota is a no fault divorce state, one spouse not being ready does not need to stop the process from moving forward. The ready spouse can file for divorce and the process moves on in court with little control of the reluctant spouse. However, when one spouse is looking for a non-adversarial, out-of-court alternative (like collaborative divorce), there is more of a need to bring that other spouse along. The reluctant spouse really can delay the process and interfere with the non-reluctant spouse’s desire to divorce. It is interesting to think that one spouse can be committed to a collaborative divorce, but divorcing may not have to be a collaborative decision. So one party can control the process (with the other’s agreement), even if the other never agrees with the decision to divorce. It is common during the divorce process to have spouses be at different comfort levels with the decision to divorce. These levels of readiness can change throughout the process and even vary greatly from one meeting to another. The challenge often lies with helping the reluctant spouse commit to a collaborative process, while acknowledging his or her disagreement with the process. A good collaborative attorney can strategize ways to bring the reluctant spouse into the process and help move things forward. Ways to teach him or her about the divorce options and lay out the pros and cons of different processes for divorce.