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. Today, we'll finish with a few final thoughts from Cheri.
How to Manage Expectations
From the beginning, the professionals told me what I could expect in meetings and we also talked about my goals, with the caveat that I wouldn’t get everything I wanted. They helped me to prepare for that.
There were times during the process that I had to let things go. For example, we had a great Financial Professional (FP) who played a really important role, because money can become such a sticky situation. Their neutrality helps. In my situation, we had enough money when we were together. Then, all of a sudden, there was no money. We had to figure out why that happened and how we were going to split it after the divorce. I made a budget during that process. I didn’t get that budget, but that’s okay. Did it look like how I thought it would look at the end? No, but everything turned out fine.
Additionally, sometimes in meetings, things are said and you could fight tooth and nail--you could battle it out-- but a big important thing to understand is that there has to be give and take. I loved that the Collaborative process demonstrated that. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I was incredibly sad and didn’t’ want it to happen. This process made it so much easier.
As time goes on, I see more and more that this process is a gift to a client. It is such a beautiful thing for families, because divorce can be so ugly and so hard and it doesn’t have to be.
Appropriate Timelines and a Personalized Process
The time of our first Collaborative meeting up until the signing of our divorce documents was about seven months. I did not have a timeframe in mind—especially, because in the beginning, I was hoping he would change his mind. My attorney told me that we would have about four to six joint meetings. Ultimately, we had about four. That was what we needed. The time did allow me to grieve. I was in a much better place, emotionally, at the end of the process. I was also seeing a therapist throughout, which was helpful.
In Collaborative Law, there is no standard way of figuring out the settlement terms. It doesn’t subscribe to typical custody processes. In this way, the process meets you where you are. My ex-husband’s decisions, starting with the choice to divorce me, were baffling to me. I was blindsided and I couldn’t recognize who he was anymore. Working with the Collaborative professionals leveled that out a bit. It focused us less on that aspect and more on how we were going to make those decisions work and have some sense of normalcy—because we couldn’t control his decisions.
During litigation, it would have been a lot easier to become angry because I think that’s how it’s set up.
This process is so fluid and gives you room to adapt. Now, my ex is back in the same city and his time with the kids is much more regular. I am very happy that my boys get to see their dad that much. And as for me, I want to shout “Collaborative Law!” from the rooftops.