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.
159627120-heart-shaped-jigsaw-puzzle-with-missing-gettyimagesDo you do jigsaw puzzles? They can be great exercise for your brain, but they do require patience. The image on the box looks great, and then there’s the daunting moment you must face after dumping the pieces out in a messy pile. Those who approach puzzles with strategy most definitely have an advantage, and sites like offer tips for people attempting puzzles for the first time. Divorces can be like undone puzzles in many ways, and so these tips overlap with what we do as collaborative divorce attorneys. Here are six tips in particular from that relate well to the collaborative divorce process:
  1. “Flip all pieces upwards.”
  • “Having all your pieces facing the same way can be tedious, but it makes it so you’re working with the whole puzzle the whole time, and it’ll make the next steps quicker.”
This first step is true for both puzzles and couples looking for a divorce. Couples who begin the divorce process must deliver their “pieces” (of information) to the professionals involved in their case. Details that need the attention of everyone involved must be “flipped upwards” (brought to light) so they can be placed well in the bigger picture.
  1. “Find all the edge pieces.”
  • “Constructing your border gives you a defined space that you’ll work inside as you build.”
There are clear boundaries for each collaborative case that are determined in the first meeting between the clients and their chosen professionals. A few things that are considered are the interests and goals of each client, as well as a participation agreement and general expectations of conduct. Having clear parameters makes collaboration possible and desired outcomes attainable.
  1. “Sort by color.”
  • “From here you can build recognized sections of the puzzle.”
It is the job of collaborative attorneys to help their clients sort out and understand various options for building their divorce agreement. Attorneys can do this more easily when the clients have gathered their personal information (assets, lifestyle, etc.) so no piece is missing. A complete set of “pieces” makes sorting by type easy, so that the different sections of the agreement can be put together quickly and completely, including every aspect from child support to personal property to businesses and real estate. The big picture agreement that results will be one that suits the needs of both parties.
  1. “Special pieces.”
  • “Some pieces will be part of really distinguishing parts of the puzzle because it has text on it, or a color that’s only in one spot. Keep those separate and build on them as you can… it will be easy to spot where it goes as you start assembling the puzzle.”
Every couple has a unique case because of the specific goals and circumstances in their lives that they bring with them to the case. Certain issues (“distinguishing parts”) will have priority over others so that the bigger picture of the divorce agreement can be finalized. Family businesses, special needs children, and out-of-state job offers are all examples of special pieces in a divorce that require special attention from the start.
  1. “Work on small sections at a time.”
  • “Instead of trying to work on the entire puzzle at once, it can be really helpful to work on small portions so that you’re accomplishing sections. This will help keep you motivated and you’ll have a visual record of your progress.”
Helping clients break down the divorce process into pieces that are manageable is an important part of the process for collaborative attorneys. Maintaining a broader perspective that keeps the bigger picture in sight without getting “lost in the weeds” (or, pile of puzzle pieces), is important. Keeping checklists and journals are both recommended methods that can work well for clients trying to maintain this perspective.
  1. “Don’t give up.”
  • “When you’re tired… take a break… sometimes too much time at one problem can take away from [the puzzle process]. A fresh look at it later may help you see things you missed, too!”
Stress is often a part of any divorce process, and a collaborative team of professionals will try to pace the tasks so the clients can remain comfortable yet productive. Communication is always encouraged so that all needs will be heard. Avoiding the burnout that often happens in litigated divorce is easier when the case is approached with appropriate pacing and communication. With the collaborative divorce process, setting a schedule at their own pace is something within the client’s control. * * * People with skills in putting jigsaw puzzles together gained those skills by putting many puzzles together. Collaborative divorce attorneys have years of experience in putting together divorce agreements in and have developed their skills through practice and love to efficiently lead their clients towards the best agreement for everyone.