Choosing between Mediation and Collaborative Law

When you go through the divorce process, you will need to address all of the same issues regardless of the process you choose.  When you are choosing between mediation and Collaborative Law, you are choosing how you want to discuss those issues.

There are many similarities between Mediation and Collaborative Law.  Both are premised on good faith, full disclosure, and creating mutually beneficial agreements.  There are several differences between the processes, but the main difference is which professional(s) you work with to resolve your case.  Both processes frequently use child specialists, financial specialists and/or divorce coaches.  This article focuses only on the role of the mediator and Collaborative attorneys.

Mediation

In mediation, clients work directly with a neutral third party – the mediator.  Mediation is usually a series of “three way” meetings involving both clients and the mediator.  The mediator does not represent either client and has an equal duty to both clients.  Mediators can provide legal information to clients, but they cannot provide legal advice.  Legal information includes what the rules are in Oregon, how they may apply to your situation, and (potentially) what a likely range of outcomes would be in your situation.  Legal advice is a recommendation about what you should do in your situation.  Mediators cannot provide you with legal advice (even if they are an attorney).

Attorneys are often involved in the mediation process, although they don’t have to be involved.  Clients often consult with attorneys prior to mediation or in between mediation sessions.  Attorneys will sometimes be present during mediation.  This happens more often when a case is litigated (i.e., going through a traditional contested divorce process), but that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.

You can learn more about the mediation process here.

Collaborative Law

 In Collaborative Law each client is represented by their own collaboratively trained attorney.  The collaborative team meets together in series of “four way” meetings, although these meetings may also include other professionals if you are working on a “full team” case.  Collaborative law usually does not involve a mediator, although sometimes it does.  The job of the Collaborative attorney is to educate and advise their client while also providing negotiation assistance.  You can learn more about the role of the Collaborative Law attorney here.

You can learn more about the Collaborative Law process here.

Which Process to Choose?  The main difference between the two processes is working with one neutral third party vs. each person working with their own collaboratively trained attorney.  There is not necessarily a ‘right’ process, but here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Legal Advice. Do you feel like you need legal advice as part of the process?  Mediators are prohibited from providing legal advice, although they can provide legal information.  You can still obtain legal advice as part of mediation; it’s just usually done in between meetings.  Your Collaborative attorney, on the other hand, is with you every step of the way and is there to provide advice if you need it.  There are differences of opinion amongst professionals about the role of the law in the Collaborative law process, but that discussion is beyond the scope of this article.
  • Negotiation Assistance. When you think of negotiating on your own behalf, what comes up for you?  Is that a comfortable idea?  Is it stress-inducing?  Anxiety provoking?  The job of the mediator is to facilitate the negotiation and to empower both people to effectively advocate on their own behalf.  A Collaborative Law attorney, by comparison, would be actively negotiating with you and for you as part of the Collaborative process.
  • Increased Support. Sometimes one person prefers mediation and one person prefers Collaborative Law.  In that case we usually recommend choosing the Collaborative process rather than mediation.  If one person prefers Collaborative, it is usually because they feel like they need a heightened degree of support or assistance that their own attorney can provide.  Generally speaking, we’d rather have both people get added support if there is a need for it by one client rather than have someone need an increased level of support and not get it (i.e., by selecting the mediation process).  You can still have the support of an attorney in mediation, it’s just that your attorney tends to be more involved in your Collaborative Law case than if they are just consulting in between mediation sessions.

One useful way of deciding between mediation and Collaborative Law is to schedule a joint process consultation with a member of Bridges.  A joint process consultation is an opportunity for both of you to sit down with one person to discuss which process will work best for your family.  These meetings are limited just to discussing these process options – you will not be negotiating at a process consultation.

The members of Bridges Collaborative Divorce Solutions offer both mediation and Collaborative Law services.  Many of us offer joint process consultations if you need help deciding which process makes the most sense for you and your family.

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Update on Courts Delayed by COVID-19

In Washington County, trials that were supposed to take place in March have been delayed to July and are expected to be rescheduled again.  In Multnomah County, the courthouse has just started allowing trial “assignment” to take place, but the judges have prepared attorneys that those trials will not be happening until January or later.

At just about any courthouse in Oregon or SW Washington, you or a loved one needs to be in immediate physical danger to see a judge. This is because the courthouses are so restricted in what they are able to handle right now with limited staffing and resources thanks to COVID-19. Thus, priority has to go to the extreme emergency issues only.

Yet, some couples are still finding a way to divorce and separate without waiting for a court date. This is because they are settling their cases out of court. If you are able to come to an agreement with your spouse, the paperwork can be filed (electronically), and the judges are still able to sign them, usually in as little as a month.

Settling all of your issues may feel impossible or improbable to some people. They may think this sort of process works if people already have resolved everything on their own; however, Collaborative Law and mediation are not for those who have already figured it out (although we can help them, too). Collaborative processes are for those who need help coming to an agreement. All you need is to have some empathy for one another, and we can help with the rest.

At Bridges, our team of professionals have trained, and continue to train, to be able to help couples resolve their cases through settlement. People do not come in with full agreements, or—quite frankly—they would not need us. Rather, our job is to help people realize their common ground, find creative solutions, and support the parties in reaching agreements that recognize the need for people to move on, while still maintaining a relationship in the future. If this sounds like you, please call one of us today.

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Myah Kehoe, Attorney at Law / Mediator
Kehoe Law, LLC
319 SW Washington St., Ste. 614
Portland, OR 97204
503-388-6065

Myah’s Website
Email Myah

 

 

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COVID-19, Energy Conservation and Divorce Settlement

COVID-19 is guiding us to see inefficiencies and find new ways to help ourselves and others.  We hear a lot about energy efficiency in cars and conserving fuel usage.  But we don’t think as much about energy as our life force and conserving it for times like this when we need it to survive, thrive and evolve.

COVID-19 causes us to share experiences of pain that test our resilience and make us more compassionate. Responding to that pain in ourselves and others takes efficient use of our life energy.

Collaboration is a concept of importance as we move through this phase of growth to make what we do for work effective and efficient.  Changes in the law have been slow but Collaborative practice is cutting edge.  With COVID-19, adaptation to current needs has been swift.  What was started a few decades ago as a new way to practice law and settle cases is accelerating right now.  We at Bridges Collaborative Divorce Solutions are building on a process that is already well established in our collaborative practice group.  We have been together learning, developing and sharing with the broader legal community for over 10 years.

What development has COVID-19 accelerated in collaborative divorce settlement – whether it be collaborative process, mediation or consultation and coaching?

Technology:

Zoom Meetings make communication efficient, focused, personalized and more frequent.  It’s surprising the difference it makes meeting with your lawyer, coach or financial neutral in your home or office without having to take the time and experience the stress of traveling to an office to do the same thing. Going to an office, sitting in a waiting room and around a conference table is impersonal and adds to an already stressful situation.  It saps your time and energy.  Meetings can be more spontaneous, frequent, timely and efficient.

Software makes the “back office” of settlement practice more efficient in time and cost.  These benefits are passed on to the consumer. One of our members, Forrest Collins, has developed a program that helps lawyers draft pleadings more efficiently and thoroughly. Please visit MyPleadings.com

Practice Management Systems provide organization, clarity and security to the tasks of client service.

Cloud based communication products that coordinate email with document and exhibit preparation and storage make a paperless process that can be fully accomplished with only a laptop and access to Wi-Fi.

Electronic signatures and electronic court filings make trips to law offices or the courthouse unnecessary.

Skill Development:

Professional organizations of collaborative professionals are working constantly to help each other develop improvements and skills to bring peacemaking to the law.  They include our local practice group of Bridges Collaborative Divorce Solutions Bridgesdivorce.com; the statewide group of Oregon Association of Collaborative Professionals collaborativepracticeoregon.org; and the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals www.collaborativepractice.com

Resilience, difficult conversations, collaborative career coaching, the cross-generational effect of adverse childhood experiences, visioning for your financial future. These are all things we train in and you will see discussed in our blogs click on this link bridgesdivorce.com/blog These are life changing, evolutionary ideas, methods and  cutting edge approaches to helping families through conflict. We are constantly training.

Teamwork:

It’s all about collaborating with others.  Teamwork reduces stress, improves resilience and results in constant improvement.

That’s “Divorce Evolved” and WE MEAN IT.

         Check out our professionals and give us a call to find out more

Please visit us at the link below

bridgesdivorce.com/professionals

GROWING STRONGER TOGETHER

 

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What Is A Good Co-Parenting Relationship?

The effects of a divorce on the children involved can be detrimental to their development into healthy adults. A 2019 study published in the journal World Psychology revealed that while most children of divorce go on to lead well-adjusted lives, some may face a variety of problems over the course of their lives due to their experiences in the divorce process. A good co-parenting relationship may help mitigate any negative effects from a divorce on children. One of the benefits of the Collaborative Divorce process is that it helps clients work toward that positive co-parenting relationship which ultimately benefits the children.

Co-parenting is the sharing of parenting responsibilities between the parents who are separating or getting divorced.  All families have some framework under which parenting duties are shared and decisions are made, some more functional than others.   When splitting up, some couples get caught up in the animosity of the adversarial process and lose site of what is best for the children.  Dysfunctional parenting frameworks can become even more so when communication breaks down.  Even the best parenting frameworks can become strained by the stress and emotion of a breakup.

How to Achieve a Co-Parenting Relationship

Divorce litigation usually will make an already strained relationship worse. The process of preparing for trial—think lawyers digging into financial records and questioning each partner in costly depositions—encourages each side to become more adversarial and further entrenched in a dysfunctional parenting framework.  The animosity and resentment engendered can affect the relationship for years after the divorce is final.

To better facilitate a co-parenting relationship, Collaborative Divorce fosters an environment conducive to creating a positive co-parenting relationship. Collaborative Divorce encourages the couple to communicate, problem solve, and compromise rather than battle it out in a zero-sum game, building the foundation for a more effective co-parenting relationship when the case is over.

Why Co-Parenting Helps  

 A good co-parenting relationship benefits parents and children alike. If the parents are able to communicate and trust one another, it makes both of their lives easier. Dealing with unforeseen circumstances, like a change in the time to pick up the kids for a holiday visit, can be achieved easily and without acrimony. It may also mean that they are more willing to share time and responsibilities, giving each parent ample time to build a solid relationship with the kids.

Good communication between parents helps keep children from being placed in the middle of parenting decisions or acting as a go-between for their parents.  When they know their parents are on the same page, children are discouraged from trying to play them off one another to meet their own agenda.

As the study in World Psychology notes, children are negatively affected by a bitter divorce.  Ask your friends or colleagues whose parents are divorced, and they will probably back up the psychologist’ findings with anecdotal evidence of their own. Their stories may differ based on whether their parents divorced with hostility and resentment verses those whose parents worked to treat each other with respect and dignity, communicate better, and rebuild some level of trust.  When a child’s needs are truly prioritized by both parents during divorce, they have a much better chance of growing into health, happy adults.

 

 

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How to Avoid an Expensive Divorce

If you want to avoid an expensive divorce, the biggest piece of advice is to figure out a way the two of you can work together. If you go to mediation and or use the Collaborative Divorce process, you can find agreement the issues without the expense of a courtroom fight. Collaborative Divorce attorneys are a vital piece of the puzzle. The Collaborative Divorce process can provide a big savings, as it reduces the attorney’s billed hours for phone calls, email, and the litigation process.

What Makes a Divorce Cost So Much?

