Collaborative Law From the Client Perspective: Cheri’s Story

If you are considering entering a Collaborative process or simply interested in learning more about it, it’s helpful to hear about it from the perspective of a client. During a recent collaborative law training conference, a group of Collaborative professionals in Anchorage were lucky enough to learn from someone (we’ll refer to her as Cheri) who had experienced the process as a client. Cheri was very candid and articulate about her experience and I think that sharing her story can provide valuable insight to my readers, as well. 

Background

Cheri and her ex-husband were married over ten years. At the time that their divorce proceedings began, they had three little boys, ages four months, two and five.

The divorce was totally unexpected for Cheri. She and her husband had never spoken about it before and she did not want it. She was shocked and overwhelmed.

Cheri’s ex-husband presented the idea of a Collaborative Divorce to her, with the reasoning that it would be a faster and cheaper way of going about it. As she learned more about the process, Cheri thought is was a worthwhile pursuit and agreed to do it. They hired their Collaborative-certified attorneys who then put together the Collaborative team.

Specific Challenges of the Case

Cheri’s ex-husband was pursuing a secondary degree at the time of the divorce and was living in another state. Their children remained with Cheri. There were a lot of details to figure out, based on the logistics of living in different states and her ex-husband’s schedule.  It was hard to pin down how much time he would spend with the kids and when.

The Benefits of Collaborative Divorce (in Cheri’s words)

Clearly Defined Roles

When you are going through something like this, you have no idea what to expect. I was so overcome with grief that I couldn’t even think all the details through, but that is what’s so great about the process. Everything is laid out for you. We had four people there to look at my ex, the boys and me. The Mental Health Professional (MHP) said, “I am neutral. I am here to look at the well being of the whole family.” We knew, right from the beginning, what her role was.

My attorney also let me know about the agenda of each meeting and that we were not to deviate from it. It was important to stick to it.  She even let us know that we (my ex and I) would be sitting next to each other, because we were there as a team for the kids. 

A True Team Approach

During the meetings, I never felt like we were against each other. The two attorneys respected each other and I could see that. I always felt warmness and a nice gentleness from my ex’s lawyer.  Kindness was palpable from both attorneys. That’s really important, especially in a really hard and difficult time--to have an atmosphere like that to help guide you through this process.

It’s a nice way to go through something really painful.  Because, it’s very easy to let your emotions get the best of you, whether it’s sadness or anger or just uncontrollable. And you have these four professionals who have given you these boundaries. I always felt free to feel whatever emotions I felt and there were many, many meetings where I just cried and cried and I always felt kind of safe and okay doing that. I felt like everyone respected that. 

We'll continue sharing Cheri's insights in our next post . . .