All posts by carl Michael rossi, JD, LPC

Full time Peacemaker

Some folks are taken aback when they hear from me, or from my web presence that I do NOT do any litigation anymore.  That I focus all of my efforts on supporting people in working together to find the answers that work for both of them.

My colleague and friend David Hoffman from Boston recently has a TED talk that expresses much of why I, and a growing number of others, have taken this approach.  InJoy!

Why would I want a TEAM of professionals?!?

There are a number of topics that you two have to discuss and reach agreement upon in connection with the ending of your marital relationship. Some are legal, but frankly, many of them are financial and all of them have the potential for being very emotional. That’s why in Collaborative Practice we offer professionals with expertise in each of these areas as part of a team that can best outline and clarify the complicated things and can best help you each to work through the emotions of the experience and help you with solid ideas of what actually is in the best interests of YOUR children.
In this video, prepared by our good friends in Ontario, you’ll see a nice overview of each of the available team members and how their presence benefits you and makes the process more efficient.

I don’t want to be your shepherd.

The divorce process is one of discussions leading to decisions. The discussions and decisions are best if they are jointly held and made. How difficult this is depends on who the two people are. How much and what kind of support do you two need to have the discussions? to embrace a perspective in those discussions that will result in decisions you can both live and continue to work with?

The image that comes into my head is of the difference between a Shepherd and a Sherpa.

Sheep are considered ‘stupid’ and shepherds are necessary because the sheep get so caught up in what they ‘want’ in this moment [o, look, a blade of grass!] that they don’t see danger and won’t even realize where they’ve gotten to and thus are lost. But other than driving them where s/he thinks they ‘should be’ and keeping the wolves at bay, the shepherd doesn’t do much for the sheep.
The sherpa on the other hand is there to support travelers who know where they want to go and are willing to even make their own decisions on the path to follow to get there. The sherpa offers support for THAT journey. The sherpa may decline to take them on that path, but isn’t there to tell them they ‘have to go’ this other way.

Litigation assumes people are fundamentally stupid and need to be managed [the self-serving term that is used is ‘protected’] or they will get eaten alive. Collaborative Practice presumes people can work together and make decisions, though some need some support.

I will always encourage and offer support that I believe might help you on the path you have chosen. I will explain to you how I believe that it might help. I will never tell you “that’s just how it’s done”.
I might decide that I choose to not stay on that path with you if you decide against the help. That doesn’t mean your decision is in any way ‘wrong’.

I am not a shepherd. I won’t treat you like a sheep.

Expanding my Services

Since 2000, I have offered Collaborative Practice service to couples who wanted that type of support as they worked through their decisions about their divorce.

Recently I decided to expand the services I offer as I encountered a steady stream of people who were ready to divorce each other who did not want the input of 2 attorneys or a team of professionals in Collaborative Practice.  And they definitely did not want to do litigation.

What they wanted was someone to help them make sure they were talking about the things they needed to and maybe help them translate their decisions into documents they could bring to court and handle the proceedings their on their own.

So what I can offer you, as a couple, as options include:

  • Using me as a straight Mediator.  Even if you’re already involved in litigation.
  • Using me as a Third Party Neutral, to guide your discussion through the topics on which you must reach decisions.
  • Working with you to prepare the papers required by the court and the clerk and getting you ready to head to court on your own.

In this role, I do not ‘represent’ either of you.  And definitely do not ‘represent’ both of you.  So it’s important that you understand that I can’t give you ‘legal advice’.  That means I can’t tell you whether decisions you two are agreeing to are ‘good’ ones.  Nor can I tell you whether you ‘might do better’ if you litigated.  [The truth of course is that you always ‘might’ do better.  You also ‘might’ do worse.  But in either even you will be spending a lot of money to find out.]

If you or someone you know would like to explore these Unbundled Services, I’d be honored if you were to contact me.

 

Maybe if Santa tells you?

Sometimes I work with clients who firmly believe that “I know what’s best for the children.”  And then of course s/he and the other parent get into an argument over whose thoughts about “what’s best” will prevail.

I talk to them from my experience [not as a parent, but as a divorce professional], I refer them to mental health professionals. We tell them, sometimes to their chagrin, that what is BEST for their children is if the two of them work TOGETHER going forward.  They won’t be married anymore, but they MUST still be partners.

But I don’t think any of us could say it any better than does the Man in Red from this episode of Highway to Heaven:

 [You can see the whole episode here.]

“Maybe we should do away with the Family Courts….”