Every time an attorney goes into a courtroom on your behalf, your divorce costs rise. For a typical trial assignment, for example, an attorney can be in the courtroom for an hour before finding out what judge will be hearing your trial the following day, or if they even have availability. When you go in for trial, the court may be behind schedule and you could be billed for hours of your attorney’s time before the trial even begins. If you are working with your spouse and not going to court frequently, you can save thousands of dollars. Working on your divorce with the Collaborative Divorce team means no court appearances, fewer arguments between attorneys (which can also be a costly issue!), and a lower level of stress for all involved.  For example, in many traditional litigated divorce cases, one spouse will contact their attorney to call the opposing party’s attorney, to notify the other parent about what time to pick up the child if there is a schedule change. That kind of communication gets very expensive for the entire family. Each attorney has had a conversation with his or her client, a conversation with the other (time billed), and at least an email or phone to his/her client. Each client has now paid for a minimum of three interactions. In the Collaborative Divorce process, by contrast, the parties would address this issue at an already-scheduled meeting, and would entail one parent notifying the other of a schedule change, and that parent saying okay. Furthermore, the Collaborative Divorce process helps parents to develop good communications skills so they would most likely have been able to have this entire communication without any help from their attorneys at all. In this sense, collaborating saves a lot of time, stress, and money.

Tips to Prevent Problems from Escalating

There are many different ways to communicate successfully.  In the Collaborative Divorce process, a mental health professional is part of the team and helps parents to learn better ways to communicate.  The mental health professional in a Collaborative Divorce case is often referred to as a communication coach or divorce coach.

Talking through unmet needs and areas where communication is breaking down will help you get back on the right track quickly. The attorneys in the collaborative process help their clients find ways to communicate well. In this process, clients and attorneys also have the help of a divorce coach, who can help teach ways to engage in a conversation without accusing or becoming defensive. These skills go a long way toward learning to interact in a way that will benefit both parents, and their children, long after the divorce has been finalized.

When you want to avoid an expensive divorce, being open to the idea of working together is the first step. This does not mean you and your spouse have to agree on everything to choose a collaborative process. There will still be some conflict and disagreements, which is completely to be expected. Divorce is never an easy or inexpensive undertaking. What parties need in order to have a successful collaborative process is an experienced team and a willingness to work together and the ability to empathize with one another. If they have that, the divorce can move more smoothly and the level of conflict and cost will be kept to a minimum.

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Myah Kehoe, Attorney at Law / Mediator
Kehoe Law, LLC
319 SW Washington St., Ste. 614
Portland, OR 97204
503-388-6065

Myah’s Website
Email Myah

 

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“So you’re trying to get divorced, and now you’re both working from home.”

Our new life, sheltering in place is in full swing.  Oregonians have been at it awhile and divorcing couples and families are experiencing a wide range of circumstances, challenges and perks.

Maybe you’re both still working, just one of you or neither of you are working. Uncertainly looms and timelines for resolution are hazy.  Who knows what life will be like on the “other side?” In career development counseling we look to our deeper values and interests to guide us through times of change and transition.  We reflect on our personal values like health, family, friendship, spirituality, security, and creativity to help us navigate new terrain. Consider how best to prioritize and live them under sometimes radically different circumstances.

Focusing on your values will help you navigate these challenging days while still getting on with your divorce and working from home; which might include filing for unemployment, searching for a job, going to school on-line or getting that side business off the ground!

Many folks feel stuck and they want to move forward. Let’s find some inspiration, as things appear to be on hold.  If you really think your divorce can’t proceed check out Dona Cullen’s recent blog on Bridges’ web site, “What Should I Know about Divorce During Covid-19 in Oregon?  Some great advice on how we’re using technology and the benefit of doing things collaboratively to settle with minimal court involvement.

So there you are at home with your (soon to be) ex and the sparks are flying.  What to do? The movies, bars, gyms, libraries, coffee shops and friend’s houses are off limits.  Take a walk?  What if it’s raining?  Pick up sushi?

In the Midst of it

Maybe you set a goal to have a peaceful divorce, but here you are in a tiff. Hold on to that commitment and resolve to cool off.  Can you rely on doing something that’s worked for you in the past, to bring your tone down a notch?  Our verbal tone has a huge impact on the way our communication is received.  Try to speak calmly in measured phrases, consciously lower your voice as you back your way out of a squabble.

The old stuff still works; breathe deeply three times, (known to lower blood pressure) count to ten, take a step back and find something else to focus on; a  momentary distraction.  Look out the window or at the inspirational message on your coffee mug, work on a household project, notice art on the wall, your kid’s pic on the fridge or just get back to work.  Do something else! Anything can be an effective distraction if you focus on it for two to three minutes.  Ideally you and your spouse find a way to talk reasonably about the issue later, or agree not to talk about it until a third party is present.  Bring a sense of closure to the moment; show the kids everything’s alright.

Many people find distancing physically and emotionally a key to regaining composure.  Does everyone in the house have access to private space, even on a rotation basis?  It’s so nice to have a place to retreat to in the heat of the moment; a back room, attic, basement, porch, or trail.

Preventing Scuffles through Self Care

Exercise is huge for stress reduction and regaining composure.  Ideally we’d all be walking once or twice a day.  Getting outside can be a safe harbor and a wonderful rejuvenator when cooped up too long inside.  Hey, we’re Oregonians; we know how to get to a park or trail.

To bring ourselves back to a centered and calm place, takes practice.  Do you have a mindfulness-based practice of some kind?  Maybe it’s quietly staring out the window, a bike ride, or just being present with yourself and whatever is going on inside you.  Use all the spiritual gear you have; reflection, prayer, meditation, visualization, setting intentions, showing gratitude, singing, yoga… As you are more able to be present with yourself, notice when you need to do something proactively, because tension is beginning to build.

There are ways to work out the quibbling, even if your partner seems unwilling or ill-equipped. Those ways need to be identified though, named, practiced, tested and the successes savored.  Healthy self-knowledge and awareness, sensitive, thoughtful communication and enhanced mutual understanding are your tickets to resolving issues more productively.

Another helpful perspective from career transition theory is that “the more things change the more they stay the same.”  What’s the same for you?  What hasn’t changed, so much?  Maybe it’s what you have for breakfast, what you wear, being with family, or lifting weights in the basement.  Check in on neighbors, feed the cat or walk your dog.  Pay attention to what’s the same; what you still have access to. It can sooth you and promote a sense of continuity during this time of upheaval and overwhelm.

Keep up with little things you used to do before work, it may sound funny but a work shirt with those jeans gives a sense of “I’m working.”  Make that bed just like you used to and brush those teeth before you prepare to zoom with the world.

Planning, Signals and Aprons on Backwards

An old college professor of mine once told the story of how he knew when to tread lightly when coming home at the end of the day.  His wife would have her apron on backwards.  Without having to say a word, she communicated she needed space, could not talk at the moment and he should disappear for awhile and check back later.  He claimed to have practiced this with gratifying results.

With a little forethought and discussion, what might be your signals to each other that someone needs a trip to the basement or outside to walk for a while?  A wave of the hand?  Turning on or off the radio/TV could become doubly meaningful. Isn’t it helpful to humbly and proactively take care of our selves and allow our partner to do the same, under these totally new circumstances?

Now that we’re slowing down…

We can plan on a larger scale and add a little structure to our newfound terrain.  Begin to tackle questions like how to grow a business start-up that’ll move you toward independence.

Let’s start with the small stuff, as always.  What are things that need a little planning and forethought? Before issues come up because someone feels backed into a corner.  Who’s cooking tonight?  Who’s doing the dishes?  Who’s monitoring the kid’s on-line homework?  Might a weekly schedule of responsibilities be helpful?  Knowing who’s doing what and when ahead of time, can settle the number of decisions that need to be made daily, reducing stress.  Having nearly a week of decisions made ahead of time about shopping, meals, cleaning, laundry, care for kids and their new school arrangements, frees you for home projects, job search and work life—because it’s on the schedule.  Get some systems going that respond to the need for social/family bonding and separation for individual pursuits.

Block out times for working or not working, consider what you might want to save for evenings or weekends.  It’s a huge plus to have created a routine for shutting down at the end of the day.  Share your decision making process with those in your household.  Create a way to signal shift changes easily.  Give your partner and kids your schedule ahead of time.  People need to know when you’re available and when you’re not available.  Try posting signs on your office door or designated workspace, “Back with you by noon.”  These ideas don’t have to be rigid. They can change at anytime, but having guidelines lowers the energy needed to figure things out day to day.  These days are yours to manage now in collaboration with others.  See what you can set up to accommodate the needs of yourself and your family throughout the week.

Lastly, through these difficult times, we are also experiencing perks in line with what my clients often say they want; a flexible schedule to work around family, more control over work flow, casual dress codes, little or no commute and few office distractions.  Working to the smell of roasting, garlic chicken lets us know dinner is on the way. Now that’s something you don’t get working in the office.

Gail Jean Nicholson, MA, LPC
Divorce Coach / Personal and Career Counselor
1020 SW Taylor St., Ste. 550
Portland, OR 97205
503-227-4250

Gail’s Website
Email Gail

 

 

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How Children Process Loss During a Divorce

As families begin the process of divorcing, understanding how this loss affects children can help parents prepare to respond and support them.  Psychologists like Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and William Bridges have explored grief for decades, hoping to universalize and connect us through these shared experiences. As with all development, these are guidelines from which each child enters and explores the process. It is not linear nor something to “check a box” for completion. The transition to acceptance is circular and ongoing.

In this first article, I’ll explore some initial emotions and typical reactions and how I work with children during these first stages of grief.

Some common terms to describe the first stages of a loss include shock, denial, and confusion. How does this show up in a child?  How might they respond when parents first tell them about the upcoming change in the family?  It’s helpful when parents work with me prior to the conversation to create common language and plans for responding to the questions and what potential challenges they expect. Parents are managing their own strong emotions of loss during this conversation and concerns for their child’s well-being are heightened and natural. We discuss developmental differences with various ages and temperaments. Responses might range from tears and physical clinginess to seemingly disinterested replies: “Cool, can I go play now?”  Denial serves a protective purpose for the mind. It helps create space and time for the safety to emerge in which this unexpected reality can enter…

Parents can create safety in these first moments by addressing questions potentially unasked about the upcoming weeks and months ahead.  How are my daily activities going to change? When are these changes happening? What choices do I have within these family changes? What will stay the same for me?  These responses should be delivered while attuning to the child’s capacity to receive. If a child is in denial and seeking normalcy, chasing them to their room with these overwhelming plans obviously isn’t recommended, rather understanding their potential confusion and offering time and space to respond to expected questions helps to give children control in unfamiliar waters.

When I meet with children during these first weeks, our time together is designed to empower them to be with their unique experience through exploration and validation of feelings and concerns, while reinforcing their strengths and resilience of their families. We work expressively through art, play, and conversations.

Families are creating their divorce story in these first stages. I help parents honor and retain the love that created this family in these moments. This love lives through their children and can help guide and support the loss the children experience.

In the next article, I’ll address bargaining, anger, and anxiety that affect some children during these stormy seas.

 

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What should I know about divorce during COVID-19 in Oregon?

Is it possible to start and complete a divorce during social distancing and “shelter in place?” orders?

Short answer is, yes. 100% of a mediated, collaborative, or uncontested “kitchen table” divorce can be done remotely through phone, email, and video conferencing. Our office has been utilizing Zoom video conference as a resource for almost a decade for families where one or both participants are in a remote location (Costa Rica jungle coffee shop divorce for example!). Several years ago, I participated (along with several other BridgesDivorce.com practitioners) in an intensive six week training held by a company called Wevorce where the platform was designed to have multiple neutral professionals (financial, legal, and mental health/ parenting) working with the families remotely via video conference throughout the entire case.  Through these trainings and subsequent successful virtual co-mediations, we’ve been able to help families who could not participate in person. Virtual co-mediation or collaboration will be especially helpful with our current social distancing requirements.

