COMMUNICATING THROUGH COLLABORATIVE LAW

An article came out recently listing several apps which can make communication between divorced spouses or separated parents easier, especially communicaton about children’s issues.

One of the things I like about the collaborative law process is that it can be a good start for parents with conflict regarding children’s issues to begin communicating differently, to find a way to divorce more amicably, and also avoid some of the ongoing conflict that can come up in family law cases. There are some divorces where the court battles after the divorce continue for years. In addition to the cost and toll on the parents, at some point the conflict can have a negative effect on the children.

Collaborative divorce can be a flexible, open process, but it can also be a highly structured process, with a mental health professional (MHP) and two collaboratively trained attorneys there to manage the process – which involves each spouse having a chance to name their concerns and interests – what’s important to them.

In my experience, the process can work even if there is high conflict; and at some point one or both spouses or parents can come to a realization not unlike what happened for me while I was still litigating cases – there is often no need to get agitated, upset etc. over what the other party (attorney) is saying – you get your turn to talk soon.

The communication in collaborative law is based in part sometimes on a school of therapy called “Solution Focused” Therapy. Solution focused therapy is based on identifying an occurrence when things worked differently or better, and then replicating that experience. In litigation the experience for me was on an occasion during a hearing staying relaxed, finding that when the other attorney was done I got my chance to talk, and that taking that approach and remaining calm actually helped make me be more effective. That incident in Court worked and felt better for me, so I continued to replicate it in future hearings, at least a lot of times. The same can occur in a collaborative law meeting – you can experience a way of working through an issue that feels and works better, and seek to replicate that going forward.

It seems that another aspect sometimes as to why it can be so difficult to hear someone with whom you are in conflict make what amounts to accusations/allegations, in addition to situations where the other person’s communication is abusive or there has been too much of an ongoing assault on your self-worth, is concern that somehow if they get their say you’re losing, or you’ll lose the upper hand; or feeling defensive, or concern someone else will side with the “other side”. In collaborative law or any conflict, sometimes part of what the other person is saying might be accurate. Sometimes you don’t really lose by being able to in a calm way hear the other person – if you agree in part, then you agree; if the other person is wrong, they’re wrong – and that isn’t changed just because they talk for a few minutes.

One Judge at a family law conference years ago, told the audience of attorneys there was usually no need to get offended when an attorney on the other side was saying something outrageous – the Judge basically explained that the Judges know who the _____’s are. (In collaborative law, we generally avoid using terms like the other side – we’re supposed to say Joe and Mary or mom and dad, because we’re collaborating, not litigating against each other. Sometimes at the beginning of the process, though, you may feel that the other person is the other side)

So, you can have the experience in collaborative family law of being able to get through the negotiations/communications. It helps to have three professionals there to manage the process.

Now, even as I mentioned, although the Judges tend to know what different attorneys are like and to know who the _____’s are, it doesn’t mean that there is never the experience of a client going into court with their attorney, and walking away after a hearing with the sense that the result and the whole process was completely unfair. Which raises another benefit, in my opinion, of collaborative law – there is the opportunity to work through issues and come to an agreement with which you are both satisfied – keeping in mind that sometimes part of what the other spouse or parent is saying might be accurate, or at least it might not be completely clear that they are 100% wrong.

Member Of:
Broward County Bar Association
Florida Academy of Collaborative Professionals
Collaborative Family Law Institute
Collaborative Family Law Professionals of South Florida
The Florida Bar