This rhetorical question is the closing line of a documentary film due to be released January 10, 2014.  “Divorce Corp.” summarizes some of the worst experiences of the Family Court system.  As I’ve said here before, I choose to not see the ‘system’ as inherently flawed, much less evil.  I’ve got to say, though that having seen an advance copy of the movie it makes a compelling argument to the contrary.

If you have any questions about why I and other Collaborative Practice professionals ask our own rhetorical question – “Do you really want to leave the decisions about your family in the hands of lawyers and a judge?” – viewing this film will answer them all.  You and I may not be able to ‘do away’ with the Family Court, or even improve it.  But by engaging with your spouse in a productive way in the Collaborative Practice process or Mediation, you can side step it.  If you are moving toward divorce, or know someone who is, I hope that you will check out this film.  And that you two will choose to use a process and reach decisions that actually work for YOU!

I’m honored to have been invited to participate in a Q & A panel following the film’s initial screening here in Chicago at the AMC Showplace Galewood 14 theater, January 10, 2014.  I’d love to address your questions there.  You can order tickets directly from the movie’s creators here.

Here is a trailer from the film:

Your first meeting with an attorney

When you make plans to see an attorney about your divorce, you will be able to find lots of suggestions for what information to bring, what questions you will be asked. These suggestions are all focused on the attorney. This is information the attorney uses to make guesses in answer to only one just question: “What is going to happen? What will the outcome be for me?”
I say “guesses” because that’s just what they are. Educated. Experienced. But still guesses. No worthwhile attorney would ever tell you “THIS is what your result will be.” But that’s what you’ve likely been told to ask about. That, and how much the whole thing will cost.
I’m suggesting that you think about asking some different questions. Ones that will actually help you in your initial consultation.

What they are and how they will help you more was the subject of an article I was recently honored to have published in The World of Collaborative Practice magazine. You can read it here.

It was also a topic I addressed when I was interviewed by Joanie Winberg, creator of the “Survive and Thrive After Divorce BOOT CAMP“, as part of her “Ask Joanie” Series.     Here’s that interview.    I look forward to you asking me your questions.

Why am I willing to meet with BOTH of you?

If you contact me, I will say something that very few other lawyers will.  “I’d like to suggest that you and your spouse come in together for an initial consultation.”

First, let’s understand why most lawyers do not do that.  It is because if they are hired to go to court, to litigate, they are ONLY working for the advancement of that one spouse.  And something that might be said while meeting with both of you, could compromise their ability to do their job.  Maybe even to the extent that you have to hire a different attorney.  It’s not that they don’t care about your spouse, it’s just that the rules of litigation require formal consistent separation of your interests from your spouse’s. And generally they are treated as if they are at odds; that you CAN NOT end up with what you need if your spouse gets what s/he needs.

I no longer do ANY litigation.  What that means is that I will NOT represent either of you ‘against’ the other.  I ONLY work with clients who are willing to work together to jointly reach the decisions that must be made in order for a court to agree to dissolve their marriage.  And who understand that it is absolutely possible to reach decisions that address everyone’s needs.

This also means that in our consultation I will be focusing on the ways in which I WOULD be willing to work with you.  They include:

  • Collaborative Divorce [in which I work with 1 of you while the other has a separate attorney and we ALL work together]
  • Mediation [in which I am neutral and merely I facilitate your dialogue]
  • Legal Coach/Consultant [in which you merely ask me specific questions and I give you my best legal opinions]

When we meet I will be explaining each of these in more depth.

When I work with clients, the goal is to meet everyone’s needs going forward as best as possible with what you currently have.  To begin your no-longer-married relationship on as solid and peaceful a footing as you can.

If what you must have is a ‘win’, I’m probably not the right person.  If what you want is to move forward with respect and compassion, I’d be honored to help either or both of you.

A Divorce “Expo” ??

Why would you consider attending The Divorce Expo?  The Divorce Expo

We’re looking forward to hearing from the organizers of this event about when it will be coming back to Chicago.  We’ll let you know as soon as we do !

Well, let’s start off simply.  I’m been asked to be there to do a presentation on “Collaborative Divorce”, so I’d love to see you and your friends there learning about this constructive approach to dissolving a marriage.  You may not be heading toward divorce, but you may well know others who are.  If they are not ready or able to attend, you can do them a great service by doing so and sharing what you learn.  Or maybe you’ll just come with them for support.

But I won’t be the only person there and Collaborative Practice won’t be the only thing to learn about.  The Expo is described as being “…designed to give you opportunities to learn, share and discover how to take control of your divorce or separation. We want every one of our attendees to feel more confident about their future at the end of our time together.”

