This article is from Cristi Trusler, principal at Trusler Legal PLLC, and Melissa Williams, principal at Law Office of Melissa M. Williams, Austin-based family lawyers who include collaborative law in their respective practices.
The collaborative process is designed specifically to resolve conflict in a constructive and effective manner. Contrary to what many people believe, collaborative divorce is really not about holding hands and singing “Kumbaya.” Professionals who are genuinely committed to collaborative practice and have served on numerous collaborative teams possess the skills and expertise to guide families through the most contentious types of cases in family law.
For couples who think they fight too much, or for couples who think that they might have issues that would keep them from being candidates for collaborative law, we advise them to at least sit down with a collaboratively-trained professional to see what’s possible.
When it comes down to it, litigation is almost never a better option for families. No parent would tell you that their parenting relationship was made better at the courthouse. Courts and judges are limited in their ability to give parties the time they need to present their case, and they’re limited in their ability to come up with creative solutions that fit the needs and wishes of a particular family.
We are both attorneys who practice traditional litigation as well as collaborative divorce cases. We have recently worked on several collaborative divorce cases involving difficult or high conflict issues, including at least one case involving significant alcohol abuse, more typically seen at the courthouse.
In helping the clients decide whether the collaborative process would be a good fit for them, we each discussed the possible outcomes if the case went to litigation versus collaboration.
Each of us came up with the same conclusion in each instance: It would be a very challenging case for collaborating, but the negative impact would be less on the clients and the children involved if we could stay the course and keep their conflict in a private, solution- focused setting.
Although these cases were far from the “ideal” for using collaborative law, the clients, with guidance from the collaborative team, were able to come up with very creative options to arrive at solutions. When people are allowed to make decisions for themselves, with assistance of a wise team who have been down the same or a similar path many times, they are empowered.
By contrast, when people are handed decisions by a judge, they are deflated and often become more estranged from the other parent, and the children are more hurt and damaged than when the parents can make decisions for them instead of being “ordered” to do things for them.
Some attorneys and mental health professionals might argue that a case involving substance abuse issues is “not right” for the collaborative process, but we feel that a couple who wants to go through the collaborative process should be allowed to do so, provided that the attorneys and mental health professional working with the couple have the training and experience to handle the case.
If you are facing a divorce and have a challenging situation, such as alcohol abuse, meet with an experienced collaborative attorney to discuss your options. With the right collaborative team, you may be able to minimize the damage to your family that could happen as a result of going down the path of litigation.