I’m worried that my spouse might not be fair to me in the divorce process. How can we try to work together in a peaceful process but still make sure I am taking care of myself?
Divorce is stressful and scary so your question is a very typical one. You (and your spouse, if he/she is willing) could schedule a consultation with any Bridges professional and learn about your options for working together on a peaceful divorce that takes care of the needs of all family members (especially children). Bridges members are all very experienced in helping individuals and couples find the best option to fit the unique circumstances of their family and, after consultation, will advise you whether it seems like your situation is a good fit for a non-court process.
If there has been a major breach of trust (such as an affair) is it even possible for a couple to work together on their divorce?
Yes, it is possible for couples who start with a low level of trust in each other to work together in a process that will be both sale and transparent. While such work is not always easy, it is usually much less stressful and expensive than using the court model.
How can we decide whether mediation or Collaborative law fit our situation best?
All of the Bridges professionals are experienced in both mediation and Collaborative law and a consult with them to discuss your family’s specific situation is the best way to determine which of these peaceful options are the best fir for you?
Mediation is a way of resolving a dispute with the help of an impartial person (the mediator). The neutral mediator helps both of you discuss personal concerns and, if possible, reach a voluntary agreement. The mediator helps you both think about your individual needs and interests, clarify your differences with the other person and find common ground.
You are the decision-maker: the mediator has no authority to make decisions.
You determine the issues that need to be addressed: the mediator guides the process and maintains a safe environment.
Formal, adversarial, public OR thoughtful, cooperative, private: Which approach works for you?
The mediator uses and helps you to use active listening skills.
The mediator does not give legal or other professional advice to either of you. The mediator may help you think of options to consider, possibly with the help and advice of another professional.
Mediation is usually private. If not, the reason why is explained before beginning mediation. You have a right to quit mediation at any time.
Agreements are reached only when you both agree.
Mediation is sometimes described as facilitated or assisted negotiation. This option works best when the parties are able to sit together and, with the mediator’s help, develop problem-solving solutions on their own. Of course, some families will require more support than mediation provides (see “What is Collaborative Divorce?” page).
Bridges members are available to help parties mediate their family disputes, in a private, neutral and safe process. We have extensive training in negotiation and conflict resolution techniques. Our role is to ensure that the process remains respectful and works to develop win-win solutions that might not otherwise occur within the families.
Several of your Bridges Divorce professionals are back from the world collaborative conference in Lake Las Vegas, Nevada.
IACP is the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, an international community of legal, mental health and financial professionals working in concert to create client-centered processes for resolving conflict.
Transform how conflict is resolved worldwide through Collaborative Practice.
IACP supports Collaborative Practice as a conflict resolution option worldwide by:
establishing and upholding the essential elements, ethical and practice standards of Collaborative Practice;
fostering professional excellence by educating and providing resources to Collaborative practitioners;
leading and integrating the Collaborative community; and
Negotiation requires listening to different perspectives that often conflict with how we see ourselves and our world. This is feedback. It’s hard to give and hard to take.
Why is feedback so hard? Because of our insecurities.
Why is feedback so important? For the mutual benefit of understanding, to make positive changes in how we behave and to grow.
What can we do to overcome the pain of feedback? The only way to face our fear of feedback is to engage in a process that fosters safe dialogue, including both deep honesty and empathy.
How can we safely engage in conflict (including giving and receiving feedback) in order to grow and improve our relationships? Relationships continue after divorce, especially if there are children. Learning to resolve conflict is an ongoing process for us, and our abilities positively or negatively affect our lives and the lives of those around us. People must feel safe to discuss their concerns and interests. Once fear of vulnerability is removed, people can aspire to their higher good and find excellent solutions.
How do we apply this to feedback? What’s required is a change of heart – from negative, evaluative feedback to appreciation. Try to find new truth in what is being said. Know it’s a process of understanding that each person is a culture and sees things differently. Build trust by buffering individual differences with feelings of appreciation, seeing the innocence and insecurity in others and understanding them. Take feedback with a mind open to change, new information, curiosity, and wanting to get better.
What are the tools?
