Articles Posted in Collaborative Team

When a couple divorces, it is usually the case that neither party gets everything he or she wants. Understanding and accepting this fact before you start the divorce process can help make the process less costly – both financially and emotionally.

One of the many things I have learned from my family law clients over the past 20+ years is that when they strive for an outcome (whether via agreement or court order) that provides them with everything they want, they are inevitably disappointed. Perfection is not achievable in life and it’s certainly not achievable in divorce. Instead, I encourage my clients to think about what a “good enough” outcome would look like.

For example, if we’re talking about spousal support – How much money per month do you really need or can you afford to pay? What are the most realistic options that are available to you now that there will be two households instead of one? Many times sketching the financial picture makes people cringe – especially if they’re being told things that they don’t want to hear, such as “You have too much debt,” or “You’re going to have to return to work.” But sometimes there is no way around these facts. It’s better to accept reality and work within those parameters, rather than to strive for an outcome that may look perfect to you but will leave your soon-to-be ex (and perhaps the children) suffering terribly.

I was reading an article at psychologytoday.com that highlighted a story that made me think about how important a person’s response to difficult life changes, such as the end of a marriage, will drive the experience.

Reading the article I learned that while India was under British rule, a posh golf course was constructed in Kolkata (Calcutta). The course was home to monkeys, who developed a habit of picking up balls in play and throwing them. After years of trying to solve the problem by expelling the monkeys, the golf course resigned itself to the reality of the situation.

So it changed the course rules: Where the monkey throws or drops the ball is the place from which it must be played. That is a great metaphor for divorce.

In my last post, I explored the idea of “doing no harm” as a collaborative divorce attorney. Some of the comments I received focused on what it means to be a collaborative professional, while others lamented the prevalence of lawyers who call themselves “collaborative” when their actions are anything but.

If you are a client who wants to use the collaborative process and stay out of court, you want to know that your attorney is actually committed to that process and understands the different mindset that it requires on his or her part. To get the information that you need, these are the questions I would suggest you ask a collaborative attorney and the types of answers that you want to hear:

How concerned are you about whether my spouse gets what he or she wants out of this divorce?

The Hippocratic Oath, which reads in part: I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel, is often summarized by the phrase “Do no harm.” This simple yet powerful credo is an excellent approach for solving problems in many situations, including divorce.

Contrary to the approach of traditional divorce litigation, which often serves as a poison pill, the approach of collaborative lawyers is to do no harm. When our divorcing clients come to us, they are scared, angry, and confused. Our job is not to instigate and play on those fears and anxieties. Our job is to help calm them down by helping them to find their voice and get their needs met in a way that will help them move forward with their lives. It is for this reason that I choose to collaborate, rather than litigate divorce and family law cases.

Not every attorney sees things this way. An example is a conversation I recently had with a woman just starting the divorce process. She told me that although she wanted her divorce to be as amicable as possible, the last attorney she had called immediately told her he would file motions with the court to “scare” her husband. He bragged of his experience using the courts to intimidate people, and he promised her that he would win her as much money as he could. He basically said, “We’ll go after your husband with no holds barred.”

It is possible to make the divorce process more time- and cost-effective?

When potential clients consult with me in connection with their divorce, one of the first questions they ask is, “How much do you expect this to cost?” and one of the second questions is, “How long do you expect this to take?” Time and money are, understandably, major concerns of anyone entering the divorce process, so I know that these clients want to hear answers that reflect a best case scenario. I can never predict the exact end date or the costs involved, but I can tell these clients that the more of these tips they follow, the more likely their divorce process will run smoother and be more cost-efficient:

1. Make sure your spouse knows that you want to end the marriage. It’s understood that asking a spouse for a divorce can be difficult, emotional and frightening, but try to find a way to broach the subject before you retain an attorney. Perhaps you can engage a therapist, marriage counselor or trusted friend to help you have this conversation. One of the least productive ways to start the conversation is to have an attorney send a letter to your spouse announcing your intention to divorce him or her. Remember, your spouse will have to first get over the emotional shock before any productive discussions can take place.

If you’re in the middle of a litigated divorce and are unhappy with the way things are going, you can change course.

You might have started the divorce process with the goal of ending the marriage quickly and feeling as financially secure as possible at the end. You might have hired the first attorney who came highly recommended from a friend or relative who has been through their own divorce. And all seemed fine in the beginning. Your attorney said she understood that you didn’t want to make your divorce World War III. She understood that you wanted to remain friends for the sake of your children. But as soon as it became clear that you and your spouse saw things differently, and conflict arose, the battle was on. Your attorney told you the judge is likely to see it your way and may have even encouraged you to write down all the divisive and emotionally painful issues between you and your spouse that would help you score points in court. And of course, your spouse’s attorney told him or her the same thing.

Now, 6 months or 1 year later, you see how combative and unproductive the legal proceedings actually are, you’re feeling more anger toward your spouse than ever and you’re wondering, “How did I get here? This isn’t how I wanted my divorce to go.”

An article entitled The Team Approach to Divorce was published in the July 2013 issue of New York Family Law Monthly, an ALM publication. In the article, I explain how the professional-team approach works in the collaborative process and how attorneys who primarily litigate can use aspects of this approach to help settle their family law cases.

Read an excerpt below and the whole article by clicking here.

The Team Approach To Divorce

Divorce can be an overwhelming experience. For most of us the days are full enough, yet divorcing couples are confronted with finding the time to fit in things they would not normally need to do, like meeting with attorneys and working on post-divorce budgets.

I recently discovered an author named Jon Kabat-Zinn whose book Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life can be useful to people going through a divorce – or any stressful event.

Mindfulness is being aware of where you are in the present moment and being present in the moment.

The setting in which Family Law attorneys work is often not a courtroom, but a complicated landscape of their clients’ needs and emotions. Because many of these emotions are difficult to experience, it is natural that a divorcing couple might want the process to conclude quickly. But moving forward too quickly without sufficient understanding of each party’s true needs and goals risks the integrity of the final product. To ensure a settlement agreement has the durability to last and keep both sides satisfied in the long term, many collaborative professionals use a roadmap that helps to illustrate for their clients the stages of the collaborative law process. This roadmap helps to slow down the tendency to prematurely rush ahead toward solutions that may have little connection to actual interests and goals by helping the parties to see where they’re going in the process and also how far they’ve come.

A TYPICAL COLLABORATIVE ROADMAP IS COMPOSED OF THE FOLLOWING STEPS:

  • Setting the Framework: This initial phase of the process involves explaining to both parties how the collaborative process works and describing each person’s roles and responsibilities.The clients will discuss why they have chosen to work collaboratively and what their goals are for the process. We also “assemble the team,” deciding which other professionals will be necessary to help see us through the various issues in the divorce. How can a child specialist or a divorce coach assist in this process? What issues may be more easily resolved by working with a neutral financial professional?