Collaborative Law from the Client Perspective: Cheri's Story, Part II

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. Continuing our post from last time, let's look at a few more of the benefits that Cheri shared with us. 

Big Picture Thinking

 There were things that were brought up in the meetings that you wouldn’t even think of, like how to talk to your kids about divorce, based on their age and their possible responses.

The MHP also had us look at things from a future perspective.  You know, normally when you think about custody, you think things like, “Well, we’ll just split spring break and Thanksgiving.” But, she reminded us that in maybe five years, one or both of us would be remarried and maybe we’d want to take the kids to our new in-laws a few states away and we’d want that whole time. I wasn’t thinking that way. I was in the here and now of the divorce.

No stone was left unturned. It’s so important that you know somewhat what life is going to look like post divorce. I have friends who have gone through litigation and they don’t know that.  It’s such a big difference with how Collaborative Law is set up.

It was nice to be watched through that process, through the big picture lens, because there is a lot you don’t think about at times like that.

Constructive Communication and Modeling Behavior for Future Success

Our MHP worked with us to learn how to talk to our oldest son about the divorce (the younger two were too young to understand). We had a blueprint for how to do it—to actually use the word “divorce” and how to respond to a range of responses we could have gotten from him.

Additionally, all the professionals modeled productive communication. They conveyed this sense of, “This is how you interact and what you do for your kids.”

Telling my oldest son about our divorce was a really difficult task. Just the three of us were in the room—my ex, my son and me. There I was, in the middle of a divorce I didn’t want, with the man who wanted it. But, we learned, during that process, that you take yourself out of the equation and do what’s best for the kids. That is how the Collaborative process is set up. Everyone acknowledges that it is hard, painful and difficult—and then they say, “Now what do we do to get through it in the best way possible?”

The Collaborative process gave me direction on how and what to communicate to my ex and the kids and what not to communicate. Now, when I talk to friends who are going through a divorce, but not in a Collaborative process, I hear things that make my skin crawl. The parents call each other names in front of the kids or worse--they use money and the kids themselves, as leverage.  That’s just not tolerated in the Collaborative process. You don’t think. “It’s him against her.”  You think, “How do we handle the inevitable?”

The Collaborative process absolutely informed how I interact with my ex now.  The way the professionals modeled behavior and communication provided great guidelines. The way they phrased questions was a great example, by asking in a really nice, neutral way that would not incite any angry feelings between us.

We have a lot of years and a lot of decisions still to make about our children. We are in constant communication with each other. If we’d gone through litigation, our communication may not have been as friendly or amicable. I wouldn’t describe us as friends, but we are friendly co-parents and even at times when he doesn’t always respond like the neutral professionals would, I learned from that process to not go into attack mode. Instead, I think about how I can let him know that I hear him and how I can resolve it by creating the fewest ripples in the water. 

We'll continue with Cheri's insights in our next blog!