Tag Archive for: Collaborative Divorce

A Tale of Two Divorces

Divorce #1 ~ Bob and Barbara:

Bob and Barbara had been married for 20 years, and they had a contentious marriage for most of their marriage. Their friends, Carol and Chris had been married for about the same length of time and also had a difficult marriage for their last few years.  Each couple had two teenagers who went to the same high school. There were lots of similarities in their family relationships and in their socioeconomic situations. But each took different approaches to getting a divorce, and the difference to their approach had a big impact in every way – financially, emotionally and their post-divorce co-parenting relationship.

Mediation: Bob and Barbara had already started living separately – Bob had moved to the basement and used a separate entrance. They could not agree on much, but Barbara and Bob agreed to try mediation because mediation had worked in several of their friends’ divorces. They found a mediator that came well-recommended. The mediator explained that she could not take sides or make decisions for Bob and Barbara, that the conversations were not only confidential in the eyes of the court, and that the decisions were in their hands if they could reach an agreement.  In mediation they found themselves yelling a lot at each other and engaging in the same arguments they had had many times on their own. The mediator tried having them meet in separate rooms and did her best to help each understand the other’s point of view, but Barbara felt unsupported during the process and Bob felt frustrated they weren’t making any progress. Despite the mediator’s best efforts, they were not able to reach an agreement before the mediator suggested that mediation was not the best process for them. The mediator had charged $240/hour. After three sessions, and billing for correspondence, Bob and Barbara were billed for about $1,200.

Divorce CostAttorneys: After they had been unsuccessful in mediation, Barbara felt desperate to get the ball rolling, so she decided to retain an attorney. Her attorney was known for being a “pitbull” who “will fight for you to the end.” Barbara’s attorney required a $15,000 retainer which Barbara paid for with a credit card at zero interest for 12 months.  Barbara’s attorney filed a petition for dissolution of marriage immediately and proposed that Barbara have sole custody of the children with every-other weekend parenting time for Bob and that Barbara should keep the home and 70% of Bob’s retirement savings.  When Bob was served with the initial paperwork he was shocked and angry with what Barbara’s attorney had proposed, so when he saw who Barbara had retained, he decided to go with an equally aggressive “men’s rights” attorney as a defensive measure. The retainer for Bob’s attorney was $18,000, which he paid from a loan on his 401(k). Bob’s attorney filed a response to Barbara’s petition and then a number of other filings were filed back and forth between attorneys.  Bob and Barbara did not fight as much with each other because their attorneys had instructed them not to discuss issues with each other, and that they (their attorneys) would handle it. Bob and Barbara each saw their first bill about a month after each had retained an attorney. About a third of each retainer had been used up in the process. Bob and Barbara each were experiencing a high level of anxiety as a result of the financial bills and the uncertainty of how the litigation process would go. Barbara started drinking every night after work to numb the emotional pain and anxiety.  Bob started to become short with his coworkers and struggled to focus on his work responsibilities.

The Long Slog: Six months later, Bob and Barbara were still waiting for court.  Barbara’s attorney had been unresponsive for a month, both to Barbara and to Bob’s attorney, because the $15,000 retainer had been used up, Barbara did not immediately make another payment and Barbara’s attorney was unwilling to work without a guarantee of payment. Barbara eventually borrowed $4,000 from her sister and another $1,500 from a friend and took out another credit card – this time with 18% interest right away for $5,500 to get to another $11,000 for her attorney.  Bob had cashed out an IRA he owned from before he and Barbara were married to pay another $7,000 to his attorney.  Depositions had been scheduled and then postponed several times due to the attorney’s schedules and more requests for evidence. Barbara and her attorney believed there could be more accounts Bob might be hiding because Bob had forgotten to provide the most recent statement.  Bob was insistent that he and Barbara have joint legal custody because he was not going to allow Barbara to “take the kids away” from him, and Barbara was not willing to agree to joint custody with Bob given how much he and Barbara had disagreed about the divorce. Meanwhile, the children, Brad and Bella were each struggling in school. Brad had spent less time at home and his grades had dropped so he was kicked off the soccer team. Bella was doing okay academically but she was spending most of her time with his boyfriend.

