The Truth about Collaborative Law
A Letter to Teenagers Whose Parents are Divorcing
Even though collaborative law is now a well-established effective way to resolve divorce (even codified in state law in Washington and elsewhere), I’m always surprised by how many misconceptions continue to exist. While I can’t presume to speak for all collaborative professionals, here are some truths from my many cases this last decade since I started doing collaborative divorce work, to challenge some of the most common misunderstandings about this supportive conflict resolution process.
MISCONCEPTION #1: Collaborative law is more expensive than other divorce processes.
TRUTH: A collaborative process almost always costs less than a litigated divorce. Data from my cases shows that collaborative divorces almost always cost notably less than a traditional court-based process – and that’s even with no court hearings (which add significant attorney fees).
Trump is not Like the Divorced Dads I Know
I don’t know you, but I do live with three teenagers and one tween (my son and three stepkids). I also have been through my own divorce, and I work with a lot of parents going through divorce. I might even be working with one of your parents, and although I will never meet you, there are a few things I would love to share with you.
First, and most importantly, your parents’ divorce is not your fault. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been a straight-A kid who happily does lots of chores, or if you’ve been a disrespectful rebellious kid (like I was from age 13 to 25!) who has created some angst for your parents these last few years. Parents do not divorce because of their kids. In fact, I can almost guarantee that your parents have tried to avoiddivorce because of you, and their deep desire to never hurt you.
What Cancer Taught Me About Being a Divorce Attorney
I know lots of divorced dads. I’m married to one, I co-parent my son with another, and probably half of my clients are divorced dads (or soon to be). As a divorce lawyer and a divorced mom, I know well the challenges that divorced parents (not just dads) face.
I admire Michelle Obama. I read her memoir cover to cover in a couple of days and was heartbroken when I missed out on tickets to see her at the Tacoma Dome. In general, I think she is a classy role model with loads of integrity and intelligence. But, as my teenage son would say, she really “GOOFED” a few weeks ago when she compared Donald Trump to a divorced dad.
Teenagers & Divorce Clients
At the end of of August, my law practice felt busy, I received some nice publicity in the local newspaper — and I was diagnosed with breast cancer. For the first time in awhile, I landed on the other side of the professional relationship: a vulnerable patient / client in need of professional help to navigate a difficult patch in life. Sitting in clinic waiting rooms with pastel walls, silk flower arrangements, and brochures with pink ribbon logos, I had plenty of time to reflect on what I needed on any given day. I’m hoping my experience will make me a more empathetic divorce lawyer, as I learned a lot from the professionals charged with guiding my decisions and safeguarding my long-term well being. Distilled to the most basic list, these are the things I’ve most needed from my medical team, and would want from any professionals, supporting me during an unexpected life detour.
My Modern Family
This year will be my third of living with at least one teenager -- with nine more years to go. Yes, nine. My son turned 13 last year, my stepdaughter is 15, and my oldest stepson will turn 13 this summer. My youngest stepson will celebrate his first teenager birthday when the others are 16, 17, and 19. So, in this first month of 2016, I’ve been reflecting on -- and riding -- the roller coaster of parenting teenagers. And just like the best theme park rides, this one also brings moments of fear, excitement... and occasionally an urge to squeeze my eyes shut and hope for it to end quickly.
Recently after a particularly intense day at work, I realized that being a divorce lawyer bears some similarities to parenting teenagers. I try to bring a "beginner's mind" to both, so I’m constantly skimming articles for advice and reflecting on ways I could approach both tasks with more grace. Given my observations over the last few years, I have some thoughts (perhaps belated New Year’s resolutions) on how I want to approach this next year, at work and at home.
You're a... divorce lawyer?
On the 4th of July, one of my favorite holidays on Bainbridge Island, I enjoyed our small town Americana parade this year with my husband, his kids, their mom (my husband’s ex-wife), her husband, my son, his dad (my ex), my ex’s girlfriend and sister and stepsister, my parents and my brother’s family. I’m not sure if I could diagram that family tree even if my happiness depended on it -- but there I was, because my kid’s (and stepkids’) happiness perhaps did depend on it.
At the time my ex-husband and I decided to divorce, I never envisioned that I’d spend the 4th of July cheering for the roller hockey players and enjoying the marching band with a group of 18 people connected through various current and past family relationships. Our unlikely group didn’t necessarily represent everyone’s first choice of whom to sit with on Madison Avenue. But it’s the life that we’re living, mostly because our kids are at the center and it was important for them to enjoy the holiday with the adults they did. The kids keep us together.... whether we like it or not.
Typical cocktail party small talk: What do you do? My answer, "I'm a divorce lawyer," elicits some fairly predictable responses: "That must be so difficult," or "You must be really cynical about marriage," or "Oh..." (this last comment perhaps by those wondering if my recent consults have included their friends, or spouses).
When I go on to explain that I actually love my work, many people initially sound skeptical. But my collaborative divorce law practice aims to bring some important values and positive contributions to clients going through the hardest times of their lives. We've all heard the statistics that half of marriages end in divorce. It's a transition time not unlike many others in life: relocating to a new city, looking for a different job, grieving the loss of a loved one. Many things don't go as we plan. Relationships change, people grow apart, conflicts arise. And divorce happens.