A Litigation Story:
Lori and Joe had been fighting off and on for the last year, too often in front of their children, Max (8) and Maggie (10). Finally, Lori told Joe that she wanted a divorce. Over the next couple of weeks, both met with and hired divorce lawyers.
When they met with their respective lawyers, they poured out their complaints about their spouse, colored of course by the hurt and betrayal they felt from the prior year of conflict as well as the final decision to divorce.
Both lawyers used the stories they heard from their clients to craft initial declarations for the temporary orders hearing. Particularly since parenting was an issue, the declarations sought to portray the one parent as loving and kind, and the other as uncaring, mean spirited, and unstable.
When both parties read the declarations the other had written, they were enraged that they were being portrayed so unfairly. The conflict continued to escalate and communication deteriorated further. After the temporary orders were in place, child exchanges became tense battlefields where each felt the need to belittle and argue with the other. Basic cooperation over even simple requests to change the schedule due to work commitments was difficult.
Eventually the case was settled at a pre-trial settlement conference. However, both parties walked away from the settlement conference feeling like they had been bullied into submission and were very unhappy with the settlement they had just agreed to. Needless to say, the conflict continued for years after the divorce – especially around parenting issues, since that was their main reason for communicating at all – including several trips back to court.
A Collaborative Story:
Chad and Mary had been fighting off and on for the last year, too often in front of their children, Sam (8) and Terrie (10). Finally, Chad told Mary that he wanted a divorce. Over the next couple of weeks both met with and hired divorce lawyers.
However, the lawyer that Chad met with had explained that there were various ways they could go about the divorce. She told him that if the couple wanted to find ways to cooperate rather than fight, to plan how to jointly co-parent, and to develop financial solutions that best fit their circumstances going forward, they could work with a professional Collaborative team to help them work through the difficult conversations and even more difficult decisions.
Chad was surprised to hear that there was a way they could get through their divorce without it focusing on fighting. He passed some information about the Collaborative process onto Mary, and she, while skeptical, decided to go see a Collaborative lawyer to learn more. Ultimately she decided this approach made sense and both committed to Collaborating on their divorce.
The process did not go smoothly. Both were still angry, both were still afraid, and both lashed out from time to time. But the team worked with both on communication. The team helped them analyze their financial options. The team helped them discuss how they could co-parent for the maximum benefit of their children.
Because the rules of Collaboration did not allow the parties to bully each other with threats of going to court, both realized that the only way to get to an agreement was to find solutions that the other party would also be happy with.
It took a while, with some bumps in the road, but finally Chad and Mary worked out a series of agreements they both felt were the best solutions among the many options they had brainstormed.
Both parties walked away from the divorce with a sense of ownership in the agreement they had crafted. Because they knew they had come up with the best agreement they could, both were committed to following it long term.
Of course there were issues from time to time, but the skills they had learned in the Collaborative process helped them get through the rough spots. When circumstances changed and they needed some help figuring out new arrangements, the Collaborative team was able to step back in to help them work out modifications to their agreements.
(Note – Confidentiality prevents me from using stories from actual cases, but these two examples do represent the types of things we typically see in cases in our office.)