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.
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.