Roy N. Martin
Whatcom County
Divorce Attorney & Mediator

I know that it’s possible to divorce with love. It’s not typically easy – because of all the heartache and heartbreak, the many experiences of betrayal, both large and small, that occur in the course of a marriage. But I’ve seen again and again that love does not die; it merely gets covered over.

By the time people find me, saving the marriage is typically not of interest to at least one of the spouses. But when they work together in good faith, it is at least possible to divorce well. It’s possible to have empathy for one another’s suffering, for one another’s challenges – and to face them together (as a family).

This is worthwhile because families have both tangible and intangible interests. Tangible interests are those things that can be measured like pension plans and home equity. Intangible interests are things like the ability to co-parent effectively, connection to each other’s family and friends, good memories of the marriage and the like. Intangibles are especially important when there are children because divorce done poorly can scar young people for life. From the perspective of a child, there are not two families but one. So it’s up to the parents to live up to the challenge created by the child’s need to remain connected to all of those they love most.

Tangible interests have an obvious value because things like pensions and home equity can be measured in dollars and cents. Things like a child’s emotional health and secure attachment to caregivers is not so easily measured and all too easily overlooked. And yet the vast majority of parents believe in their heart of hearts that their children’s well being is more valuable than any amount of money because dollars can be replaced but children cannot. As a mediator and attorney, it is not my job to tell people the value of intangibles. That’s for clients to decide for themselves. But it is my job to remind them that these things have value and that, if they fail to keep this in mind, the intangibles will likely be trashed.

When emotion drives the divorce, results are often disastrous. People make choices that are irrational. They spend thousands fighting over hundreds while destroying the people, values and things they love most. It’s important to consider the importance of tangible interests like financial assets because one will need to eat and keep a roof overhead, support their children, be prepared for hard times and hopefully retire one day. But it’s also important to keep in mind the value of intangibles and to ask questions like, “What is my sense of well being worth?”, “What is my child’s emotional health worth?” and “What would it be worth to dance at my son or daughter’s wedding?”

Non-adversarial perspectives can be applied not only to divorce but also to legal separation; paternity; child custody (including the establishment and modification of parenting plans); non-parental custody; child support; spousal maintenance, prenuptial, postnuptial and cohabitation agreements; domestic partnerships; rights of grandparents and sometimes even to particularly challenging issues like relocation.

Compassionate Approaches to Legal Challenges

I try to help people address the challenges before them in the most efficient manner possible. For this reason, I am a proponent of alternative dispute resolution techniques, including Mediation and Collaborative Divorce, with their emphasis on negotiated resolutions.

The goal is to achieve the highest quality settlements while avoiding the conflict, expense and stress of litigation. I’ve been an attorney since 1996 and have been a collaborative attorney and mediator since 2001 – plus I’ve been divorced twice and the single parent of two now-successful adult children – so I have quite a bit of experience with the challenges families face in times of crisis and in its aftermath.

Fire Fighting

People going through the dissolution of their family are almost always basically good folks facing one of the most challenging experiences of their lives. As a result, they often behave in ways they would never react if they weren’t so stressed. When both spouses are responding to the other out of challenging emotions like fear and anger, things can easily and quickly get out of hand.

When a home is on fire, fire fighters rush to the scene to fight the flames. But they don’t pull out flamethrowers. Divorcing spouses are often like firemen trying to fight fire with fire (which is obviously ridiculous). But if one can bring a little empathy, a bit of understanding, some kindness and perhaps a willingness to listen in response to a spouse’s anger, fear and distress, that’s like fighting fire with water and it works like magic. Of course remaining calm in the face of provocation is far easier said than done, and that’s precisely why the approaches set forth on this website exist. Mediation and Collaborative Divorce are each designed to provide the containment necessary for people to divorce well. These approaches are designed to provide the emotional containment necessary so that people can respond not to the heat of the moment but with a clear understanding of the larger picture, which includes an appreciation for the pain and challenges facing everyone in the family (including oneself).

Mediation is like a single fire hose trained on a burning building. Collaborative Divorce is like a bunch of them, all focused on the fire from different angles. The best approach in my view is that which is adequate to cool things down so that you and your spouse can make calm, rational decisions about what’s best for your children and yourselves while minimizing the financial and emotional costs.