Fortunately, the court is still “open” for processing and approving legal documents including divorce and family related. This is all done through electronic filing straight to a judge’s computer for signing after initial clerk’s approval. Document signings by clients, court filing, and parenting classes can also be done remotely, but it will likely be difficult for families to navigate the technical hurdles and obtain court approval without help of a mediator or collaborative attorney. For remote signings by clients, it is helpful to have a printer and scanner, or we can use regular USPS mail if needed.

Families in higher conflict situations, however, needing the court’s assistance with hearings, temporary orders, or trial, will unfortunately face delays or logistical challenges until the courts are able to be functional remotely. As of this writing, the courts are closed for all but emergency or restraining order hearings. In the near future for litigation, all participants (attorneys, experts, judges, clients) will likely need to appear by video or phone conference until it’s deemed safe to physically appear in court for a hearing or trial. There are many questions remaining on evidence procedure, exhibits, testimony, and custody evaluations (in person contact usually required). My recommendation for higher conflict families is for clients to obtain legal advice and encourage your attorney to utilize virtual “attorney assisted” mediation or arbitration if needed. There are built in features to web conferencing software for “private meeting rooms” for attorney and client during a collaborative session so it can be productive and still have capability for caucusing or 1:1 discussion during mediation.

What is required for virtual mediation or collaboration to take place?

The only requirements are for each participant to have a smart phone OR computer with internet service and audio (built in speaker or external speakers) and web cam. Most newer computers have built in web cams, or use your smart phone if your computer is not equipped with a web cam. A quiet, private space is also helpful whether it’s a room in your home or vehicle safely parked.  Having a pen and paper nearby is also helpful to take notes, but not required as meetings can be recorded for later playback.

Should we hold off on pursuing a separation or divorce because of COVID-19?

This is a very tough question and deserves much thought and consideration for each family and the multitude of potential impacts on moving forward versus maintaining the family “status quo.” Sometimes, prolonging separation can be even more difficult for families if there isn’t a roadmap or plan in place to move forward toward goals, disentanglement, and healing. However, it’s even more important in these uncertain times that all are mindful of health and safety for the whole family. I recommend families consider talking to a marriage counselor, parenting coach, trusted pastor, or therapist to help navigate the difficult emotional dynamics as well as timing and logistics of any possible changes or decisions impacting the family unit. It can also be helpful to talk through the potential legal topics with a mediator or collaborative attorney in a “planning session” for peace of mind as well as helping to get organized for future decision making.

One option during this stressful, difficult time is to come up with temporary agreements and a family plan to address each person’s needs with ability to modify as changes take place. We can help prepare mediated settlement agreements to track agreements and add accountability if this is a concern. A mediated settlement agreement is a private contract between parties and not filed with the court, except for enforcement or issue of attorney fees if litigation is necessary. We can also “pause” the process at any point and track progress with partial mediated settlement agreements.

One substantial impact of COVID-19 is the recent stock market volatility, and many clients are concerned with proceeding with a divorce with division of retirement or investment assets. One clarification to ease concerns is that divorce related retirement divisions and transfers (if done properly – please consult an attorney) do not liquidate or sell underlying investments or stock. Instead, an agreed upon percentage (50% for example) of the account is separated into the other spouse’s account via Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) or IRA transfer after divorce judgment is signed by the court. Often this segregated portion is rolled into a new or existing IRA, or there are exceptions allowing penalty free withdrawal under certain circumstances. This is a complex area with tax ramifications and requiring specific legal documents, please use caution and consult a divorce professional to learn more about options. There are ways to have early cash disbursements without penalty after divorce, and it’s likely more of these distributions will be needed as COVID-19’s financial impacts worsen for some families.

Do we still have to take required parenting classes in person to get court approval?  

Answers to this question vary by county and information is changing daily. Washington County, for example, has canceled their April classes, but is reaching out to currently enrolled families for possible in person May classes. Some counties already offer an online option post-Covid-19, such as Multnomah County, and we may be able to obtain approval on a case by case basis from judges based on individual circumstances for online parenting classes to satisfy court requirements.

What should I do if I need to modify my divorce or separation judgment that’s already signed by the court?

In Oregon, most spousal support orders are modifiable by statute unless specifically stated in your judgment as “non-modifiable.” Child support is also modifiable if it’s a current order (not past due arrears). It is imperative to seek legal advice if you believe substantial changes have occurred such as a job loss, health status change, income change, parenting plan change, childcare cost change, health insurance availability, etc. As orders cannot be changed retroactively (unless mutually agreed in writing and signed by the court), it’s crucial that anyone impacted by a change requests modification as soon as information is received. Most courts require an attempt at mediation first before having a court hearing, and sometimes this provision is built into a divorce judgment requiring mediation. It is also important to preserve your rights on timing of the changed support obligation in the event mediation is not successful, so please consult an attorney for legal advice as soon as feasible.

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Tonya Alexander
Collaborative Attorney & Mediator
Alexander Law, PC
1925 NE Stucki Ave Ste 410
Hillsboro, OR 97006
503-531-9103

Tonya’s Website
Email Tonya

We are in this together and here to help.

 

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Retirement Basics for Divorce in Oregon: Part 1 – Pension Plans

Here are some tips for information gathering and decision making to get started in the area of retirement benefits in an Oregon divorce. It is very important to consult with a family law or financial professional in your area, and this article is meant to raise questions to better understand what to ask. It is not meant as a comprehensive or complete list as companies and plans change constantly. It’s also an extremely complex area of law, so it’s wise to use caution and obtain information from trusted sources in person before making decisions or signing agreements.

Traditional Pension Plan: Have you or your spouse ever worked for a government entity or been a member of a union? Even short periods of time are important due to the way pensions may accrue value, and often pay out over a lifetime, not to mention after death to a former spouse in some cases.

Have you seen a statement that mentions future monthly benefits or the word “pension”? These brief statements can be misleading and vague, and sometimes must be requested from the Plan and not routinely mailed out. The statement dollar figures are NOT representative of value for separation or divorce purposes. The actual value is typically much higher than what is stated, and PERS is a good example. It’s extremely important to understand.

  1. Are you dealing with a defined benefit plan (pension)?
  2. Are there survivor-ship annuity options?
  3. What is the present value with and without the survivor-ship benefits?
  4. Is the pension 100% marital or are there any pre-marital components?
  5. Have you and your spouse been separated for a long period?
  6. When would the pension pay out start and what are both spouses ages and health? Age and health can be a significant factor for planning and decision making.

To answer these starting questions, it’s strongly recommended to have a licensed actuary or pension attorney complete a present value actuarial analysis. This needs to be coordinated through your mediator, CDFA (certified divorce financial planner) or divorce attorney. I often co-mediate or collaborate with a neutral pension expert to help clients value pensions and answer questions for families. These tools help clients decide what makes the most sense to accomplish mutual family goals and to maximize benefits for long term planning. Often, there is a mutually beneficial method of dividing or offsetting a pension that meets both parties’ needs.

Or, once a valuation is done, perhaps the participant decides to retain a pension to keep it intact for future source of income, and instead offset it with another asset. There are tax implications and other factors to consider, so it’s important to evaluate the pros and cons of each alternative along with any risks. We also have software tools such as Family Law Software used in mediation and collaborative cases that can help analyze cash flow and asset allocation to help families make the best decisions.  If done thoughtfully in the mediation or collaborative context, the process can be affordable and be done out of the litigation or court setting very quickly. In mediation and collaborative method, we also use a neutral professional to avoid the “battle of the experts” that litigation attorneys often end up with in court costing both parties far too much money, stress, and time.

Some divorcing couples oversimplify or completely overlook the pension piece, and I have seen PERS pensions worth almost $1 million be inadvertently waived by a party for various reasons. It can be fear of conflict, fear of cost to value or divide, fear of complexity, or just naivety on what a pension consists of. Most pensions (qualified under ERISA) are divisible by stipulated court order due to the separation or divorce in a very simple process called QDRO or COAP depending on the plan.

Your divorce mediator or attorney can help coordinate this piece for your family, so it goes smoothly and affordably. For example, a complete valuation of a pension is typically $400 flat fee. Cost to divide a pension is typically $600, and these fees are often shared by both parties equally.

Lastly, I have seen many instances over years of practicing where a person divorced years ago but did not follow through with the proper court paperwork to complete a pension division and they are completely unaware! This is another caution to work with an experienced family law specialist, whether it be an attorney mediator, collaborative attorney, or specially trained CDFA. Many areas of family law are designed for self-represented parties to navigate fairly easily through the court paperwork, but this is NOT one of them. Military and federal pensions have their own complexities and related benefits that are important to get specialized advice about.

To learn more about how to divide pension plans the Collaborative Divorce process, contact one of our Professionals at Bridges Collaborative Divorce Solutions.

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Tonya Alexander
Collaborative Attorney & Mediator
Alexander Law, PC
1925 NE Stucki Ave Ste 410
Hillsboro, OR 97006
503-531-9103

Tonya’s Website
Email Tonya

Stay tuned next for Part 2 on Intel® Retirement Benefits

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Why I Hated the Movie “Marriage Story” Part 3:

No Common Sense, & No Help  

Here’s my final critique of this movie: a basic lack of common sense exhibited by the various participants.

  • What Were Nicole & Charlie Thinking?
  1. How could such empathetic people possibly allow their family to be hi-jacked into a painful, expensive legal process that neither wanted?
  2. Why were they so darn passive about what was being done to them?
  3. Recognizing how important each other was to their son Henry, how could they be so clueless about how living 3000 miles away would impact their child?

Fortunately, my experience as a mediator and Collaborative attorney is that divorcing couples in real life are rarely so oblivious. The overwhelming majority with kids accept the shared responsibility to put children first as we re-structure our family.

  • Where are the Therapists?

As with most of us who divorce, Charlie and Nicole are trying to survive one ofthe greatest challenges of their lives.  In one scene, Nicole angrily tells her mother (who obviously still cares for her son-in-law) “You can’t love him anymore!”  In another, Charlie melts down and screams that he wishes Nicole were dead.   These poor folks are clearly in an emotional and spiritual crisis.

So…. why did they apparently never consult their own therapists or a child specialist? Did it never occur to either of them, or any of their family or friends, that they should such basic help?

 In Marriage Story, we see lots of potential building blocks that could have helped this couple but were ignored. They showed a lot of care for each other: Nicole helped Charlie choose a sandwich during a tense attorney meeting; Charlie rushed to her home during a power outage and Nicole ended up cutting his hair; Nicole, after agreeing to flex the parenting schedule to provide more “dad time”, tenderly tied Charlie’s shoe while he cradled a sleeping Henry. At the end of the movie, Charlie reads Nicole’s appreciations of him aloud to Henry, reinforcing that this boy is free to love both of his parents fully.  After the lawyers move on to their next case, this family has a long and promising future together.

                             The philosopher Theodor W. Adorno wrote:                          

   Divorce, even between good-natured, amiable, educated people,

is apt to stir up a dust-cloud that covers and discolors all it touches.”

 

What if these nice people had that dynamic normalized for them and were offered the skilled guidance they needed to see through the inevitable emotional haze of their breakup? What if peaceful divorce professionals had committed to helping Charlie and Nicole recognize their strengths instead of their weaknesses? What if they had been reminded of the decades, they had ahead of them as a re-structured family?