A Year Later: A year after filing, Bob and Barbara with their attorneys had agreed on a holiday schedule and a 55/45 split of the retirement assets but they still had not agreed on what to do about the house. Bob wanted to sell it within 2 years and divide the equity and Barbara wanted to keep 60% of the equity and sell in 5 years when the kids were a little older. They had agreed on a holiday schedule where Bob had every-other Thursday to Monday, with equal division of summer break parenting-time, but there was still no agreement on custody. A court hearing had been scheduled for six months out.  Barbara’s credit card started charging a high interest rate of over 24% and Bob’s 401(k) loan was mostly unpaid, with 9% interest accruing.

Fifteen months after filing, Bob and Barbara were scheduled for a settlement conference with a judge, who said he would not be the judge deciding their case if they had trial but wanted to give them a reality check about what trial might look like if he were deciding the case in an effort to encourage them to settle out of court. The attorneys insisted that a trial would be necessary. Each required a $15,000 additional retainer to prepare for trial, which each paid with a loan from their respective extended family.

Final Resolution: Eighteen months after first filing, an 8-hour trial was held with expert witnesses. Barbara and Bob each had to testify and answer confrontational questions from the other spouse’s attorneys.  A lot of the personal details of the marriage came out as each attorney tried to make the other spouse look irresponsible and an unfit parent. Barbara was awarded legal custody of the children, with a parenting time schedule previously agreed-to, but Barbara only received 55% of the equity and the judge ordered a sale of the home within one year. The court hearing was contentious Neither was happy with the results of the trial and each had significant debts from paying the attorneys’ fees. Barbara and Bob would argue any time they had to interact and Bob threatened to take Barbara back to court re-litigate custody. Barbara continued to struggle with alcoholism as she coped with a poor financial outlook as she scrambled to prepare for retirement. Bob was fired from his job as a result of poor performance due to being distracted with the divorce, and although he was eventually able to secure new employment, he was forced to declare bankruptcy and was not able to fully recover financially or emotionally from the effects of the divorce.



Divorce #2 ~ Chris and Carol:

Bob and Barbara’s friends, Carol and Chris also had a lot of conflict at the end of their marriage. A couple of years before separating, Chris had been unfaithful to Carol and Carol felt a lot of anger and betrayal when she found out. Carol wanted to end the marriage and Chris said he did not want to make it a difficult divorce, he just wanted to see the kids and wanted something “fair,” as far as the property and debt.

Dignity and divorceCollaborative Divorce: Carol was interested in resolving their case amicably but she was not sure whether she could even face Chris in the same room, so she met with a mediator who was also an attorney to discuss the situation. The mediator/attorney listened to what Carol had to say, and given the fact that there was a lot of conflict in the relationship, that Carol had not worked through the emotional pain of the divorce.  Carol shared that she trusted Chris that he would not lie about money and that she felt like he could be a good parent moving forward, despite the fact that he had hidden the fact that he had maintained another relationship for the last year of their marriage. With Carol’s permission, the mediator reached out to Chris. Chris also expressed interest in resolving the divorce amicably, but he did not want to deal with all the anger Carol expressed any time they talked. The mediator indicated that given the fact that the parties wanted to resolve the case amicably, but because there was still a lot of conflict, that they would benefit from something more than just mediation; collaborative divorce. In a collaborative divorce each spouse would work with an attorney who was collaboratively trained and as part of their role as a collaborative attorney they would not be able to litigate the matter in court and would withdrawal if the collaborative process was unsuccessful.  The mediator referred Carol and Chris to a list of collaborative attorneys. Carol’s attorney required a retainer of $6,000 which she paid from savings and Chris’s attorney required a $6,000 retainer which he paid from a low-interest credit card.

Attorney Involvement: Chris and Carol each decided on an attorney and signed an agreement indicating they understood that their collaborative attorneys would not be able to work with them if for whatever reason they were not able to reach a full agreement. The collaborative attorneys agreed to charge the same rate to each of their clients: $300/hour. The collaborative attorneys went to work by gathering information and forming a team of other professionals – including two mental health counselors with experience working with divorcing clients, and a financial advisor with a certified divorce financial analyst (CDFA). Carol and Chris gave permission for the professionals involved to share information freely with each other.  All professionals had also been collaboratively trained. The attorneys suggested that Carol and Chris first connect individually with a counselor to screen for whether the dynamics of where each spouse was at emotionally was conducive to the collaborative process. After meeting with their respective clients, both counselors indicated they thought Carol and Chris could handle the collaborative process but Carol’s counselor suggested some ongoing therapy to work through some of the emotions and that it could be helpful for Carol’s mediator to participate in the negotiation meetings or at least to be available by zoom while she was doing other work and agreed to charge a reduced rate.

