Collaborative Divorce is About Learning to Listen

When we talk about divorce, we often focus on the results of the negotiation or litigation: who got what, where the kids end up, how we ultimately feel about each other. There is no doubt that Collaborative Divorce evolved from the need to make the process of divorce better—to reduce harm and the need for litigation. Certainly, most Collaborative professionals recognize that “traditional” approaches to divorce are typically very expensive, take a high emotional toll and damage children. That’s why they’ve turned to Collaborative Divorce.

As a result, when touting the benefits of Collaborative Divorce, it’s easy to focus on the obvious outcomes in comparison to what they’d look like in a litigious situation. But, there are other benefits to Collaborative Divorce that aren’t as obvious.  Namely: it can make us all better people or help us to grow.

I was reminded of this the other day when I came across a 2007 episode of This American Life. A New York attorney, Barry Berkman talked about a simple, yet very important benefit of Collaborative Divorce. He said,

“Couples in conflict lose the ability to listen to each other . . . Part of lawyer’s role is to encourage them to listen--to recognize that your viewpoint doesn’t necessarily invalidate your spouse’s point of view.”

He went on to point out that:

“We are not going to get rid of the pain. Going through this process enables people to get in touch with that pain and the real sadness they are experiencing that is sometimes covered up by their anger . . . When process works, at least they end up feeling a little bit better about each other.”

In fact, he tells a story about one couple that actually got back together after learning to listen to each other through the process of Collaborative Divorce.

Of course, this isn’t the sole responsibility of the lawyer, that’s why a mental health professional is an important part of the team.

If you’re inclined, listen to the whole episode. It’s as relevant today as it was then. The only difference, I’m happy to report, is that divorce rates today are really only at 20-25% and dropping. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if those divorces could reap the benefits of Collaborative Divorce?