  • Conclusion

What’s most frustrating to me about Marriage Story is that it ignores all that we’ve learned in the last 40 years about helping divorcing families.  It unnecessarily scares couples into thinking that, should they be among the almost 50% of us who divorce, they will be inevitably sucked into a vortex of recrimination, expense and pain.  And, as I’ve had to reassure frightened clients over the few months since the movie’s release, that’s simply untrue.  Peaceful divorce is not only possible, it’s becoming the norm in our society through mediation and Collaborative Law.  I just wish this film had offered that good news instead of the unrealistic horror story it portrayed.

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Jim O’Connor, Collaborative Attorney / Mediator
3939 NE Hancock St., Ste. 309
Portland, OR 97212
503-473-8242
Jim’s Website
Email Jim

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Why I Hated The Movie “Marriage Story” Part 2:

It Ignored Current Options for Peaceful Divorce

In my first installment, I gave a synopsis of the film and noted the bad, and even unethical lawyering that was shown. Now, I’ll describe more ways the movie failed to show the peaceful processes that are currently being used by a majority of divorcing couples.

Collaborative Law vs. the Adversarial Legal System.

As kindly attorney Bert explains to his confused client Charlie, “We have to prepare to go to court so we don’t have to go to court.” This is akin to the idea of preparing for war to avoid war. Yet, that is the essence of traditional legal practice: in nearly 100% of cases, advocates prepare for a trial (at great emotional and financial costs to their clients) when less than 10% will actually end up before a Judge.

The crucial game-changer in the Collaborative process is that both lawyers commit that neither will ever appear in court. This frees the attorneys to focus all their efforts, skills and experience on achieving win-win, family-centered solutions.  As a foundation for this work, the parties list their goals from the process. When kids are involved, the reality is that the divorcing adults will necessarily have an ongoing relationship as co-parents, probably for the rest of their lives. Peaceful divorce professionals recognize the need to assist our clients in managing their current pain so they may maintain the bridges that will continue to connect them with their children, and all family members with their soon-to-be former in laws. Our job is to help folks navigate the rough waters of their break-up, to a better future on the other side.

Mediation in Real Life.

Marriage Story provided only a very limited, unflattering look at mediation. We never learn how Nicole and Charlie chose the process and only one very brief session is shown. The mediator was presented as a sort of hippie-ish stereotype. While I loved his homework for these parents to write appreciations of each other, he completely fails to effectively tap that rich resource of good will. Several times, the mediator pushes Nicole to read her comments about Charlie (which we know from the opening voice-overs to be very sweet). Yet it is absolutely clear that she is simply not ready to do so right then. What a terrible box this unskilled mediator puts her in: ready or not, be vulnerable enough to list all the wonderful things about the husband and co-parent whom you have decided to divorce.

It was both disrespectful and ineffective for the mediator to pressure Nicole in this way. Why not table the appreciations and just ask both to keep in mind the many wonderful things they like about the other during the ongoing work of re-structuring their family? Maybe they could have emailed their comments to each other to be read and absorbed in a safer, more private way. Instead, this treasure trove of mutual love and respect was wasted when it could have helped transform the experience of their divorce.

Well-trained mediators accept and support their client wherever they happen to find them. Generally, over time, as the pain and stress levels decrease, things often soften between partners. In Marriage Story, the mediator’s failure of empathy essentially ends that peaceful process and sends the family to the battlefield of litigation. I’m frustrated at the film’s failure to offer a more realistic and hopeful portrayal of mediation which in 2020 is the most common method that couples are choosing to divorce.

Stay tuned for the final installment of my review of Marriage Story: Nicole and Charlie’s many missed opportunities for an easier family transition.

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Jim O’Connor, Collaborative Attorney / Mediator
3939 NE Hancock St., Ste. 309
Portland, OR 97212
503-473-8242
Jim’s Website
Email Jim

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Why I Hated the Movie “Marriage Story” Part 1

Marriage Story is an excellent film with a tremendous cast, including Scarlett Johansen (Nicole), Adam Driver (Charlie), Laura Dern (attorney Nora Fanshaw), Ray Liotta (attorney Jay Morotta) and Alan Alda (attorney Bert Spitz). Now, I want to explain why I absolutely H-A-T-E-D this movie’s presentation of what divorce looks like in 2020.

First, a brief synopsis: Nicole and Charlie are married with a young son, Henry (maybe about nine years old). The movie opens with their voice overs offering very sweet appreciations about why they love and respect each other as partners and parents. Only later do we realize that this was an assignment from their divorce mediator. They initially promise each other to avoid lawyers, but their attempt at mediation quickly collapses. Nicole hires shark lawyer Nora. After briefly consulting older, amiable Bert, Charlie is served with papers and eventually retains his own alpha-attorney, Jay. These litigators enthusiastically lead this caring couple into a street fight of mutual recrimination – at great cost to their dignity, mental health, finances and, of course, their ability to co-parent effectively while at war with each other. In three installments, I’m going to describe why I think Marriage Story showed a terrible model of divorce to the almost 50% of us who will someday go through that transition.

 

PART 1:  THE LAWYERS

Kindly Bert explains that “criminal lawyers see bad people at their best; divorce lawyers see good people at their worst.” Even if that’s a oversimplification, it raises a crucial question: what should the roles of family law attorneys be? This question is especially important when the clients clearly care for and respect each other and have many years of co-parenting ahead of them. My answer: family law attorneys’ contributions should be the exact opposite of what these cinema litigators offered.

 

Rather than ameliorating the pain of their clients, the lawyers (especially Nora) offers a theme of mutual outrage, pouring salt into the wounds of each, until they are in an escalating legal war that neither wants nor can possibly benefit from. Both attorneys re-frame their clients’ life together into a barely recognizable litigation story that seeks to exploit each partner’s human foibles. Nowhere in these dueling narratives is there any appreciation that these folks had many years of shared love, a home and a beautiful son. Nora in particular remakes Nicole’s legitimate frustrations from the marriage into a larger morality tale of victimization. As Nicole describes her experience, it seems that her dreams and ambitions may well have been neglected by Charlie in the pursuit of his own career, leading to the end of their marriage. But, instead of referring Nicole to a therapist to process her hurt, Nora weaponizes it for a possible courtroom victory.

At times, both spouses seem bewildered to hear the story their respective lawyers tell about their partner and the marriage they shared. After a tough court session, Nicole asks Charlie why he switched to a more aggressive attorney. His reply: “I needed to get my own a**hole.” What if neither had chosen such an advocate?

Perhaps the most galling example of bad, even unethical, lawyering is when Nora proudly explains the details of the final settlement to Nicole, which includes a schedule that gives her the majority of parenting time. Nicole asserts that she had only asked for a 50-50 plan, but Nora smiles and says, “I just didn’t want him to win!” This lawyer who will likely never meet little Henry has decided that he should be a notch in her belt, regardless of her client’s wishes.

These cinematic lawyers never seem to ask what is right about the other parent, only what is wrong. In one scene, Nicole coerces her sister into serving divorce papers on Charlie at a family gathering; yet a few hours later, they are able to lie down together to read to their son. How would this family’s experience have been different if the lawyers had built from their many positives (as we do in Collaborative Divorce)? In real life, there’s a truism that peaceful divorce practitioners follow in domestic disputes, “All family members will win or lose together.” It was maddening to watch my profession portrayed doing what it did to all three of these family members.

In my next BLOG installment, I’ll cover the film’s portrayal of an adversarial legal system and how it missed the mark on the true value of divorce mediation.

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Jim O’Connor, Collaborative Attorney / Mediator
3939 NE Hancock St., Ste. 309
Portland, OR 97212
503-473-8242

Jim’s Website
Email Jim

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Money and Divorce ~ Working with a Financial Neutral

What is a Financial Neutral?  A financial neutral is a member of a collaborative divorce team or a mediator who helps couples find, organize and understand their financial information and facilitates a process of educating, visioning and creating a plan for settlement. They often have the designation “Certified Divorce Financial Analyst” (or CDFA).

What are the Benefits? 

  • Under the best of circumstances gathering financial information is complex, tedious and fraught with emotion, negative habits and fear. This gives a neutral, calm and supportive environment for that task.
  • Helps the couple understand their finances in a comprehensive, integrated way without denial or avoidance. Look at it, shine a light on it, organize it and understand it.  These are tasks many of us spend a lifetime avoiding and yet are skills that can begin a process of transformation.
  • Helps the couple understand assets, financial issues and the impacts of their decisions, short and long term.
  • Helps them identify interests, the elements of a plan and how to assess it.
  • Helps them come to reality from the magical thinking we all engage in from time to time, which can be so destructive.

What are the Qualities of Financial Professionals?

  • They are trained in Collaborative practice and/or mediation.
  • They have a breadth of knowledge in financial matters pertaining to families, including asset valuation, tax, cash management, budgeting, investments and retirement.
  • They have a knowledge of fundamental legal concepts regarding financial issues in family law matters including marital and non-marital property, equitable distribution, spousal support and child support.
  • They have facilitative skills, are neutral, open minded, creative and are team players.
  • They have an ability to educate persons who have an insufficient knowledge or understanding of the relevant financial concepts and present financial information in a clear and meaningful format.

What are the Tasks of a Financial Neutral?

  • To help you identify your high-end goals. Do you want each of you to have enough money to live comfortably? Own a home? Have your respective lifestyles be approximately equal?  Retire early?  Get some education and start a new career?
  • To create accurate reports of budgets, cash flow, asset and liability property division reports that are easily adjusted and recalculated for consideration of different options and ideas, including tax ramifications.
  • To do long term projections for different options considered for support and property division, including retirement planning.

How Financial Neutrals Benefit Attorneys and Mediators

  • They create reports to work with that get the case moving quickly.
  • Save staff time and expense collecting and entering client information.
  • Save money for clients. One financial neutral gathers information rather than two lawyers doing the same thing.
  • Runs reports to show the effect of different settlement options in real time at negotiation meetings.
  • Helps guide clients with reality checking as a neutral.

At Bridges Collaborative Divorce Solutions, we have many different skilled individuals to balance what is needed for a thoughtful, intelligent and well-planned divorce settlement. You use only what you need in terms of professional help. It’s delivered with care and compassion. Share this Blog article with others and save it for yourself. You don’t have to get divorced to benefit: These services can also be used for prevention.

To learn more about working with a financial neutral, contact one of our Professionals at Bridges Collaborative Divorce Solutions.

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Dona Cullen, Attorney at Law / Mediator
Certified Divorce Financial Analyst
5200 Meadows Rd., Ste. 150
Lake Oswego, OR 97035

503-867-1763
Dona’s Website
Email Dona

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How Does Resilience Change The Divorce Experience?

What is resilience?  Resilience is the capacity to prepare for, recover from and adapt in the face of stress, challenge and adversity.  These challenges are certainly present in divorce.

Stress is present in daily life to an ever increasing extent, from technology and the speed at which we expect ourselves to perform.  Stress inhibits our brain function and affects everyone around us.  It saps our energy and makes us unhappy, reactive and depressed.  Does this sound familiar?

What has been discovered fairly recently is that positive emotions can reduce stress, help us relax and think more clearly and strategically.  It helps with executive functioning and makes things more tolerable.  This means moving attention from the head to the heart on a regular basis when aware.  It’s what we do in meditation or when enjoying time in nature, with music, reading, relaxing.  It’s self-care.  That’s why it’s important.  It makes what we have to do more tolerable or enjoyable and more productive,

Moving from the head to the heart on a regular basis charges our batteries so we have energy reserves when stress hits.  We can even raise our baseline for tolerating stress. It’s called emotional regeneration.   This is all helpful when going through divorce.  It can make the experience very different from what you would expect.

The effects are physiological.  Taking attention away from the head and focusing on the heart and positive emotion balances the autonomic nervous system and the hormonal system.