Benefits of Working Together

  • Less Costly Than Litigation
  • Less Time Consuming Than Litigation
  • Reduces Stress on the Entire Family
  • Prioritizes the Needs of Children
  • Maintains & Restores Good Will
  • Allows For Creative Solutions
  • Leads to High Quality Settlements
  • Parties Themselves Retain Control
  • Maximizes Privacy

Collaborative Divorce Video

Here’s a news program about collaborative divorce that aired a number of years ago, in another state where i once practiced. The information remains accurate and the collaborative process works the same regardless of location or underlying law. If you think there’s a chance that you and your spouse might be able to work together amicably, I suggest you take a few minutes to watch. Ask your spouse to watch too. Even if you plan to negotiate your own divorce or attempt to reach settlement through mediation, the video will be worth viewing because it illustrates the experience of working together well.

Though it’s called “Collaborative Divorce”, the process works for other types of family law cases (e.g. legal separation, parentage, relocation, child support modification, etc.) as long as both parties are willing to be supported through a process which allows each of them to hear the other’s concerns with empathy and speak their own truthfully, in a manner the other can receive. With two attorneys, a coach, a child specialist (if there are children) and sometimes a financial specialist as well, this process offer a lot of support, which opens space for conversations people could not have had on their own.

It is Essential to Work Together when Children are in the Divorce Process

Please take a moment to watch the previews of the documentary Spilt, in which children explain in their own words the experience of divorce from their perspective. If you’re moved by the preview, I recommend watching the entire film and showing it to your spouse as well as other family members and friends who care about the children. Friends and family have a huge impact on divorce. They often steer their loved ones in exactly the wrong direction, not because they want to be harmful or cause conflict, but because they feel all the same emotions as the spouses themselves (anger, sorrow, hurt and, most of all, fear). So often, they don’t understand the consequences to the children when a divorce turns ugly. That’s why it’s essential that everyone who loves the children understand what they’re up against when their parents divorce.

Nuts & Bolts of Working Together

Efficient resolution of legal issues means helping clients separate what’s truly important from that which merely seems important in the heat of the moment. It’s easy for people to lose sight of what really matters. That’s how they find themselves caught up in those nightmare cases one hears about that dissipate savings, take years to resolve, damage children and destroy any possibility of preserving (or restoring) good will, leaving nothing but scorched earth behind.

For this reason, it’s crucial that clients separate those issues that will seem important years from now, when they look back on the case, from those which will seem trivial. Once emotions have cooled, things like the well being of children and making sure one received a fair share of resources will typically stand out as having truly mattered. Those are the sorts of interests that must be addressed carefully, thoughtfully and thoroughly.

However, given that attorneys are expensive and litigation can take months or years to unfold, it’s equally important to resist the temptation to get hung up on that which is not important, even if such concerns seem compelling in the moment.

In my view, the best attorneys do their best to guide clients to:

  • Place the needs of children first
  • Make efficient use of financial resources
  • Never lose sight of the emotional costs of divorce – for both the client and for the children

When both spouses are willing and able to act in good faith, keeping things non-adversarial is usually the best approach because it:

  • Allows for the most efficient resolution of conflict
  • Encourages parents to work together in raising their children while prioritizing the children’s needs and interests
  • Maintains and restores good will between the parties, reducing the chances of future conflict
  • Permits the spouses themselves to make important decisions rather than turning them over to a judge who, no matter how well intentioned, is still a stranger who cannot fully understand your needs or those of your children
  • Minimizes the emotional impact of divorce, which is particularly important for the well being of children
  • Minimizes the financial expense of divorce so that you can devote your resources to your needs and those of your children
  • Allows for creative problem solving, often leading to win-win settlements that a court would not have considered
  • Expedites the process so that you can get on with your life
  • Maintains privacy for both spouses and the children

Unfortunately, there are times when one spouse, for whatever reason, is not willing and able to work with the other. In those cases, litigation may be the best avenue by which to address the needs of your family. Typically, this will require more funds and time to achieve a less optimal outcome than would have resulted had both spouses worked together effectively and in good faith. However, you can only control your choices; not those of your spouse.

The court is analogous to the hospital emergency room in that each is a painful, terrifying and expensive place to be. No sane person wakes up on a beautiful day and says, “I hope I wind up in the emergency room today.” But if you were seriously injured, you would want to be in the emergency room as quickly as possible – even though it’s an expensive, frightening and painful place. Similarly, in the event you should need to protect your interests or those of your children from a spouse acting in bad faith, it might be wise to expeditiously get yourself and your case into court.

I no longer take cases to court. My entire practice is focused on providing legal advice, representing clients in negotiations (including mediation), helping to prepare legal documents, and helping people to understand each other and find win-win solutions to the challenges before them. When acting not as an attorney but as a mediator, my job is to remain neutral and help people have the kinds of conversations that lead to those win-win resolutions.

Resolving issues effectively and efficiently

Regardless of the particular approach, my goal is to help those who come to me for help to achieve the highest quality result while preserving as much of their financial and emotional resources as possible.