Positive Affinity George Pransky in his Relationship Handbook says compassion is our innate, personal lubricant that helps us get along with others. When we feel compassion we are in a healthy state of mind and have the wisdom to know how to respond. It’s a blanket of warm feelings that protects us from the rough edges of personalities. It protects us from harsh self-judgment and raises our spirits. It allows the other person to regain a sense of security. We can bring out the best in others if they feel safe.
Trust Trust in oneself. Innate trust is defined by Philip Moffit as “the understanding that if you live mindfully moment to moment and have the intention to act according to your values even in difficult or confusing situations, your life will unfold in the most harmonious manner possible.” Innate trust is unconditional. It allows us to engage in feedback with understanding, empathy and compassion as well as the confidence to express our needs and set boundaries.
Non-Defensive Communication We know feedback is important for our relationships, our growth and our development. The key is to be able to deliver and accept feedback in a way that doesn’t provoke defensiveness. Sharon Strand Ellison, author of Taking the War Out of Our Words – The Art of Powerful Non-Defensive Communication, says we reduce defensiveness by using basic communication tools: asking questions, making statements and making predictions.
Questions: Asking questions with real curiosity and authenticity for the purpose of gathering information. A “safe question” is one that establishes the subjectivity of each person’s viewpoint and assists us in remaining separate from someone else’s judgment.
Statements:Making statements that are open and direct, being vulnerable and unguarded with no hidden agenda. We state our needs, desires and goals directly. A non-defensive statement is subjective, descriptive and lays it all out on the table. We no longer defend ourselves and try to control how the other person is reacting. It encourages accountability and clarification and results in personal growth.
Predictions: These are not threats or manipulations. With predictions we foretell what can be the consequences of certain actions or choices. They must be given with neutrality, be definitive and absolute. The function is to create security for ourselves and others through predictability. Predictions protect us and create clear boundaries.
Mediators and collaborative practitioners strive to create the safety necessary for people to express their interests, listen to the concerns of others and offer common solutions. Compassionate and constructive feedback is what we encourage for ourselves and the families we serve. We would all do well to focus on non-defensive communication and the innate qualities of compassion and trust as a strategy for conflict resolution, personal growth and professional development.
Many family mediation matters are handled effectively by a single mediator, but there are also situations in which two professional heads working together are better than one.
Co-mediation involves two trained professionals (usually one lawyer and one with a mental health background or financial background) working together with the family as a 4-person settlement team. If the case involves difficult emotions or complex issues, two mediators with different professional backgrounds may assist the couple to reach better, faster and more enduring agreements. For example, financial decisions may be intertwined with emotional or kid-focused issues. Two mediators take turns “in the lead.” and can be better able to observe and keep notes. Two mediators help ensure that both parties remain engaged and feel heard in the process, even when the circumstances of the case make that a challenge. Co-mediation allows mediators with different backgrounds and varied skills to work together in a complementary way to provide a full range of assistance that many families require. Alternatively, family members may mediate with the professionals in separate sessions, depending on the topic or work needed.
Engaging two mediators will most likely cost more than a session with just one professional.
However, co-mediation can offer tremendous synergy to the family and may result in a more efficient, effective process. Most families using co-mediation remark that the additional expense was value-added and well worth the upfront cost. Families should have access to a full range of peaceful options to help them address their unique challenges. The Bridges professional(s) that you consult with can discuss co-mediation with you and your family to see if this option is one that best fits your needs, or whether another option, such as collaborative method or pure mediation is preferable.
Finances – Gather information on your monthly expenses, income, and cash flow needs on a monthly basis. To help with this task, there are free sites such as www.mint.com that can categorize spending and help you understand your monthly budget. Many banks and credit unions offer this service as well. It’s also a great time to meet with a financial adviser to better understand your financial situation and how to save and plan for the future.
Kids – Start thinking about your vision for co-parenting and how these new roles will be to help your child or children thrive and minimize the negative impact of divorce. Inquire about parenting classes for divorcing parents offered in each county. Statistics from the court show the earlier each parent completes these courses the greater the likelihood of avoiding litigation and co-parenting with success. I also recommend meeting with a child specialist or parenting coach to optimize communication and ease the transition of your family and children during this difficult transition.
Home – Start thinking about your goals and vision for the future, and whether you agree on selling the family home, buying out your spouse’s share of equity, or continuing to co-own in some manner after divorce. Gather information on value of home, mortgage(s) and any lines of credit attached to the home.