Making Progress: Chris and Carol then started to work with their attorneys to gather information. A month later, Chris and Carol had gathered the information and they had started to have negotiations. The financial professional helped Chris and Carol gather some missing statements and then worked with them to develop a projected budget based on their anticipated expenses once they lived separately. Carol and Chris’s attorneys were able to give Chris and Carol reality checks as they were talking or in short individual breakout meetings. Carol wanted Chris to only have supervised visits, but her attorney was able to help her understand that a judge was not likely to award supervised parenting-time unless there were serious safety concerns and that the court generally had the approach of making sure each parent had substantial parenting-time. Chris wanted to divide the assets equally, but his attorney pointed out in a breakout session that during the marriage Carol had stayed home with the children when they were young and she was not as far along in her career as she otherwise would be. Plus, Chris had a higher earning potential and therefore a greater ability to save for retirement.

End Result: Chris and Carol were able to reach full agreement, in fact the same terms that Bob and Barbara ended up with, just with a lot less money. Carol and Chris each paid $7,000 total.


Side-By-Side Comparison:

  • Barbara and Bob collectively paid over $82,000
  • Carol and Chris collectively paid $14,000.

Not only did Chris and Carol spend less on their divorce, but within six months Carol and Chris were able to finalize their divorce, and during the process they experience much lower levels of stress and anxiety. Their children indirectly benefited from the process as well, with fewer behavioral and academic challenges than Bob and Barbara’s children Brand and Bella.  Chris and Carol had a positive co-parenting relationship coming out of the collaborative process, and while they still had disagreements, they were able to successfully avoid further litigation and enjoy a much more secure financial path.


Take Aways:

It can be tricky to know how to proceed with a divorce. Mediation, Collaborative Divorce, Litigation with Attorneys can all make sense under different circumstances. It makes sense to consult with a collaborative attorney who can help you explore your options and to decide what option makes the most sense for you.



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.


Jim O’Connor set the stage for negotiation by focusing on the future rather than the past in his recent blog – https://bridgesdivorce.com/negotiating-with-your-partner/

            Let’s carry that forward using the steps of a collaborative or mediation process.

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.  To come back to your heart will be an important skill for this exercise.

  • 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 ongoing 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 Yourself and Others.

Negotiation is shared listening.  That is, listening with attention and without judgment.  Attention generates new, fresh thinking.  Mindfulness deepens the quality of attention.  This type of listening helps coherent intelligence unfold.  So 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 requires moving into our higher selves with dignity, patience and understanding.  To listen and not react.


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.


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 makes a better life for us anyway.  This is an opportunity to make life smoother for ourselves and others.

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 Divorce, you are choosing how you want to discuss those issues.

There are many similarities between Mediation and Collaborative Divorce.  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.


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 Divorce

 In Collaborative Divorce 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 Divorce 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 Divorce 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 Divorce 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 Divorce 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 Divorce.  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 Divorce case than if they are just consulting in between mediation sessions.

One useful way of deciding between mediation and Collaborative Divorce 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 services.  Many of us offer joint process consultations if you need help deciding which process makes the most sense for you and your family.


Randall Poff, Retired Collaborative Attorney and Family Mediator

Someone with narcissistic traits, as explained in the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders”, the DSM-5, 2013, indicates a person with a sense of entitlement, a belief that they are special and deserve favorable treatment. They have a grandiose sense of importance, need for admiration and lack empathy. Believing themselves to be special, they feel they can only be understood or appreciated by other special or high-status people. They can be interpersonally exploitive, often envious of others and show arrogant, haughty behaviors and attitudes.    

My Clients. In my practice as a collaborative divorce coach and vocational expert, I’ve noticed a marked increase in clients citing narcissistic traits in the spouse they’re divorcing. Since a little before Covid-19, whether they initiated the divorce or not, their complaints had a familiar tone. What follows is my reflection on their experience of sorting things out and confronting the ways they have been undermined, their determination to learn to trust themselves again and make positive life affirming decisions for themselves and their family as they moved through the divorce process.

Confusion was common in the beginning of our work, as my clients put words to thoughts they had never shared.

  • What really brought on the demise of my marriage?
  •  Why was everything always my fault?
  • Why did he/she get angry with me for doing things that they were also doing? Spending money on myself, picking up the kids late. Not paying enough attention to them, while they never noticed what was happening with me.
  • Why do others always think he/she has it so together; is so charming, while I see their self-centeredness destroying those close to them?
  •  Why can’t I trust myself and my ability to make decisions anymore?
  • Why do I doubt that I could have a successful career when I used to be great at what I did?

