No one goes into a divorce in a vacuum. Each divorcing partner brings their own history, priorities and values into the divorce process.
So, for example, a client I’ll call Paul had lost his father when he was eight years old and felt that absence very keenly throughout his life. He wanted his boys to know that they were his top priority and that he was always going to be there for them, no matter what. Although he had been deeply hurt by the discovery of his wife’s affair, he wanted to put that betrayal in its proper place and not have it taint every aspect of the future. Finally, Paul had some degree of empathy for how vulnerable his wife felt in the money arena, and he wanted to make sure that she was going to be comfortable financially, particularly since his boys would be living with her half of the time.
Another client, who I’ll call Ann Marie, was finally forced to face the fact that her husband was an alcoholic but didn’t want to spend her time and energy focused on blame and negativity. She acknowledges that he has good traits as well and that their children love him and crave time with him. She wants him to spend time with their kids but in a fashion which protects them, and wants to get the finances resolved in a mutually beneficial way and move on with her life. She had read about the Collaborative model on the web, and its promise that she would be directly involved in the decision-making around her divorce was very appealing to her.
Focus on Future Relationships. The focus of both of these clients on future relationships and the well-being of all family members is significant in terms of the appropriateness of the Collaborative process for them. Paul’s two sons are his highest priority – making sure that they come out of their parents’ divorce in good shape is very important to him. Although it is perhaps a stretch to say that he wants to be friends with his wife after divorce, it is clear that he doesn’t want to be bogged down in anger and recrimination. And he is able to express his empathy with his wife’s financial insecurity. In a similar vein, Ann Marie is able to acknowledge the strengths of her husband’s relationship with their children despite his addiction and wants the children to benefit from positive interactions with their father.
Client Self-Determination. Ann Marie, in particular, is able to articulate that she wants to have direct involvement in making the decisions in her divorce, as opposed to handing them over to a judge in the litigation model or to the attorneys in a negotiation model. She believes that despite all of her hurt and anger, she and her husband can focus on problem-solving in a respectful, constructive way. She knows that she will rely on the legal and mental health skill sets of her attorney and coach, but she believes she has the ability to stand up for herself and speak for herself in the Collaborative meetings.
Creativity. Ann Marie also welcomes the creative, problem-solving approach of the Collaborative process for figuring out how to ensure that her children benefit from the best of her husband, yet are protected from his flaws. She was pleased to learn that in the Collaborative process, a structure can be created for periodic check-ins on how the children are doing and on whether her husband is meeting certain benchmarks, and for modifications to address evolving needs. Similarly, Paul appreciates the flexibility and creativity that the parties can bring to figuring out the best possible financial arrangements to benefit themselves and their children. For example, he may agree to a higher level of support while his wife goes back to school, but then a reduced level of support after she completes her degree and gains employment.
An Emphasis on the Future. Both Ann Marie and Paul want to avoid being mired in blame for what happened in the past, and rather look to the best possible solutions for the future. They want a forward-looking process for resolving their issues which is based on integrity, mutual respect, and open sharing of information and ideas, and which aims for good outcomes for both spouses and, in particular, for the children.
If you value preserving and enhancing relationships, client self-determination, making creative problem-solving a hallmark of your divorce process, and focusing on the future, then the Collaborative process may be the right choice for you.