It’s the balance of the sympathetic and parasympathetic parts of the nervous system and the cortisol (fight or flight) and DHEA (anti-aging)  of the hormonal system.  We feel better and more hopeful. That spreads to the others involved in the process as well.

A simple way to achieve this balance is by breathing in an attitude adjustment.  You can practice different attitudes you want to develop.  You can tell yourself to breathe in courage, or ease, or forgiveness, neutrality, dignity or whatever attitude you need.  Simply focus on the area around your heart and breath these feelings or attitudes in and out for a few minutes at a time as often as you think of it.

This will enable you to think about the best interests of all involved and will make each person happier with the result.  That means a more satisfied family moving forward, even though reconfigured.

To learn more about the importance of resilience, contact one of our Professionals at Bridges Collaborative Divorce Solutions.

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Dona Cullen, Attorney at Law / Mediator
Certified Divorce Financial Analyst
5200 Meadows Rd., Ste. 150
Lake Oswego, OR 97035

503-867-1763
Dona’s Website
Email Dona

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What is Preventive Law and Legal Health?

 

In the medical field we hear a lot about preventive medicine. Have you heard of preventive law? The term was first coined by Louis Brown in the 40’s and 50’s. The idea is that through teaching and conditioning, legal problems may be averted and health in that area maintained.

We, at Bridges, have the knowledge and tools to help the public this way. As a professional group we provide legal, financial, emotional and relational support for the purpose of settling disputes. But that same knowledge and skill, applied early enough, can prevent legal entanglements altogether.

How early is early enough?

  • Taught to children in school through tools for emotional regulation to improve relationships, learning and the challenges of maturing.
  • Taught to families for issues that come up at certain ages and developmental stages in personal and relational growth- from teaching dispute resolution and mediation skills to financial check-ups to understanding consequences of actions, legal rights, entitlements and things to watch out for.
  • Client Education by lawyers so clients learn ahead of time, when not in crisis, about the consequences of courses of action and options available. To learn these things before crisis hits may prevent problems that turn into legal action and allay fears of the unknown, so people can relax and enjoy life.
  • Before Symptoms. In medicine there are distinctions between symptomatic and asymptomatic conditions.  It is best to avoid illness by addressing habits before you get sick and symptomatic. In law it is best to address life events with proactive awareness and intelligent planning at a time when minds are calm and capable of taking in information for optimal use of executive functioning, planning and decision-making. Once there are symptoms that becomes more difficult. Either way there is a need to develop awareness of and an ability to use emotional regulation for clear thinking. This is just much harder when in crisis.

What questions might be addressed?

  • Questions can include parenting issues, financial planning and legal planning.
  • Contexts might be planning for children. Who will stay home? Will both parents work? At what point would the caretaking parent go back to work? What would be the professional and financial implications of different options?
  • What are your visions for your future? Your children? Your family?

What can be learned?

  • Awareness to spot and define legal issues.
  • To normalize conflict and address it with knowledge, understanding, communication and negotiation skills.
  • More information than advice.

How can we help?

  • We are knowledgeable and caring lawyers who do not exacerbate conflict. We are interested in the overall well-being of clients and families.
  • We are coaches skilled at personal and interpersonal skills and resolution.
  • We are child specialists passionate about helping families identify and heal the effects of trauma and prevent it with proactive awareness.
  • We are financial neutrals who can help you vision and plan for predictable stages in the life of a family or individual.
  • We have referral sources for other professionals who might help assess, prepare for and address known or possible future needs.
  • Setting up the framework for awareness and mastering executive functioning for a family or relationship.


Where do you start?

  • Look through our website at https://bridgesdivorce.com/ and the links and websites of our professionals.
  • Call for an initial consultation with one of our professionals to see the range of services and the unique approach of both preventive law and active conflict resolution.
  • Consult with one of our professionals before deciding how to approach a current crisis.
  • Learn the value of a team approach, whether an actual team of different professionals or the skills of any one of our practitioners who, from their extensive collaborative training, have a full sense of your needs.

Make it your New Year’s Resolution to learn about Conflict Resolution by contacting or at least bookmarking Bridges Collaborative Divorce Solutions.  We do way more than divorce.  We might just even help prevent it.

Credit to Forrest S. Mosten and Lara Traum who brought forward the idea of Preventive Legal and Conflict Wellness at the 2019 IACP Annual forum in Chicago, Illinois.

 

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Communicating with a Collaborative Divorce Team

 

Effective communication with your Collaborative Attorney is crucial to the successful completion of your case.  In order for your attorney to successfully advocate on your behalf, you must be able to clearly communicate your goals, and provide the factual details your attorney needs to help you reach a settlement.

  • Agree on a Communication Protocol.  At your initial consultation or soon thereafter, have a conversation with your attorney about how you will be communicating with them.  Let them know if you have a preference for email, phone calls, or office meetings.   Ask about the best way to schedule a call or meeting, either through your attorney directly or through an assistant who manages their calendar.   Some clients prefer to keep a running list of questions for their attorney and schedule a meeting or phone call to go over all of them at once.  Others prefer to send questions to their attorney via email as the questions arise.  Email can be very efficient, especially if you are able to organize your thoughts succinctlyConsider using bullet points or numbered lists if you are writing about several different issues. Depending upon the complexity of the issues, your attorney may ask to schedule a call or meeting to advise you.  If you don’t check your email regularly, let your attorney know to contact you by phone if they need a response quickly.
  • Keep Your Attorney Informed of the Facts. Over the course of your Collaborative Divorce case, you should keep your attorney updated about the facts of your case.   I like to check in with my clients before each Collaborative Four-Way Meeting to find out how things are going, what is working, and what is not working.  Identifying problem areas in advance of the Four-Way Meeting allows me to ensure the issue is on the next meeting’s agenda, to brainstorm possible solutions in advance, and to check in with your spouse’s Collaborative Attorney on the issue when appropriate.  If an urgent issue arises, you should let your attorney know right away.  Generally, I want my clients to keep me informed of the following:
    • Job changes for you or your spouse
    • Significant income changes for you or your spouse
    • Change of address, telephone number, or email address
    • Identifying an asset or debt that was not previously discussed, including the receipt of an inheritance or sizeable gift
    • Whether bills or support are being paid as agreed
    • How your children are responding to the parenting schedule
    • Whether you are having trouble producing documents requested for your case
  • Keep Your Attorney Informed of Your Goals. One of the first conversations you will have with your Collaborative Attorney will be to determine your goals—what you want at the end of your divorce case; where you want to be in five or ten years after your case is concluded.  It is not unusual for a client’s goals to change over the course of a case, but it is important to let your Collaborative Attorney know when this happens.
  • Use Legal Staff. If your Collaborative Attorney has a legal assistant, paralegal, or other legal staff, learn how to use that person effectively. Legal staff cannot give you legal advice, but they have a wealth of knowledge about the procedural aspects of your case.  Many attorneys prefer clients to copy their paralegal on all correspondence into the office so that the paralegal can maintain records for the client file.  Paralegals often manage the document gathering phase of a case (known as “discovery”) and can answer questions you have about that process at a lower hourly rate than your Collaborative Attorney.  Work with them to determine the most efficient way for you to send in your financial and other documents.  More and more attorneys are going paperless and may prefer to receive documents electronically rather than hard copies, and are able to receive them via email, memory stick, or file-sharing program.  Be sure to promptly respond to questions from legal staff and always treat them professionally.
  • Respond in a Timely Fashion. Try to respond to emails or phone calls from your attorney reasonably quickly.  Your case cannot progress without you, and the Collaborative process can fail if you are unresponsive for too long.
  • Confidentiality.  Everything you communicate to your Collaborative Attorney or their legal staff is protected by attorney-client privilege and cannot be disclosed without your permission.  However, you should always let your attorney know if you are not ready for them to disclose something to the other side.   Remember that the Collaborative Divorce process is centered around transparency, and that if you are unwilling to allow your attorney to disclose certain material facts, they may have to terminate the case.  For example, if tell your attorney about something your spouse needs to be aware of in order to make informed decisions regarding settlement, that fact will need to be disclosed to your spouse in a timely manner or your attorney will be forced to terminate the Collaborative case.   Note that your attorney will never disclose privileged information without your permission, but that you may need to choose between maintaining a secret versus maintaining a Collaborative Divorce process.
  • Communication with Additional Team Members. If your case involves an allied professional, such as a child specialist, financial neutral, or divorce coach, be sure you understand how best to communicate with that individual and the team as a whole.  Remember that anything you disclose to an allied professional remains confidential to the Collaborative Divorce process but is not protected by attorney/client privilege and may be disclosed to your spouse at any time.
  • Ask for Help. Your attorney and their staff are there to guide you through the divorce process.  When in doubt, ask them for help.  For example, if you don’t have the time or technology needed to download financial statements, your attorney or their staff may be able to take care of that for you.  If you are unable to locate a particular document or piece of information, let your attorney know right away so they can help find a way to obtain it.

Setting ground rules about how you will communicate with your attorney, their staff, and other allied professionals in a Collaborative Divorce case early on ensures that everyone stays in the loop, and that your case can continue to progress forward in a timely manner.

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Total Eclipse of the Heart

On August 19, 2017, portions of Oregon and the U.S. experienced the once in a generation experience of a total solar eclipse. I had reservations at a state park on the path of totality and then a month or so before the event, a friend suggested I come to rural Idaho which was also on the path. I tried to give away my camping reservation to my teen son and friends, as well to several other friends, but I could not find a taker. I assumed that this prime camping spot was going to go to waste.

I’ve been mediating with a divorcing couple for more than 3 years. They have been separated that entire period and the husband had re-partnered already. Their case has been the most unusual of the 500+ I have handled. They have assets spread literally across the globe, lived overseas for many years with business and investment ties there, have assets that are very difficult to value and while they clearly have great support and affection for each other, they bicker almost every time in our 10+  meetings. Sometimes one of them has failed to show up for meetings or appeared an hour late. One or both has been unprepared at times, or suddenly changes his/her mind. Yet, they do basically trust each other and put they teen-aged kids first at all times.

This feisty, unusual couple has been one of my more challenging cases, and one of the most fun. Despite their periodic tension, there is a core of love that they share from their amazing life together. They switch from arguing, to joking, to laughing together very easily. They are fun, super interesting people stuck in a marriage that they needed to end. Our meetings feel more like a connection with old friends than clients at this stage.

Then, finally, they suddenly and relatively quickly resolved their remaining issues with a compromise that fit them and that, we all joked, would drive lawyers crazy for being too vague, and relying too much on their sense of humor and mutual trust. We had one final meeting to sign the documents, which included a little bit more bickering, some tears, shared memories, jokes and a really sweet poignant end to the process. I gave them both orchids to mark the end of our work together. True to form, they insisted on taking selfies together with their flowers. And, I mentioned to them that I was heading off to see the eclipse and could not give away my reserved campsite. A few days later, Husband emailed asking if he could have the campsite, to which I easily agreed. I assumed he would be going with his new partner.