Debts – Run free annual credit reports to better understand any and all debts and liabilities outstanding as well as credit score for possible re-finance or loan. One site that seems user friendly is www.myfico.com but there are many others you can find as well. You may consider closing unused joint accounts and trying to simplify and disentangle debts.
Tip for unemployed spouse looking to transition back into the workforce – I highly recommend meeting with a vocational coach or career services staff at a local college to explore initial steps to develop a plan for re-entry into the workforce and different educational plans and career paths.
Family business – If you have an ownership interest in a family business, it is a good idea to organize your accounting and books to make sure everything is up to date and in order. It’s money well spent to hire a good bookkeeper or accounting firm to help set up QuickBooks accounts or assist in bookkeeping.
Taxes – If you have any past years in which you have not filed taxes, it is crucial to meet with a CPA or other tax professional and catch-up to current year.
Retirement accounts – Try to avoid early distributions or withdrawals from retirement accounts prior to divorce or legal separation. I highly recommend obtaining legal advice for any possible creative solutions to avoid penalties and look at all available options.
Communication – Most importantly, in my opinion, is the ability to maintain open communication and transparency, so there are no surprises or changes from the “status quo” without discussion and agreement. Family coaches and mediators can help facilitate these discussions in a safe and confidential environment. Also, think about using the collaborative team approach if you would like to have more support and advocacy than mediation offers while still staying out of court and meeting family goals. Coaches can be utilized in both mediation and collaborative models.
Bottom line is separation and divorce don’t have to be awful. It takes hard work and compassion to keep the process peaceful, and we have a community of collaborative professionals here to help. We are peacemakers at heart, looking to help families avoid the pain and cost of litigation.
Disclaimer: Content of this article is not intended as legal advice and it’s strongly recommended that you consult with an attorney licensed in the state in which you reside if you have legal questions.
Your Bridges’ professionals took Veterans’ Day away from their offices to honor vets and learn from and with about forty local collaborating professionals. We spent the day engaged and engaging with our peers.
Tonya started the conference with her presentation on What? Why? How? When? The Essential Questions for Collaboration.
Dona was inspirational with her talk on The Power of Purpose.
Jim shared his personal experience with both a peaceful and non-peaceful divorce. His son remarked about the peaceful case, “Hey, Dad, it wasn’t that bad.”
Forrest gave the road map of his changing practice, from full service law firm to strictly collaboration and mediation, all without losing his “lawyer-identity.”
Gail spoke about her passion for Vocational Choice in Collaborative Cases.
Lee gave her own story, Helicoptering into the Fire (or, My Journey Toward Boldness).
Bridges professionals will always keep honing our skills, so your family can achieve the best possible results.
Collaborative Divorce is so much more than simply negotiating out-of-court. Robin Williams used the collaborative divorce process and is said to have maintained an outstanding relationship with his ex wife. Said Williams during his 2008 divorce, “We will strive to be honest, cooperative and respectful as we work in this [collaborative] process to achieve the future well-being of our families. We commit ourselves to the collaborative law process and agree to seek a positive way to resolve our differences justly and equitably.”
Collaborative Divorce is a holistic approach to the complex process of divorce that can preserve time, money, and the health of the entire family moving forward.
Dona Cullen has returned from Phoenix, Arizona / ASU Mercado, where she took a 2-day course on Facilitation Skills for Collaborative Professionals. Her instructors were Rita Pollak, JD and Catherine Tornbon.
Prior to January 1, 2012, Oregon law seemed to prevent “a quickie-divorce.” There was a 90-day waiting period between starting a divorce and time of trial or judgment.
The waiting period had been in effect since 1971, when Oregon adopted “no-fault” divorce. I think the legislators included this provision as a sort of “cooling-off” period, but almost no one I know of reconciled during the waiting period. With just a bit more paperwork, folks could reasonably and promptly end their marriage. For years, in appropriate cases, lawyers routinely asked the court to waive (skip) the waiting period, and this request was usually granted.
…so, now Oregon enters the 21st Century: Marriage is serious and divorce is not to be taken lightly. No one I know is ever thoughtless about ending his or her marriage. The waiting period just became an anachronism in modern family matters. The upshot of all of this: Less paperwork (“save-a-tree”) and avoiding unnecessary legal expenses!