A lawyer is trained to solve problems. We look for solutions that meet the interests of our clients. All too often, while we are focused on the destination, the resolution, the “win,” many of us miss the opportunities for healing and growth along the way. We fixate on the outcome as opposed to the process. This is where the Collaborative Practice model shines a bright light on the opportunities for empowerment and camaraderie. It starts with setting goals. This applies to us as lawyers, the divorcing couple with a complex emotional history, and to all the people whose lives are about to be forever changed by their divorce.
Traditional divorce lawyers get people divorced. Approximately 98% of the time, divorces are resolved without resorting to a fully contested evidentiary hearing, the biggest gun in the lawyer’s arsenal. The outcome is clearly defined: we want to win the case and get our clients what they said they wanted when we first met. This approach does not require a lot of imagination, although it does require a tremendous amount of time, energy, and trial advocacy skills. The clients pay mightily for this exercise, both financially and emotionally. It is an adversarial process. That is how it is designed and that is how it will end, unless there is an intervention early in the decision-making process.
Early in the Collaborative Practice model, there is a “goals” meeting. It may sound like fluff, but I assure you it is quite substantive and important. We educate our clients about the differences between a “position” and an “interest”. These are the typical concepts of a traditional negotiation/mediation. Collaborative Practice goes deeper than identifying “interests.”
- What are your goals for this process, for your children, for your future relationship with your spouse?
- What do you really want?
This requires that the couple take time to reflect on how they want their life to look in the short term (while the divorce is happening), in the medium term (a couple of years after the divorce), and in the long-term (five years and beyond). Goals set intentions. If you do not set an intention for your own future, who will?
This exercise creates space. Space to breath after the wind has been knocked out of you. Space to contemplate. Space to be creative. Space to listen to yourself, not the voices of society, or well-meaning parents, friends, scared children or, most importantly, your soon to be former spouse whose opinion about your goals is no longer relevant. There is no need to fear sharing goals, since there is no judgment, and each person is entitled to their own. This is often a moment of revelation. The safety of the Collaborative Practice paradigm ensures it is shame-free and open. There is no need to worry that your goals are too big, too adventurous, too risky, or just too much. It is an exercise to start thinking beyond the trees for the forest. It is an exercise to set the intention for how the divorce process will move forward. For the clients it is empowering. For the professional team (lawyers, mental health coach and financial neutral) it provides insight into the clients’ aspirations which gives us something to strive for as well.
Webster defines the differences:
Position – a point of view, adopted or held to
Interest – right, title or legal share of something; participation in advantage and responsibility
Goal – the end toward which effort is directed.
Since the divorce process is going to take effort, why not take the time at the outset of this massive life transition, to identify values, goals, and plans to emerge from divorce, healthy and wholehearted? This is the beginning of the rest of your life.
Ironically, divorce provides the perfect platform to discover who you are at this time of your life, and to seriously question and identify how you will walk through and live your post-divorce life.
This is not easy work. Divorce is hard. Find the right Collaborative Practice attorney to help guide you along this non-adversarial path toward divorce. Even if you didn’t ask for this divorce, you still have a choice about how you handle yourselves. I encourage you and your spouse to consult with separate Collaborative Practice divorce lawyers to educate yourself about this paradigm shift. Even if you don’t choose this process, take the time to set some goals and share them with a trusted friend or advisor.