The beginning of a new year carries different meaning for different people. For me, 2019 holds significant meaning as it represents my 10th year practicing collaborative divorce and my 20th in divorce mediation. Both milestones have me somewhat reflective as to why I chose to steer my practice in these two directions.
As mentioned in a previous blog, I like problem-solving. It’s that part of me that led me to pursue a career in law and to choose family as the focus of my practice.
Over my 15 years in litigation, there were plenty of problems to solve. What could be discouraging was that many times the solution was limited to a formula used by the courts and the perceived tendencies of a particular judge. Honestly, I felt there had to be a better way to reach an agreement where the divorcing couple had more of a voice on the outcome of their divorce settlement.
Divorce mediation and collaborative divorce both provide a way for couples to have more control over the outcome of their divorce. That can and does greatly change the dynamic of the negotiation, particularly in collaborative divorce.
In divorce mediation, couples agree in principle and then work out the details. Some couples will consult with their own attorneys outside the negotiation. As the mediator, I have to remain neutral. That can limit my influence on the problem-solving element. Not that I don’t enjoy divorce mediation, I do, but collaborative divorce offers greater potential for me to be part of creative solutions.
Part of the appeal of collaborative divorce is having a team of professionals—e.g. CPA, finance, divorce coach/facilitator—available to both parties. With each of their specialties, these professionals foster a problem-solving environment.
For example, let’s say one spouse wants to stay in and keep the family home. The financial experts in the negotiation can demonstrate the feasibility of that prospect. Maybe he/she staying in the family home is not feasible. Their expertise helps demonstrate that fact. Or perhaps they can come up with another scenario where that spouse can stay in the family home if he/she lets the other spouse keep the family vacation home or keep a greater percentage of the retirement fund or some other asset.
With these kinds of financial experts available, we can get creative on resolving issues in the negotiation.
The other collaborative divorce professional, the divorce coach/facilitator, brings a potentially even more valuable skill to the table: focus. This occurs by interviewing both parties prior to the negotiation. Part of this interview hones in on trigger points or things one spouse might do to upset the other. Being aware of this in advance helps both the spouse and the divorce coach/facilitator.
For the divorce coach, knowing the hot button topics and body language/gestures can help in circumventing escalating tensions during the negotiations. It can be as simple as seeing or hearing certain things from one party—knowing that is sets off his/her spouse–and asking for a short break. Often times, that can be enough.
Meetings with the divorce coach/facilitator also make each spouse more aware of the buttons their ex pushes. That awareness can help some spouses from losing their cool during the negotiation.
Having these types of professionals involved has an impact on both spouses. It can create a team atmosphere where everyone has the mutual goal of coming to a final resolution. As I have stated before, that resolution doesn’t necessarily mean you get everything you want. Usually it means getting enough of what you want, with some concessions, to come to an agreement and begin building your new life.
That’s also the great thing about collaborative divorce. Often times the foundation for the next phase of each spouse’s life starts during the negotiation. Couples learn how to communicate with each other in a constructive fashion that will benefit future communications—a huge factor in successful co-parenting after divorce.
In fact, I would have to say that’s one, if not the, most satisfying parts of my job. You can figuratively watch couples grow—both as individuals and as parents—during the course of a negotiation.
Now, that doesn’t mean any divorce is without some level of tension. That will always be part of it. Yet knowing how well the process can work gives me faith that we can work through the tensions, put on our thinking caps and be productive. Even after one and two decades respectively, it’s what I like most about my job and what makes me look forward to coming to work each day.