The eclipse was amazing from my Idaho mountain and I shared photos with friends and family and got a few in return. Including . . . a wonderful, fun photo of my eclectic clients and their kids all together in a big pile on a hammock at my Oregon campsite. They looked like the happy family they will continue to be, divorced but still connected, forever.

~~~

Jim O’Connor, Collaborative Attorney / Mediator
3939 NE Hancock St., Ste. 309
Portland, OR 97212
503-473-8242

Jim’s Website
Email Jim

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The Energy of Money and Divorce

Many people are paralyzed by fear when contemplating a divorce. Most often the fear is about money. It’s either a fight, flight or freeze response. But there is another possibility, and that’s empowerment. That’s the power created by two autonomous people with a shared vision for the future. I’m calling it the Third Power (1+1=3) and it’s possible to achieve in a facilitated process. I’ve seen it happen.

Energy is defined by the Oxford dictionary as “power derived from physical or chemical resources.” Money is energy. So is positivity. Learning about your resources and visioning what you want in your future can inspire and propel you forward. That capacity is increased if you do it together with a shared purpose.  A financial neutral, either as your mediator or as part of a collaborative team, can lead you there. It’s a journey that requires preparation.

As I see it there are 3 stages to work through, in the following order:

  • Emotional Regulation;
  • Information Gathering; and
  • Visioning.

Emotional Regulation

Focus must be on calming the mind and body. It’s important to practice neutrality in whatever way is comfortable for you. You will be offered tools to relax the nervous system so you can think clearly and make good decisions. You will be urged to consider your higher purpose, your long -term goals for yourselves and the family and your needs. It’s good to think about what you do have and find appreciation where you can. This is all energy savings. Anger, fear, doubt and other understandable but unhelpful emotions drain your energy and reduce the cortical function of that part of the brain needed to make good decisions. Negative emotions generate cortisol overload in the body which threatens health, well- being and the prospect of peace for all of you.

So, whether it’s meditation, prayer, a walk around the block, candles at the meeting or visits to the divorce coach, practice neutral as much as possible to build your resilience and capacity for getting to a calm place within yourself. Finding and maintaining that kind of attitude will make a world of difference.

Information Gathering

The core of the work of the financial neutral is to gather relevant information, put it in order and help you educate yourselves on asset/liability and budget formats and issues. The information must be provided voluntarily and completely.

Assets and liabilities are listed in a property statement and cash flow, present and future, will be developed in a series of budget reports. Present and future income and the intricacies of support are discussed. The reports are explained, questions are answered, and further information is added or corrected to get them right. At that point you have a very good idea about your resources and needs for cash flow. You build this information together, both understanding the information, the possibilities and the process. By the time this stage is complete you will be empowered with the knowledge of all aspects of your financial life in the past, present and possibilities for the future.

This information gathering is done efficiently, inexpensively and is empowering in itself. Even if you eventually go on to a different process, you will be prepared and have mutual understanding of the financial facts.

Visioning

You will also be encouraged to create a vision for your future in detail. This will include what you want in your life and what you want the next chapter to look like. In most cases, the life you will envision is simpler and less stressed. It becomes reasonable and has to be. There is no tugging at a position. It’s a creative process from an open mind and heart. What’s really important to you? Once that future vision is in your mind’s eye you begin to see an opening to the light, and that opening gets bigger and bigger. It will include new things and activities. You will have the resources you need through mutual planning assisted by the professionals. The most helpful perspective is to work toward a good future for both of you and your family. You will have the help of a vocational coach, realtors, mortgage lenders and the research done on your own about the possibilities. There is time and support for this. Your energy is put into creating a future rather than resisting or fearing.

When you have made these preparations, there is a synergy that creates that Third Power moving you forward and not looking back. It runs on its own. Positivity does that. Continuing to care about the best interests of all concerned is what will make the process smooth and a better result for your health and heart.

To learn more about Money and Divorce, contact one of our Professionals at Bridges Collaborative Divorce Solutions.

~~~

Dona Cullen, Attorney at Law / Mediator
Certified Divorce Financial Analyst
5200 Meadows Rd., Ste. 150
Lake Oswego, OR 97035

503-867-1763
Dona’s Website
Email Dona

 

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There’s Only One Side in a Collaborative Divorce

As a Mediator and Collaborative attorney, I only work with clients who want to avoid court and resolve their issues themselves, on a mutually fair basis. This gives me a window from which to see and hear many interesting, touching stories of couples who are determined to be their best selves, while at the same time struggling with broken hearts, stretched finances and the many practical challenges of separating. Divorcing parents have the added task of managing their kids’ emotional adjustment to the family’s restructuring.

Here’s one impressive example I’d like to share:

In a Collaborative Divorce, each spouse has an attorney but agrees that neither lawyer will under any circumstances take the matter to court; if the process breaks down (which is rare), the attorneys are disqualified, and new litigation counsel must be retained. The Collaborative process looks and feels much like a co-mediated case, with the clients and both lawyers working together in group meetings as a “settlement team” to find the best possible win-win-win solutions for the family.

A while back, I was representing a wife in a Collaborative case with a very close colleague representing the husband.  Before we began, each spouse had developed some very beautiful goals to guide their work together. One of wife’s goals was that there would be no “sides” in the case, since she felt that everyone should be on the same side – that of caring for the whole family (especially their kids).

Our first meeting was at the other lawyer’s office, which has a rectangular table.  Husband was already seated on one side when we arrived. I sat across the table from him and wife sat down next to me.  After settling in, she then looked up, and realized that she was now on one side of the table, while husband was on the other. Without a word, she got up and moved across so that she could sit next to husband before we began our work. From that point on, the couple sat together for all of our team meetings. Wife had literally walked the walk to stick to her important family goal of avoiding taking sides.

This couple promised each other that they and their kids would always remain a family, now and in the years to come, despite their choice to divorce. That commitment required that, in addition to resolving their finances, these partners had to keep in mind this important relational piece of their work together. This sweet couple continued to hug, fist-bump, and occasionally bicker as they successfully worked through the issues of their separation and divorce in a series of team meetings. At the end, they laughed and cried in appreciation at what they’d accomplished together.

They taught me something very important:  In a family-centered divorce, there really, truly is only one side.  I’ll continue to share their important insight with all those I have the honor of helping divorce peacefully.

~~~

Jim O’Connor, Collaborative Attorney / Mediator
3939 NE Hancock St., Ste. 309
Portland, OR 97212
503-473-8242

Jim’s Website
Email Jim

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Maintaining Privacy During Divorce

When someone consults an attorney about getting a divorce, anything that person tells the attorney is private and protected by the attorney-client privilege. On the other hand, any written document that is filed with the court is open to the public and readily discoverable by anyone, stranger or friend. At Bridges Collaborative Divorce Solutions, we work with our clients so that your privacy is protected during the divorce process.

 

How Privacy is Protected in a Collaborative Divorce

In the traditional setting, the parties file documents with the court without regard to privacy. They do not consult with each other about what information is included in those documents. One or both spouses may want some information to remain private, but since the process is adversarial, private information is often shared with the court. This means it is also shared with the public.

In a collaborative divorce, documents are filed at the end of the case. Both parties sign off on the paperwork and give their okay about the information that is included. Attorneys and their clients do it together. Nothing becomes public record unless both parties have agreed to it. In some instances, settlement agreements can be signed off by both parties, but the document itself is not filed with the court.

Some examples of issues that the parties may want to keep private include:

  • Events that may have led to the divorce. In Oregon, we can state irreconcilable differences without including any specific behavior by one party or the other. With that said, if there have been mental health or substance abuse issues, one of the parties may disclose damaging details of those occurrences into the public court record, which could have a number of consequences for the other party.
  • Financial information, including assets owned and the value placed on each one, how real property is distributed, who maintains which bank accounts, how debt is divided and other sensitive information.
  • Parenting decisions such as where the children will live and what schools they will be attending.

The only people privy to all of the information are the attorneys and other professionals working with the parties in the collaborative process. This includes the certified divorce financial analysts, child psychologists, and others. They all have a duty not to share this information with anyone without the express permission of both parties.

Bridges Collaborative Divorce Solutions will work with you so that you and your spouse part in the most positive way possible and keep private information private so that the information is not discoverable by the public. Contact us for more information.

~~~

Myah Kehoe, Attorney at Law / Mediator
Kehoe Law, LLC
319 SW Washington St., Ste. 614
Portland, OR 97204
503-388-6065

Myah’s Website
Email Myah

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Collaborative Career Coaching Can Change Your Divorce

Attitudes about searching for career satisfaction have shifted dramatically in the last few decades. A meaningful and viable career path, one that integrates well with family life has gained broad appeal. The clients I see as a collaborative divorce coach and vocational expert share these views. As they engage divorce and career coaching, they become stronger, more flexible and reasonable. Self-confidence increases. The possibility of growing in ways that matter reduces fear and uncertainty about the future and enhances the ability to negotiate in good faith.

A divorcing client who had found her direction recently said, “I feel more settled, like I have something to hang onto, even though everything else in my life is turned upside down. I have something that is giving me hope for my future and my children’s future.”

Collaborative-style vocational experts engage clients beyond the superficial evaluation and report on marketable skills conducted in some traditional divorce cases.  These reports can be used to lock people into jobs worked fifteen plus years ago that no longer suit or feel relevant. Perhaps never felt relevant.

An outline of the role played by a vocational expert in collaborative and mediated cases includes:

  • Divorce coaching and coordination with the team;
  • Holistic career assessment and support to explore options;
  • Incorporating the special needs and school schedules of children;
  • Career and educational plans drawn up to highlight best options, costs, income projections and expected timelines;
  • Learning the views and opinions of the earning spouse that will influence the settling of spouse’s support and career planning;
  • Modification proposals where potentially helpful in support of educational and career planning;
  • Self-employment options considered, which can protect employment for aging adults.

The transformative case, where people emerge with better communication, a good parenting plan and hopeful about what’s to come, is facilitated by both parties feeling some degree of confidence in their future. The energy and focus generated by beginning to discover a purposeful and viable career direction is life changing. It typically leads to higher levels of commitment and discipline when it comes to training, study and/or job search. This benefits the already earning spouse by limiting their financial exposure.  It ensures children will be well provided for and have positive role modeling from two working parents.

Finding a meaningful and viable career path brings solace, peace of mind and a positive connection to the future: A place to picture oneself on the other side of divorce.

~~~

Gail Jean Nicholson, MA, LPC
Divorce Coach / Personal and Career Counselor
1020 SW Taylor St., Ste. 550
Portland, OR 97205
503-227-4250

Gail’s Website
Email Gail

 

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Giving Thanks After a Split

When you’re a child of divorce, holiday celebrations can come with a lot of baggage.

 

Check out this first-person article about new Thanksgiving “traditions” (it’s older, but still appropriate).

[click the turkey]

 

“On a holiday devoted to gratitude, it makes sense to let go of grudges, set aside differences and focus on the positive.”

~~~ Aisha Harris

 

…or check out these posts:

A divorced parents’ guide to surviving Thanksgiving without your kids

A Guide to Surviving Thanksgiving with Divorced Parents

The Truth About Thanksgiving With Divorced Parents

For Grown Children Of Divorce, Holidays Are Always Half-Full

~~~

Forrest Collins
Collaborative Attorney & Mediator
Forrest Collins, PC
Ste. 150
5200 Meadows Rd
Lake Oswego, OR 97035

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Collaborative Strengths

Strengths of Collaborative Divorce

One of the strengths of Collaborative Divorce is that it permits ownership and control of settlement process by the people most impacted by the settlement – the couple! The process responds to YOUR agenda, not the agenda of a lawyer or a judge or some other third party.

So – with that in mind, this Blog will not be a “lecture” on how I, as a lawyer, will tell you “how it is” or “how it should be.” Rather, this Blog is a place for you, the reader, to tell us “how it is” or “how it should be”.

Please post comments, thoughts, or questions and we’ll try to respond – in hopes of making our process better and more responsive to the people who really matter: the clients.

To learn more about the Collaborative Divorce process, contact one of our Professionals at Bridges Collaborative Divorce Solutions.

~~~

Randall Poff
Collaborative Attorney & Mediator
1500 NW Bethany Blvd.
Beaverton, OR 97006
503-241-3141

Randall’s Website
Email Randall

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Collaborative Divorce Knowledge Kit

Is Collaborative Divorce right for you?

Download your free knowledge kit quickly and easily.

