Category Archives: My Approach

Of course, you’ll get a great deal of ‘information’ about me and how I work from my other writings. But sometimes I may just write directly about it here.

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!

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 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.

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.

 

There is only ONE Divorce Process

You may have heard people talk about litigation and mediation and Collaborative Practice.  But actually those are processes that can be used to support you in the divorce process.  The Divorce Process remains the same in each of them.  That process is one of making decisions.  The decisions that have to be made determine your individual futures AND that of your children.

In the end, only a judge can declare that you two are divorced.  You remain married until that moment….no matter how much you may be ready for it to be otherwise, no matter what living arrangements you have, no matter what money may change hands between you….you are still married.  In order for that judge to make that declaration, you and your soon-to-be-ex must agree on the required decisions.  If you don’t, the judge will have to make those decisions and you will both have to abide by whatever s/he decides.

Most people prefer to reach agreement on those decisions for themselves.  And most of them do…or at least reach a ‘settlement’.  [fewer than 5% of divorce cases actually get “decided” by a judge].  But what kind of support do they get in making those decisions?  That’s where the different ‘processes’ I mentioned come into play.

Collaborative Practice

– This approach openly acknowledges that it may not always be easy for you two to work together as your marriage comes to an end.  It provides for not just attorneys, but also financial neutrals and mental health professions to be actively involved in sorting out the circumstances and in coaching you two through the difficulties.  Your attorneys are left free to focus on crafting with you two the best ways to meet each of your, and your children’s, post divorce needs.  YOUR needs, not what someone else thinks you should need.  And not what anyone else says you should ‘want’ or ‘expect’ or ‘demand’.  You two and your professionals sit down together and help you determine those needs and how best to meet them.  Everybody involved agrees in writing that there isn’t even a judge involved until you two reach agreement on the decisions that you need to make.

Mediation

– This approach also focuses on you two talking face to face with the support of a single person trying to help you do so.  This person is supposed to be completely neutral and cannot advise either of you about ‘the law’ and may not even be allowed to draft any court papers for you.  The support a mediator can give is mostly limited to helping you each to converse in a productive way.

Litigation

– This is what most people think of when they hear the word ‘divorce’.  A couple who can’t or won’t reach agreement.  Their lawyers each try to get the judge to reach the decision that their respective client ‘wants’.  And then, as it gets closer to the day the judge actually has to make that decision, both of them turn to their respective clients and urge them ‘you should agree to…” something that the lawyers have ‘worked out’.

These are very simplistic descriptions of each of these support processes.  That is intentional, because none of them changes the actual Divorce Process itself.  You and your soon-to-be-ex MUST reach agreement OR a judge will decide for you.  The question that you have to address at the start is, how much and what kind of support will you need in order to work together to reach agreement?

Collaborative Practice offers you the best option for whatever amount of support you need.  If you have any reason to think things may get difficult in your divorce, I hope you will consider this very actively supportive approach.  I hope so because decisions that YOU two work together to agree upon, will be much easier ones for you to continue to be able to live and work with…even after that judge declares that you are divorced.

Feel free to contact me with questions!