This blog post is from Michael A Hiller, board certified family lawyer, Texas board of legal specialization with Hiller & Assoc., P.C., a full-service family law firm serving the Houston metroplex, including Harris, Ft. Bend and Montgomery counties.
Can collaborative law help me reconcile with my partner?
It can give you a chance. Collaborative Law gives you a “peace tent” and therefore an opportunity to discuss reconciliation as well as divorce. Texas Law allows for a “discernment counselor” — that is, a counselor can be used by the parties to help them determine whether reconciliation makes sense for them. Although this Texas Family Code Statute has been around for a while, training for reconciliation counselors is limited. Currently there is a “Reconciliation Project” in Minnesota experimenting with this training. In Texas, there is no formal project but there are efforts being made by individual attorneys such as Steve Campos in Austin and myself. I am exploring training with Houston therapists at this time.
What are the major differences between reconciliation in Collaborative Law and in a traditional court case?
In Collaborative Law, you don’t have the fear of a hearing coming down the pike or a judge not granting the counseling. You and your spouse can also take your time to decide, because you have two years to keep your case alive before it must be tried or dismissed. You don’t have the pressure of a quick trial setting, which will come in four to eight months in most divorce court cases. That can put a lot of heat on a marriage that is considering staying together.
Does my spouse have to want to reconcile too?
Yes. Although some experts say it only takes one person to save a marriage, in Collaborative Law, each of you has equal bargaining power. At the beginning of almost all divorces, one partner wants the divorce and one does not or at least wants the divorce less. It may be that your spouse doesn’t want reconciliation now, but may be open to “discernment counseling” to see if an objective person thinks your marriage can be saved. But, ultimately, it will take both of you to keep your marriage together.
Will all Collaborative lawyers be familiar with these reconciliation techniques?
No. This effort is new. If you or your spouse is interested, discuss this desire with your collaborative lawyer and have her contact Bill Doherty in Minnesota or me in Houston. But all Collaborative lawyers should be willing to be open to the possibility. If there’s a multidisciplinary team, including a mental heath professional, have your lawyer discuss it with the full team. There is no “one-size fits all” reconciliation, and these highly trained communication and financial coaches can be helpful.
There’s been an affair. Can I reconcile through collaborative law?
Yes. Affairs are not death sentences to successful reconciliation. Affairs, although very hard on a marriage, are often a symptom not a cause. If you as a couple are willing to work though this difficult situation, your marriage can become the envy of your friends’ marriages. But it will not be easy. And if one of you is a sex addict, or has some other mental health problem, then that person will have their own therapy to do for perhaps a year before the marriage counseling can begin.
What if we find a reconciliation counselor or coach who says our relationship has a chance. Then what?
If both of you are willing, a reconciliation counselor, or traditional marriage therapist can help. If only one of you wants to try to salvage the marriage, then you will likely end up pursuing a divorce. But if you are part of a community such as a church, mosque, or synagogue then that community may end up contacting the unwilling spouse to encourage marriage counseling itself. They may say, “We heard that the discernment counselor said your marriage is retrievable; why don’t you work on your marriage now?”
What if financial issues are our biggest problem? Will Collaborative Law give us a better chance than the courtroom for learning the skills to handle our financial disputes better?
Courts provide you virtually no opportunity to learn financial skills and the communication required to make those skills work. Some couples create a marital, or “post-nuptial” agreement that includes not only financial matters, but also agreements on how to work on and maintain the marriage. The Collaborative process provides an excellent opportunity to negotiate such an agreement. See previous blogs on this site for more information on “interest-based negotiation” used in collaborative law.
Can family violence be looked at in the reconciliation/collaborative model?
Perhaps. Family violence varies greatly from one family to another. But keep in mind that family violence, especially physical or sex abuse can be very serious and you should proceed very cautiously if you want to stay together. The victim of family violence has every right to pursue the divorce and should never be talked out of it.
If I am interested in reconciling with my partner. . .Why is collaborative law better for me?
Because if you have come this far your partner probably wants the divorce. If you go to court, you will likely lose almost all chance of keeping the marriage together. Most judges know almost nothing about reconciliation, and once the cycle of poor communication and conflict management is made worse by litigation, there will likely be no way back. Unless the Texas Legislature enacts legislation requiring marriage education in almost all divorces, Collaborative Law will probably give you the best chance to make your marriage work. And most importantly, Collaborative Law gives you an excellent opportunity to create a “marriage contract” or even a temporary order that sets out what work you will do on the marriage. For example that contract can say that you will go to a particular marriage counselor for 90 days, for a total of 10 times. You can then return to your Collaborative Law setting to discuss how your reconciliation effort is going.
What if I just want a divorce, Collaborative style?
Then by all means, get one. Reconciliation is a very personal matter, as is divorce, and no one should make you stay with your spouse if you do not want to. Collaborative Law was developed to give you a more dignified way to get divorced, not stay together, and let’s not forget that. Working on your marriage is just an alternative to divorce, not a requirement.