Imagine yourself 20 years from now. What story do you want your kids to tell about your divorce? What if there was a way to stop the crisis of your divorce from becoming a trauma for your children?
A couple weeks ago I had the privilege of traveling to Minnesota with 10 other members of the Central Iowa Academy of Collaborative Professionals for a training in full team collaborative practice. Minnesota is the birthplace of collaborative, so this was a wonderful chance for us to learn from the people who started it all.
Full team collaborative recognizes that divorce is more than just a commodity. It is a major life transition for the entire family. It involves emotional, relational, financial and legal elements. If we are going to provide the best service to our clients, we must address all these areas to understand the unified story of the family.
In the team approach, after each parent hires his or her collaborative attorney, they will meet with a neutral coach. The purpose of the coach is to help the parents start to process the emotional side of the divorce and understand where each parent is starting from. The coach helps us create a context for our process moving forward. They will share their insights with the attorneys so that when we sit down together in our 4-way meetings we understand not just our client’s perspective, but the larger family dynamic. Having this context allows us to problem solve more effectively.
The parents will also meet with a financial neutral who will work with them to gather information on assets and debts and outline budgets. Money is almost always an uncomfortable conversation. By utilizing a financial neutral we can minimize the adversarial aspect and focus on the resources available and the most effective way to divide them for the benefit of both parents.
Using this team approach is an innovative way to get “unmarried” but it can raise some questions for clients.
“You’re an attorney, don’t you know all this stuff?” My training and experience has taught me a lot of this stuff but I am not a coach or a financial analyst. We each have our particular area of expertise. It is also important to remember that as an attorney, I am an advocate. I am a compassionate and respectful advocate, but an advocate none the less. That means that even if I present the exact same facts as one of our neutrals the other client will hear it through a different filter if it comes from me. The use of neutrals completely changes the dynamic of the discussions in these meetings.
“I just want my rights.” This is often the statement we hear from clients in the initial crisis of divorce. The thing to remember is that our divorce laws provide a framework to address family issues when the couple cannot agree on their own. In collaborative practice we build respectful resolutions that take into consideration more than just doing what the law allows. The law provides us with a floor to build on but for a court it may serve as a ceiling making it more difficult to adopt individualized solutions.
“All these people sound expensive.” Conflict is expensive. In the collaborative process we utilize the right professional at the right time to help couples with their particular situation. It is also important to note that the cost of neutrals is split between the parents. We control cost by controlling conflict and staying focused on the long-term goals of the family.
Divorce is never an easy process. It is a huge change for everyone in the family and there will be good days and bad days. The secret it to keep your focus on the long term. Collaborative process is designed to help couples deal with the emotional roller coaster in a way that acknowledges the past, works in the present and plans for the future.