This blog post is from Angela Soper, who has been a Clinical Social Worker for over 20 years and is in private practice based in The Woodlands. She is licensed in the state of Texas and is also a trained Neutral Mental Health Professional and a member of the Collaborative Law Institute of Texas. She specializes in trauma recovery and marital therapy.
Each year when I was an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University, I would have my graduate students watch the movie Kramer vs. Kramer and pay attention to the dynamics between the two divorcing Kramers and their eight-year-old son. I wanted them to see how a child reacts to divorce, and I wanted them to see the very real issues that come to play when parents are deciding custody and wondering about their rights as parents. The acting was sublime, and the child accurately portrayed the phases and stages of grief after his mother left, and the confusion about who to stay loyal to after she returned. It’s an old movie but well worth watching. Though made long before Collaborative Law existed, I imagine that the outcome would’ve been vastly different had they hired an interdisciplinary team had it been available to them.
What stood out to me was the courtroom scene (relax, I know it’s Hollywood) when the opposing counsel tries to rip the client’s ex to shreds (maybe not so Hollywood after all?) in an effort to gain sole custody. It was clear that the two Kramers were uncomfortable with the way each attorney was handling their case, but let’s face it, they wanted to win. Not once did the attorneys indicate that they were concerned about the child and how this would affect him. Dustin Hoffman, when asking his attorney if he had to be so hard on Meryl Streep on cross examination gets a bored but firm answer, “You want to win, don’t you?”
Not so with Collaborative Law. What has struck this mental health professional is that both attorneys at the table want each person to “win,” particularly if children are involved. There is a respect that each parent wants to spend time with their children and that that is in their best interest. The language of “parenting time” instead of custody is also beneficial. It takes the bite out of a difficult transition for all and shows respect for each parent, regardless of who has “primary possession.” No one is babysitting their own child; they are trying to spend as much time as they can with children who did not ask to be separated from a parent. And, when the professionals are meeting with the couple, each person is treated with respect and dignity, understanding that this is a difficult process for everyone, not just the children.
A huge advantage to the Collaborative Law process is that each parent is hearing the same thing during a team meeting, and also when meeting “off-line” with a neutral mental health professional about parenting plans. When each member of the team does its part, the couple knows that the team wants each of them to succeed both during the divorce process and years later when they are still co-parenting their child(ren). That, it seems, is truly a “win.”