Divorce is known to be one of the most stressful events a person can experience. And the incidence of divorce has progressively risen over the last fifty years. We likely all know someone who has been divorced if it’s not ourselves. I myself was never divorced but experienced divorce first hand as a child, when my parents announced they were separating. I was 2 1/2 when the process began.
Divorce is destabilizing, demoralizing, overwhelming at times, and threatening to your sense of security and sense of self. I watched as my parents struggled to make it through. Over the years I have reflected on my developing role in my family as a ‘mediator’ and ‘peacemaker.’ I just wanted my parents to get along, and to be ok. I just wanted to know that they loved me and that we would be ok. I often didn’t receive the love and reassurance I needed and understood, even a that early age, that it wasn’t because my parents didn’t love me, but because they didn’t have the resources or ability to give me what I needed at the time because of what they were going through. I saw how my community pushed us away perhaps because of the drama and instability of our family mess. I felt ostracized at times from friends’ parents growing up: guessing that they perceived me as unsafe and a potentially negative influence because I was coming from a ‘broken home.’ I saw how my dad struggled to barely exist with little money and little happiness. I saw my mother in tears regularly, she was “a mess,” fighting to figure out a way to navigate the workforce as an immigrant with little working experience. It seemed that, at times, my parent’s attorneys inspired suspicion, winning and money as the thing that mattered most in their divorce. My parents divorce was final when I turned 8 years old. There was lots of “fall out,” from our family’s break-up, and to this day there are aspects of the damage from that break-up that persist.
These formative experiences shaped me in various ways and inspired me to want to help others through a career in mental health. So I pursued an undergraduate and subsequent graduate degree in the mental health field and now work as a mental health professional. It was in the last 10 years that I started focusing my attention primarily on helping people through the divorce process. The catalyst for specializing in divorce (and collaborative family law), stemmed from a phone call with a family attorney who introduced me to the Collaborative Process. She described a new approach to handling divorce that was multidisciplinary, supportive, and appropriately tailored to the comprehensive financial, emotional and legal needs of people suffering through the process. I started to get extremely excited and hopeful for the potential this process offered to people in their most vulnerable times.
The Collaborative Process.
Two attorneys, each representing their respective clients (spouses), a neutral financial expert, and a neutral facilitator (with a background knowledge and experience in mental health and child development), work together in a collaborative way to help each spouse problem solve ways to meet the needs of their family, finances, and other shared aspects of their life that would have to be rearranged to fit into a new family structure of being separate. All members maintain transparency of their role and their activities through the process. Occasionally a child specialist, parenting coordinator, or other professionals may be brought in to the process when additional support or input is needed. The multidisciplinary team helps the family to address all issues that need resolution in a divorce process. The facilitator’s role is to manage emotions in the process, inside and outside of team meetings, and to improve the spouses ability to constructively communicate and respectfully resolve conflicts. The attorney’s approach is different from litigation in that they are motivated and interested to help the spouses achieve agreements that are mutually satisfactory and sustainable for their future. The attorney’s involvement is bound by a participation agreement that commits them to the collaborative process so that their services cannot be used outside the process, if the collaborative process falls apart. The participation agreement is a key piece of the collaborative process that re-orients the attorneys’ approach toward a peacemaking mindset in leu of a adversarial mindset as in a litigating process. The Collaborative Process is best suited for people who want to work things out fairly, are wiling to be transparent, are interested in the wellbeing of their spouse, preserving family relationships and putting the needs of their children before their own.
Since learning about the Collaborative process over six years ago, I have become an enthusiastic advocate. I have invested most of my extra time and training into promoting the development and exposure of this process locally. I have attended every Collaborative Conference In Florida, became trained as a Collaborative Facilitator, Certified as a Family Mediator, Qualified as a Parenting Coordinator, and am part of a monthly divorce workshop called Second Saturday Broward. I am an active member of the Broward, and Boca Collaborative Practice groups and the Florida Academy of Collaborative Professionals. I now focus my work on helping people navigate through the divorce process. From my perspective, the Collaborative Process is a more effective way to avoid unnecessary conflict, insecurity, emotional and financial hardship brought on by litigation. Spouses are supported, coached and empowered to effectively communicate, problem solve and cooperate within the process and, as a result, experience long lasting benefits.