I asked Nathan Cliber, an attorney here at Seattle Divorce Services, about ways that he helps the client navigate the tricky and challenging currents of their divorce.
He said that he finds it is very important to hold space for the client to be heard. Too many attorneys spend too much time talking about what they are going to do for the client and don’t spend enough time listening to the hopes and concerns of the client.
When the client is able to have their own voice in the divorce process, they are empowered to be a part of the team and help determine the direction we go in, to make choices about their own future.
Nathan also feels that keeping the case out of court as much as possible helps to empower the client as well. When we turn decisions over to a court, we lose the ability to make those decisions ourselves. Not only is it somewhat of a gamble, but the decision is being made by someone with less familiarity with the specifics of the situation than the clients themselves have. Therefore a decision by a court is likely to be more of a cookie-cutter solution, and less well-tailored to the needs of the parties.
In order to accomplish this, Nathan may recommend a Collaborative process, or he may use tools from the Collaborative process in a litigated case to reduce conflict and increase cooperative problem-solving.
This may be a simple as working to maintain good relations with opposing counsel, listening for opportunities for mutually beneficial agreements, inviting the other attorney to suggest solutions that would be attractive to BOTH clients (the main basis for agreement), avoiding bluster, and just spending the time to get to know the other attorney through informal conversation.
It may also involve using specific skills such as nonviolent communication techniques, or working to get behind the position. Nonviolent communication means talking to people in a way that they will find nonthreatening because when people feel threatened they tend to put up barriers and attack back, which shuts down productive interchange. Often this is a matter of not pointing fingers, not finding fault, and inviting people instead to help you with a problem YOU are having.
Working to get behind the position means trying to find out what is really driving people’s concerns. Someone might take a position that they want to stay in the family house. If through careful and nonthreatening inquiry you can discover that the reason they don’t want to move out of the family home is that they are afraid of losing time with the children, or having more expensive housing costs, or having to move to a new neighborhood. When you have discovered the real concerns that lie behind the position, you may be able to offer creative options that address the concerns and allow the parties to move beyond the positions. An example might be helping the party find affordable housing in the same neighborhood, with some parenting agreements in place about time with children.