A New Perspective. Analyzing the dynamics of the relationship was a constant theme. Painfully, my clients shared their stories and the questions continued. It was hard to wonder out loud about the abuse they hadn’t always seen as abuse and then to ask, “Why didn’t I leave sooner?”

It’s difficult to feel sure of your perspective when you’ve been discounted for such a long time. But the need to clearly understand what happened in something as important as your marriage, is strong, no matter how hard the truth can be. My clients frequently used words like manipulated, deceived, gaslighted, blamed and shamed to describe the way interactions with their partner made them feel. It was difficult for them grasp or accept that this was the way their partner actually treated them, their spouse. Perhaps the hardest thing to realize was that their partner’s behavior didn’t make sense. They didn’t deserve the way they had been treated.

Finding Support. Being listened to and validated for their perceptions made a big difference, especially around sensitive topics they might not have shared with friends and family. Topics like challenges with a special needs child, their take on a financial issue or ideas for a new career. Encouraged to share these questions and concerns related to the divorce process and being heard by their attorney, mediator, financial or other collaborative professional further solidified their point of view. Becoming more engaged and fully participating in the divorce process ensured a better outcome, as their spoken concerns helped shape the agenda.

New Chapter, Same Dynamic. A particularly tough topic continued to be co-parenting and making sure the kids understood what was happening, given their ages. The familiar lack of respect showed my clients during their marriage, now played out in a lack of communication, too much control or fights around changes to pre-arranged parenting plans, for example. If my client was still being put down, their efforts and time still taken for granted, maintaining a positive view of their partner in the eyes of the children was challenging. Our work here supported their interest in taking the “high road,” and not criticizing their spouse, especially when they felt vulnerable and afraid of seeing the quality of their own relationships with the children suffer, due to these dynamics.       

A Clearer View. Gradually my clients saw patterns, made connections, and began to feel better about themselves. Maybe things weren’t all their fault. Maybe their partner’s inability to take responsibility for their issues played a role. They were encouraged to continue to seek out as much social support as possible. Fortunately, some of the people I was talking with had friends who were able to see things from their perspective too, which strengthened their newfound realizations.

Setting Boundaries. As clients questioned themselves less and had support to think through what they actually needed day to day and in their divorce process, it became clear they needed to set boundaries with their partners. Saying “No” can be hard but vital when your self-care and mental health are on the line. Not to mention finances or childcare arrangements. Or that this isn’t the weekend for their partner to get their stuff out of the garage. Respectfully, clarifying their views one issue at a time, my clients practiced speaking up. Sometimes repeating themselves made a difference and partners listened with the support of the divorce team. What a reward. Clients’ sense of control over their lives grew; they could decide how they spent their time, within the context of agreements made about their separation. They could share their perspectives, make decisions and take action in a way that made sense to them, suited them and their style and way of approaching life.     

Looking Forward. It was now easier to entertain thoughts of the future. Perhaps if they took the time to think about what they wanted (maybe had always wanted) and moved in that direction, things might turn out differently this time. Though it was still scary to think about going back to work, once concerns about children, housing or health issues were addressed at least initially, progress was possible.   

A Gradual Process. Taking the smallest of steps, talking with people in industries of interest and being taken seriously for their ideas was pivotal. Again, it was life changing to have an experience that countered years of feeling discounted, in this case for creative thoughts about work and business. In most cases it didn’t happen overnight, but gradually as my clients built their networks, perhaps enrolled in community college, graduate school, a specific training program, chins lifted. Resumes were updated and particular jobs and companies targeted for their alignment with client interests, values and transferrable skills. Things began to happen. They continued to build momentum in response to the positive feedback and encouragement they received from established and newly formed networks, as unimaginable as this might have seemed a few months ago.

Knowledge and Resources. Practitioners in the mediating and collaborative family law community in Oregon cite the difference that support and education makes for couples that are separating. In the case of divorcing a difficult person, it can make a huge difference. Both parties are eligible for advocacy, coaching, education and care that bring stability and relief to the divorce process, and hope for the future.


Gail Jean Nicholson, MA, LPC
Divorce Coach / Personal and Career Counselor
1020 SW Taylor St Ste 350
Portland, OR 97205

Gail’s Website
Email Gail



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

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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.


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

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