This free information packet was created by the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP) as a tool to educate you both about Collaborative Divorce. The PDF format can safely be downloaded onto your hard drive and emailed, or it can be printed as a portable and easy-to-read “hard copy.”

The kit contains the following:

  • A comparison chart: “Collaborative Divorce vs. Litigation Divorce.”
  • Case studies highlighting the flexible, solution-oriented process of Collaborative Divorce.
  • General information about Collaborative Divorce and how it can benefit you.

Download your free Collaborative Divorce Knowledge Kit and discover if collaborative divorce will work for you. Used with permission of the International Association of Collaborative Professionals. The download is a single PDF “kit” file.

~~~

Jim O’Connor, Collaborative Attorney / Mediator
3939 NE Hancock St., Ste. 309
Portland, OR 97212
503-473-8242

Jim’s Website
Email Jim

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Video ~ Collaborative Divorce : A Safe Place

A Safe Place

Watch this video, Collaborative Divorce: A Safe Placeand follow the true-life story of one couple going through their own collaborative divorce.

Collaborative Divorce: A Safe Place is a twenty minute YouTube video produced by the International Association of Collaborative Professionals (IACP) and used by permission.

 

To learn more about the Collaborative Divorce process, contact one of our Professionals at Bridges Collaborative Divorce Solutions.

~~~

Randall Poff
Collaborative Attorney & Mediator
1500 NW Bethany Blvd.
Beaverton, OR 97006
503-241-3141

Randall’s Website
Email Randall

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Preparation for Divorce – Getting to the Heart of the Matter

Finding and Working from our Higher Selves

That’s the part of ourselves that’s more relaxed and less fearful. It’s where we make our best decisions creating outcomes that are highest and best for ourselves and the whole.   We find that part of ourselves by getting quiet, through prayer and meditation, exercise, being in nature, doing something we love.  Even thinking about these experiences helps to calm the emotions, opening us to intuition and higher forms of thought.  It’s important to take care of yourself. This goes for inside and outside of the negotiating space.  Taking care of yourself inside the negotiation space requires taking time before the meetings to figure out what is really important to you, what you must have from this process to move forward into your future as you envision it.  If you had those things, how would it feel? Sit with that and ideas will come showing how that picture will be made manifest in your life. We all do this – the professionals and the families.  It creates a safe container. We become mindful when we veer from our higher selves.  We remind each other. We are all in this together. We can keep the peace if we are all accountable.

High End Goals

We start with goals for the process and for yourselves.  What matters most to you? Take some time. Do this in a quiet setting with a quiet mind if at all possible.  

  • Why did you pick a peacemaking process? What are your goals for the process?
  • What is it you want for your future relationship together?
  • What do you want for the children? What is most important?
  • What are your values about money? What are your priorities?
  • How about personal and emotional goals? How do you want to feel, during the process and afterwards?
  • What are your concerns about future relationships with family, friends, work?
  • What do you need for self -care? Balance of life?
  • What does a positive future look like for you? How do you want to feel?

Negotiation Is Mindful Listening to Self and Other

Negotiation is shared listening.  That is, listening with attention and without judgment to the needs and goals for yourself and the other.  Attention generates new, fresh thinking. Mindfulness deepens the quality of attention.  This type of listening helps coherent intelligence unfold. Better ideas are the result.

We communicate with ourselves this way to unearth our dreams, wants, needs and what’s important to us.  We express this to the other in an environment of mutual respect met with uninterrupted attention. This is the ideal.  We can come close to it with intention, awareness and discipline. It’s not easy to do but will make the divorce easier and more fruitful.  It’s a primary requirement of a peaceful process.

Practices of connecting with the heart, meditation and other activities that balance the nervous system assist in making this type of communication possible.  Working with a divorce coach also helps build tolerance and gives practice in better communication to make negotiation at the table much more productive.

Brainstorming Options

When options are proposed, it’s important to consider the interests and needs of the other person as well as your own.  To do this takes courage and letting go. Relaxing into a process that is not intimidating is important. Flexibility to listen to and consider options you don’t think would work or don’t think you could agree to require moving into our higher selves with dignity, patience and understanding.  To listen and not react.

Deciding

Making decisions requires a lot of the same skills.  Know that everything decided upon will not be comfortable.  Any combination of things that constitutes a settlement will require giving up something.  How flexible are you or can you be to accept what is possible or the best possible scenario for your family?  How strong have you made yourself through taking advantage of practices of the heart and other techniques that lead to acceptance?  Acknowledging that you have done the best you can under the circumstances and accepting the result will make a smoother transition moving forward.  It will be a continual practice of releasing and sharing control. How flexible are you or can you be? Longevity and happiness require flexibility, acceptance, forgiveness and letting go.

Committing

What does it take to commit to the result and work towards honoring your agreement with good faith, good nature and willingness to adjust to a new normal?  How much can you forgive the past and look forward to a future of cooperation? These are all skills that can be practiced and mastered. It’s what creates a better life for us anyway.  This is an opportunity to make life smoother for ourselves and others.

Do not hesitate to contact one of our Professionals at Bridges Collaborative Divorce Solutions.

~~~

Dona Cullen, Attorney at Law / Mediator
Certified Divorce Financial Analyst
5200 Meadows Rd., Ste. 150
Lake Oswego, OR 97035

503-867-1763
Dona’s Website
Email Dona

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Why Mediation?

. . .why not just “ask the judge?”

  • Mediation is a confidential process for resolving disputes. A neutral professional mediator assists the parties to reach a mutually acceptable resolution of their issues. The mediator does not take sides or make decisions, but assists people in sharing information, identifying goals and discussing options. Mediation offers a very cost-effective and less invasive alternative to the traditional litigation process. For most families, there is nothing of value to be found in court. The people in the conflict are far more familiar with the problems to be solved, and better able to clearly communicate what each needs to feel heard, respected, and treated fairly.
  • 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).
  • Frustrated Judge

    The judge is just the “decider.”

    Bridges professionals 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. Don’t put up with this guy’s frustrations.

  • Finally, the judge is the just the “decider.” The courts are crowded, rigid and public. Even if you insist on “seeing the other side in court,” rules of evidence and time pressure usually won’t allow you to satisfy your desire to be heard. A mediated solution is a hand-crafted solution.

~~~

Forrest Collins
Collaborative Attorney & Mediator
Forrest Collins, PC
Ste. 150
5200 Meadows Rd
Lake Oswego, OR 97035

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Divorce Coach

A divorce coach is a mental health professional – often a psychologist or an LCSW – who assists the client to effectively move through the divorce.

The “divorce coach” is unique to collaborative law.

There is an emotional component of divorce that must be addressed, in addition to the legal component. In fact, the emotional divorce is often more complex than the legal divorce. In traditional litigation, emotions are legally irrelevant  i.e., ignored. In a proper collaborative divorce,  emotions are fully considered.

The divorce coach does not perform therapy. Rather, the relationship is a short-term intervention aimed at helping a client confront the emotional hurdles involved in divorce. Divorce coaching can involve working on a number of skills needed to navigate the process. A few of these skills include:

  • effective listening;
  • effective communicating;
  • learning how to speak-up for oneself;
  • identifying interests; and
  • recognizing how your behavior impacts others.

THREE REASONS WHY YOU NEED A DIVORCE COACH

  1. Divorce Coach will help you get clear and get you out of the “stuckness” you may be feeling.
  2. A Divorce Coach will listen, then help you set goals and plan for the future.
  3. A Divorce Coach will hold you accountable and keep you moving forward, even when it feels too difficult and you want to say ‘enough!’

“A Divorce Coach works for YOU!”

Divorce coaches can help clients address difficult topics too, such as substance abuse issues, infidelity, leaving or having been left and issues related to money.

VIDEO: NBC’s Today Show on Collaborative Divorce (older, but still accurate!)

Because Collaborative Divorce Solutions is client-centered ~ Divorce coaching is client-centered as well. Clients can choose to have a divorce coach or not. One coach can work with both clients or each client can have a coach. Rarely only one client has a divorce coach and the other does not. It is important to realize that the entire family benefits, even if only person is receiving coaching. It is beneficial for the whole family because the issues of one person often effect the entire family and the entire collaborative negotiation.

~~~

Lee Hamilton, MA
Mediator & Collaborative Divorce Coach
2233 NE Skidmore St.
Portland, OR 97211
503-703-0528

Lee’s Website
Email Lee

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Child-Centered Parenting During Your Divorce

Dian Gans, Child Specialist

Dian Gans, Child Specialist

As a Child Specialist, I have great compassion for the impact that the process of divorce has on families.  Parents are not only navigating their own loss and grief, but are intensely protective and concerned for their children’s well being and healing.  In many cases, parents have varied views about the effects on their children, one praising the resilience and happiness they observe and hear from them, while the other fears that irreparable damage has been done throughout the divorce.

When I meet with children, I often learn that it is somewhere in between. Children are not unaffected, but may deal with multiple emotions of guilt, sadness and anger that they are reluctant to share to protect their parent or prevent added conflict. However, they can explore and express these in therapy and/or with their parents as a part of the grieving process. while envisioning new and different ways of being in their family, moving forward.

Below are some helpful ideas written from a child’s perspective for parents to consider as they are creating new ways of interacting with each other and their children during divorce:

Dear Mom and Dad,

Here is a list of helpful ideas to help me manage the divorce:

  • Always remember I love both of you.
  • Even though you may not get along, I feel torn apart when you talk badly about the other parent.
  • Respect that I am grieving. This divorce is a loss for me and I may go through many stages as I adjust to our new family.
  • Create a special place for me at both homes, no matter how long I spend there. I might like a photo of my other parent and me to comfort me when I miss them.
  • Be careful of where you have adult conversations about the divorce and each other. Hearing about fighting and money create more worries for me- about myself and the safety of our family.
  • Ask me questions about my time away from you. Help me not to feel guilty about leaving you and having fun with the other parent.
  • Ask my other parent if you have questions about their new relationships or other private things. Secrets and spying make me feel anxious and disloyal.
  • Encourage me to call or text my other parent when I am with you. Help me schedule a routine at bedtime or before school.  This helps me stay connected to both of you.
  • Keep talking to each other about me! I feel very responsible about your reactions when I carry notes or messages between you.
  • Help me prepare for transitions with routines and special things that comfort me at both homes, such as a journal or favorite stuffed friend.
  • Agree on what rules I have at both homes. It will be much harder for me to fight about bedtime if both of you agree.
  • Attend my school and fun activities with me. It makes me happy that you are both sharing in something that is important to me.
  • Try to create as many opportunities for me to see you! Be flexible if my other parent has occasional requests to change our time together.
  • Protect me from your adult feelings. I am aware that you are often sad and mad too, and I feel very responsible to take care of you.
  • Find caring adults to support and listen to you. When you are healthy and happy, I feel happier too!

Thank you,

Your Loving Child

~~~

Diane Gans, MA, LPC
Psychotherapist & Child Specialist
1609 Willamette Falls Dr.
West Linn, OR 97068
503-704-3759

Diane’s Website
Email Diane

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Find Meaning in Work Life and Rebuild Your Confidence Mid-Divorce

Whether you’ve initiated your divorce or vice versa and you need a job now or down the road, “What job?” can seem as unclear as the nature of your projected earnings. The way you approach thinking and making decisions about jobs during or post divorce can dramatically affect how the process unfolds for you.

There can be many related questions and feelings that need settling and support as you seek the right employment and lifestyle. It’s a time of uncertainty, everything, or almost everything seems up in the air. In the middle of this most difficult life transition asking questions about what’s really important, brings us closer to understanding how to choose.