If you’re familiar with Collaborative Practice, you know that’s nearly a perfect description of our focus as professionals.  So the decision for me to accept the invitation was a very easy one.

The speakers will be addressing topics from single parenthood and co-parenting to financial planning and household organizing and transitioning to singlehood in a positive manner.

From the organizers:

The Divorce Expo™(TDE) will take place August 18th at the Hotel Arista, at CityGate Centre in Naperville.

“With 20,000 Illinois couples facing permanent separation each year, many thousands of people are in search of advice from experts in order to know what to expect and how to survive divorce.” said Christine McQueen, founder and CEO of Split Partners LLC, the organization sponsoring the event. “We’ve pulled all the expert resources together under one roof to help people gather the information they need. This unique event was very well received in Detroit last March so we decided to bring it to other Metro areas starting with Chicago.”TDE’12 offers access to a variety of exhibitors from across the Chicago metro area to showcase products and services in areas of finance, legal, real estate, divorce tools, parenting services, dating, fitness, health, interior design, career and more.

Private consultations, panel discussions and a variety of contests will be available to the attendees. Prize giveaways will also be awarded throughout the day. Prizes include a back to school gift basket, dining gift cards, or and a room makeover.

Conference registration starts at  8:30 am. The Conference runs all day through 6:30 pm on Saturday, August 18th. Early bird discount is $65 in advance and can be purchased through the The Divorce Expo™ website. A limited number of tickets will be sold at the door. Advance purchase is encouraged.  Admission includes all meals, access to all seminars, Social Sandbox events, and exhibits. Children 15 and under are not admitted.

 

Why do we take “Trainings” in Collaborative Practice?

Over the years since my first training in CP–Jan, 2000–I’ve taken over a dozen additional trainings, both basic and advanced. I’ve trained others several times, both basic and advanced. So someone might ask why would you do that?  Don’t you know ‘how to do it’ yet? Okay, so nobody really asked, but I’ll answer it anyway.

There are two ways in which CP differs from the standard practice of law, from ‘litigation’. One is process. The other is purpose. Or, HOW we do things and WHY we do them. Or we might say aptitude and attitude. The latter in all of those pairs is critical. It is what we collectively refer to as the ‘paradigm shift’.

Over the years, I’ve grown a bit concerned as the number of trainings and trainers has expanded–if not exploded–about my perception that the paradigm shift has been getting increasingly short shrift in basic trainings. Its importance gets mentioned, even emphasized, “Collaborative Practice requires us to make a ‘paradigm shift’. To change how we think about things and approach them.”  But little more is said about it; about the nature of the change, much less how to undertake it.  And then ensue 2 days or more of talk and role play about procedure. My concern is that with so much time being spent on protocols, the impression may be given that the paradigm shift means nothing more than simply following these protocols.

There was a note I scribbled to myself recently: “If you believe that you have made the paradigm shift, that alone may be good evidence that you probably have not.” I say that because the ‘paradigm shift’ is not ever complete. Because it is an internal reshaping of 1) how I see myself, 2) how I see my relationship with my client, the other client, and my colleagues, AND 3) what I see as my ‘job’.

That kind of shift is never complete, or done, or ‘made’.  It is always in process. And most importantly, no change in protocols will cause it to happen. Instead it is the shift in paradigm which prompts, indeed requires, a change in protocols. They are both part of Collaborative Practice, but they are not equal. Making one will require the other; but doing the other neither requires nor even prompts the former.

I know it’s easier to teach a course on when and how to meet and keep notes. And much easier to sell such a skills ‘training’.  I don’t mean at all to suggest that ‘how to’ is not helpful and important. However, if all we are teaching is a new set of ‘rules of procedure’, is CP really even worth getting excited about?  I don’t think that the first ‘basic’ training is at all too soon to begin suggesting that the ‘paradigm shift’ involves a good deal of ‘personal work’ and outlining ‘how to’ do that work as well. I hope to see more of it actively incorporated in basic trainings as we continue to grow.

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When you are choosing a Collaborative Practice professional, take the time to find out how much ‘training’ s/he has been through.  It does make a difference.

Also keep in mind that any professional who tells you s/he is ‘certified’ or a ‘specialist’ in Collaborative Practice is, well, stretching things.  There is absolutely no organization that ‘certifies’ Collaborative Practice professionals.  So, take the time to find out how involved in CP that professional has been.  Not necessarily how many ‘cases’ they’ve done, but how much they genuinely embrace that they haven’t learned everything yet and so they keep taking trainings.