This blog post is from Melinda L. Eitzen, a collaboratively trained family law attorney with the Dallas-area firm Duffee + Eitzen, LLP. She is also the co-author of “Divorce the Collaborative Way, Is it the way for you?” which is available at Amazon.com.
I recently worked on a divorce case where the husband took the family pet hostage as a bargaining chip. It didn’t work out well: Hostage situations rarely do. There is a better way to resolve a divorce, and it’s called collaborative divorce.
Collaborative divorce works well because it allows you to determine the terms of your divorce according to your interests (your individual interests, the interests you and your spouse may share with one another, and the interests of any young children you may have) rather than your positions. Your interests represent the needs you want to satisfy through your divorce agreement. They are the whys behind your positions. The members of your team will help you define your interests before you begin to work out your deal. Their help can be invaluable, because when you are getting divorced, your emotions can make it difficult for you to figure out what you really need.
Interest-based negotiating makes it easier for you and your spouse to come up with solutions to the issues in your divorce that are acceptable to both of you.
A collaborative divorce is, fundamentally, a future-oriented process. Therefore, you’re less apt to make short-sighted decisions that might satisfy your needs next month, next year or the year after, for example, but not be in your long-term best interest.
Focusing on the future also helps minimize the likelihood that you’ll try to use your divorce to relive all the things that went wrong in your marriage, or to punish your spouse for what you believe he or she did to contribute to the end of the marriage — things that often happen in litigated divorces. If you do wander into this area, the members of your team will help you regain your focus.
Also, because of the forward focus of the collaborative process, no one on your divorce team will accuse you of being a lousy spouse or bring up all of your shortcomings. In a litigated divorce, however, your spouse’s attorney is apt to do just that, in order to put your spouse in a better position.
Going through a divorce is an intense emotional experience for nearly everyone, no matter how the process goes. However, one of the benefits of the collaborative divorce is that the team members will help you manage your emotions, so that they are less apt to interfere with your ability to make good decisions and make your divorce more difficult. For example, if the mental health professional notices during a team meeting that things are getting tense between you and your spouse, or that one or both of you is having a difficult time staying focused on the agenda item you’re supposed to be discussing, a professional may:
— Suggest that you and your spouse agree to take a short break from your negotiations so that you can have some time to calm down.
— Suggest that the two of you meet one-on-one (as an example, the wife and the mental health professional or the husband and the mental health professional) so she can understand why you’re so upset and suggest things you can do to manage your emotions.
— Refer you to a mental health therapist, if she believes that you would benefit from some ongoing therapy. As a neutral member of your team, the mental health professional cannot act as your therapist.
— Recommend that you and your spouse consider suspending your negotiations for a while, if you are too emotional to be a productive participant in your divorce.
Many couples find that because they receive help handling their emotions within the structure of the collaborative divorce process, it’s a lot easier for them to be pleasant to one another outside of their team meetings. This is a particularly important benefit of the collaborative divorce if they are raising young children together.
So, if you’re thinking about divorce this New Year, be sure to make a resolution not to take the gerbil hostage. Instead, look to divorce with honor through the collaborative process.