A building-block bridge.We need quality guidance. At the heart of career assessment or testing, interests and values clarification exercises offer powerful facilitation as we transition to a new life. To know what you really think and feel gives you something to navigate by in life and work life. It’s the basis for finding and creating meaningful direction. Give yourself time to reflect, drift off and space out on the subject of you.

Consider what you care about when it comes to pinning down what things should revolve around now, and next. It’s a way to pick up and begin writing the next chapter of “You.” How do you want to grow and relate to family, friends and community?

Look at your innate and developed skills as well, character strengths and learning goals, personality and work setting preferences. Before determining potential job and career matches, review your financial goals, need for benefits, employment location and commute tolerance. “It’s not rocket science,” but it is a complex process with more than a few moving parts, creating a meaningful life and work life post-divorce. It may also include co-parenting and caring for children, their needs and educational dreams.

Actively explore what matters job wise and discover a meaningful and doable path. Find what you can immerse yourself in because you care, and begin to feel that you matter again. Recovering from time with a partner who negated your interests and/or abilities is challenging. Chins up! Meeting people who share your passions is validating. Doing the thing you thought you might enjoy and do enjoy is intrinsically rewarding and requires no outside approval to sustain.

When you act on your deeper values you engage the highest part of yourself and nurture your inner self. Over time you’ll emerge stronger, happier and more confident as you build a life of meaning and purpose that also pays the bills.

~~~

Gail Jean Nicholson, MA, LPC
Divorce Coach / Personal and Career Counselor
1020 SW Taylor St., Ste. 550
Portland, OR 97205
503-227-4250

Gail’s Website
Email Gail

 

 

 

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FAQ – Fall 2019

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)


  • I’m worried that my partner 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 partner, if willing) should schedule a consultation with a Bridges Divorce 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). “Bridgers” 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.

  • FAQIf 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 Divorce fit our situation best?

All Bridges Divorce professionals are experienced in both Mediation and Collaborative Divorce. A consultation (by phone, email or in-office) to discuss your family’s specific situation is the best way to determine which of these peaceful options is the best fit for your family.

Bridges Divorce Professionals

 

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Myah Kehoe, Attorney at Law / Mediator
Kehoe Law, LLC
319 SW Washington St., Ste. 614
Portland, OR 97204
503-388-6065

Myah’s Website
Email Myah

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How do you “bridge” the chasm between you?

As obvious as they are, the elements of a constructive divorce become obstructed from view by the emotional intensity of the experience. It is all too easy to stop caring about what happens and start justifying destructive behavior. It is easy to get trapped in spiraling hostilities.

Copy this, print it out and paste it on your mirror (from “Between Love and Hate” by Lois Gold,  pp. 55-56).
  • Take responsibility for regulating your behavior, regardless of what your partner does.
  • Separate your emotions from the decision making process.
  • Separate your job as a parent from the conflicts with your partner.
  • Accept responsibility for your contribution to the break-up.
  • Learn to understand your partner’s viewpoint.
  • Be willing to negotiate, compromise and cooperate in resolving your differences.
  • Make a commitment to an equitable and non-adversarial settlement process.

To learn more about peaceful divorce, contact one of our Professionals at Bridges Collaborative Divorce Solutions.

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Dona Cullen, Attorney at Law / Mediator
Certified Divorce Financial Analyst
5200 Meadows Rd., Ste. 150
Lake Oswego, OR 97035

503-867-1763
Dona’s Website
Email Dona

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Divorce Options – 4 Different Ways to Divorce

Once a couple has made the decision to part, they have different divorce options available. Which one they choose depends on their own personal situation.

The Do-It-Yourself-Divorce

A do-it-yourself-divorce is also known as the “kitchen table divorce.” The divorcing couple does all the paperwork themselves and files the documents with the court. This may work when a couple has no unresolved issues between them and can easily make their parting decisions together. They should consider having individual attorneys look over the agreement before it is filed with the court to make sure they did not miss any key issues and that they understand their rights and obligations.

 

Mediation

In Oregon, mediation is when a neutral third party sits down with the couple and helps them negotiate the issues that need to be resolved. The mediator can cannot give legal advice to either party. The mediator can tell the couple what other divorcing couples have done in similar situations, but the couple must ultimately make their own decisions.

 

When the settlement has been committed to paper, some mediators with a legal background will draft the paperwork. They will suggest that each party have their own attorney review the paperwork before it is filed with the court. If the mediator does not have a legal background, they will refer the couple to a lawyer who can draft the paperwork for them or the parties will draft the documents themselves (see DIY, above). Couples may also hire attorneys to attend mediation sessions with them.

 

Litigation

Just a frustrated judge....

Just a frustrated judge….

Litigation is an adversarial process, which also results in more antagonism than other divorce options. Each party hires his or her own attorney and attempts to resolve all issues through back-and-forth negotiations. Sometimes, a mediator is called in to help. If the issues cannot be agreed upon by the parties, the case goes to trial. Then, the parties have no control over the final decisions; instead, the judge will make the decisions for them, and they must abide by all court orders. Because the parties have no control over the outcome, this can result in the parties continuing to fight long after the trial is complete.

 

Collaborative Divorce

A collaborative divorce is a non-adversarial process. The goal is for the parties to come to mutually agreed resolutions of their issues as amicably as possible. When children are involved, the attorneys assist parents in making a parenting plan that accommodates the needs of both the children and the parents.

 

Each specially-trained Collaborative Attorney is still an advocate for their client, but the attorney is more like a diplomat, there to help the parties’ sort through the issues and come to solutions that are best for their family. Neutral parties are called in to assist when necessary. For example, a third person with a financial background may assist with asset division. And a mental health coach is often an automatic party to the Collaborative team to assist with challenging emotional roadblocks.

 

A Collaborative divorce is a method that is the most efficient for most divorcing couples and families. The parties do not need to have everything figured out before entering the process. They can add in any additional professionals as needed. And, they can still have the advocacy of their own attorneys, without feeling the pressure of the courtroom.

 

For information on divorce options, or to discuss any aspect of your need for assistance for your divorce, contact us at Bridges Collaborative Divorce Solutions.

 

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Myah Kehoe, Attorney at Law / Mediator
Kehoe Law, LLC
319 SW Washington St., Ste. 614
Portland, OR 97204
503-388-6065

Myah’s Website
Email Myah

 

 

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How Can I Better Understand Child Support In Oregon?

Child support is an important topic when divorcing couples have children under age 21. Parents have a lot of questions about why it must be paid and what the funds will be used for. One of the advantages of the Collaborative Divorce process is how we assist our clients so that they have a better understanding of the many facets of child support. First, we try to better understand a family’s goals, needs, and budgets. We can then collaborate to create an individual plan that will work for the entire family and that will be approved by the court.

Oregon Law, Child Support, and Creative Solutions

According to Oregon law, it is mandatory for parents to fill out a child support worksheet with the Uniform Child Support Guidelines formula attached to their paperwork. If a child support order is left up to a trial court judge, it will be limited to considering only incomes, spousal support (if any), work-related childcare, percentage of time-sharing with kids, health insurance premiums, and the base amount of child support itself. This does not always meet a family’s needs or goals.

Understanding child support

There are ways we can personalize the plan and provide the court with more details. We talk about the children’s specific needs and family budgets. There are different categories of expenses to consider when working to establish a monthly child support sum. For example, we take into account:

  • Special interests of the children, like swimming lessons, piano lessons, and other extracurricular activities.
  • Whether private school tuition is desired.
  • How sharing flexible time with the children might impact child support in a way that honors co-parenting, with a customized plan that fits both parent’s budgets.
  • What the long-term goals of parents and children are ~ Are they interested in establishing a college fund, or continuing to fund an already established plan?
  • Whether they want a more comprehensive healthcare plan than one required by the court.
  • Whether they agree that one parent should stay home to care for young children.

Determining resources and routine expenses (including tuition which may only come up once a year)

Our collaborative teams often use budget-based software called Family Law Software that has a lot of tools for us to use in assisting families who will now have two households to run on the same income they used to use for just one household. We want to be sure the plan we settle on is one that is going to meet the needs of the parents and the children.

To learn more about how to structure your child support agreement through the Collaborative Divorce process, contact one of our Professionals at Bridges Collaborative Divorce Solutions.

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Tonya Alexander
Collaborative Attorney & Mediator
Alexander Law, PC
1925 NE Stucki Ave Ste 410
Hillsboro, OR 97006
503-531-9103

Tonya’s Website
Email Tonya

 

 

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Oregon Child Support Tips

Child support can be a confusing and sometimes contentious issue between parents who are faced with the termination of their marriage. Often, divorcing parents confuse child support with spousal support, which is a very different issue. The two topics should not be discussed together as one lump sum but addressed separately. One reason is that modifications of each issue are handled differently and there may be legal ramifications to mixing the issues together. Here are some child support tips for parents who are attempting to work out this issue:

 

Child Support for Children Ages 18 to 21 (child attending school):

Oregon law concerning children ages 18 to 21 who are in school more than half time is somewhat complicated and governed by statute. Consulting a licensed attorney and working with a collaborative team is important to understand how to meet the child or children’s needs as well as the agreement being approved by a judge. If you just utilize the presumed guideline formula online (https://www.doj.state.or.us/child-support/calculators-forms/child-support-calculator/), it will presume both parents shall pay the college age child cash child support each month. This is not typically what parents desire in my experience. The Collaborative divorce team works with parents, along with a financial advisor when helpful, to construct a written agreement that will meet the child’s recurring and periodic needs. This agreement must be structured in a way that will get the court’s approval as well.

Consider the Specific Needs of Each Child:

Our list of child support tips includes looking at the different categories of the individual child’s needs. This includes considering costs of healthcare, school related, childcare, (where applicable), and extracurricular needs. For example, if a child is involved in sports, takes music lessons, has special needs that require tutoring, or other needs that require funds, we recommend having a list of those items before sitting down to discuss child support. The meeting can be more productive if those costs have been determined prior to the settlement meeting.

Childcare related issues:

When filling out the Oregon child support worksheet, some parents will put in a specific amount for daycare cost. I don’t typically recommend doing that unless parents are not able to communicate or cooperate well. Daycare needs tend to fluctuate, especially in summer months, or with infants, toddlers, or preschoolers, and the amount ordered by the court at one time may be modified when the needs change later. We can discuss alternate ways to apportion childcare costs between parents in a way that meets the family’s goals with less restrictions.

Parenting Time Credit:

One area frequently asked about is how to calculate time a child or children spend with each parent as these ties into the child support guideline amount. I usually start with the question of how much time a child typically spends with each parent when not at school or childcare and try to better understand actual costs the parents are incurring while caring for the child or children. It’s important to better understand the goals and nuances of the family’s parenting plan when talking about this issue instead of going straight to a positional discussion of “how many overnights” does a parent have with a child. The Oregon statute also allows parents (or the court) to look at shorter blocks of time (such as 4 hours) if a better fit to analyze what’s equitable in parenting time percentage.

Modification Process:

When a support agreement is modified, that modification must be approved by the court to be enforceable.

Parents do not need to appear in court to have court approval, but they must file the modification legal documents with the court for an enforceable agreement related to child support.

Meeting with a Financial Analyst:

We recommend meeting at least once with a certified divorce financial analyst (CDFA). We include a financial professional on our collaborative divorce team. This professional will work with both parents to discuss tax implications, budgeting, or other financial issues that they have not yet considered.

If you have questions about child support settlements, or any other issue concerning divorce or separation, contact one of our Professionals at Bridges Collaborative Divorce Solutions.

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Tonya Alexander
Collaborative Attorney & Mediator
Alexander Law, PC
1925 NE Stucki Ave Ste 410
Hillsboro, OR 97006
503-531-9103

Tonya’s Website
Email Tonya