No one expects to get divorced. Marriages are built on hopes and dreams. We make plans for a home and kids and growing old with our partner. Unfortunately, life can often take us down another path. Studies have found that couples going through divorce often experience the stages of grief. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. In the midst of this emotional roller coaster they are faced with a variety of questions. How did this happen? What happens now? How will this affect the kids? Where do we start?

Collaborative divorce gives couples a safe place to start answering these questions together without the additional damage that often comes with the traditional divorce process.

In collaborative divorce each spouse is represented by a collaboratively trained attorney. The attorney will talk with their client and give them a chance to share their story. Having someone simply sit and listen to us and what we are going through is a very valuable tool in dealing with the grieving process. We need to be heard. We need to tell our story so that we can begin to move forward. In the collaborative process this lets the attorney learn about their client’s goals, concerns and values. What is waking them up at 2am? What is important to their peace of mind? The traditional divorce process doesn’t have a good way to address these emotional issues but collaborative does.

After both people have chosen their attorneys, the attorneys will set up the first collaborative meeting. During that first meeting everyone will sign the collaborative agreement. This agreement provides the foundation of our work together. We agree to treat each other respectfully; to share all necessary information openly; to work together for the best interest of the children; to work towards a solution that will provide financial stability for each party.

It is this focus on what is best for the whole family that really sets collaborative law apart.

Being a collaborative attorney allows me to approach my cases with compassion for both parties and the family as a whole. It is important to me to honor their roles as co-parents because that relationship will continue and I know that it is best for everyone if we can help our clients make it a healthy one. As parents we have the same graduations, the same weddings, the same grandchildren and the family should be able to enjoy and celebrate these life events without the cloud of old divorce wounds hanging over them.

Collaborative law also lets us bring in other professionals to create a team of resources to support our clients. This may be a therapist who serves as a divorce coach or provides guidance on how to make the process less stressful on the children. It may be a financial advisor who can help the parties divide complex assets such as a business or family farm. All of these professionals follow the collaborative model and keep the focus on creative problem solving rather than falling into the adversarial trap.

As collaborative professionals we strive to be healers. We walk beside our clients as they work through the grieving process and guide them as they start to build the new framework for what their life and relationships will look like in the future.

Kristen Hall is a collaborative attorney and certified mediator in central Iowa. She can be reached at kristen@khmediation.com or 515-229-7395.