Thursday, May 22, 2008

Hold Your Horses!

One of the biggest challenges in Collaborative Law is impatience. Sometimes, after the parties learn about the process and commit to using it, they suddenly grow very anxious to have the matter resolved. Even when the attorneys and other professionals explain the standard approach of five steps (set goals, gather information, identify issues, brainstorm and negotiate to resolution), some parties almost immediately forget about the first four or five steps and want to start the final negotiations without doing some or all of the preliminary steps.

Even when the parties and professionals spend valuable time establishing and clarifying the goals, needs and interests of each party, they are often quickly forgotten. Being very close to the issues, the parties often insist that they want the process to be completed in a very short time. They become very impatient and are often motivated by wanting to save money by "streamlining" meetings and taking shortcuts. The easiest and most logical way to do that is to independently come up with a suitable settlement. The party creating it usually becomes convinced that the plan is not only logical and inevitable, but it is the best for both parties. Occasionally, that is true, but more often the plan is unacceptable to the other party. Usually, the plan is conceived by one party only and is evaluated from only one perspective. It becomes a very uncollaborative process as one or both parties become motivated by quickly obtaining a result and finishing the settlement.

The Collaborative process works best when the parties follow the standard five steps. Sometimes that slows down the process from one side's perspective, but the other side is usually happy with the pace and especially with having input into the information gathering and the decision-making. It can be very helpful for the professionals to repeatedly remind the parties of the need to follow the standard structure of the process. Another helpful idea is for the professionals to explain how long the alternative, the litigation system, takes in common types of cases in that locale. A three-month long Collaborative case sounds quick when compared to a litigated case which usually takes about a year or more in Tarrant County, Texas.

A solution is much more likely when both parties contribute at every stage. That often means that one party believes the process moves too slowly. That cannot be avoided since the process will only move as fast as the slower participant. Usually, one party is moving more slowly through the emotional stages of a divorce and there is not any way to force the party to speed up the processing of the feelings and experiences.

If one party pushes the process and the other party to speed up a settlement through Collaborative Law, the result will often be complete failure of the effort to reach an agreement. If the parties will slow down, adjust their expectations and just work with the Collaborative professionals, they generally will reach an agreement.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Collaborative Law is Good for Children

The Science Daily headline from May 8, 2008 contained the full message: "After Divorce, Stable Families Help Minimize Longterm Harm to Children".

One of the best things about Collaborative Law is that it encourages and relies on cooperation between the parents. Co-parenting skills are often taught and sometimes a child specialist works with both parents in creating a parenting plan that provides stability and access for everyone. Avoiding a tug-of-war contest between parents is really beneficial. Add to that planning and forethought, and a healthy environment can be maintained or created for the children.

The Science Daily article discussed a study at Ohio State University. "The study compared children who grew up in three different situations:
  • Children who grew up in always-married households (5,303 children).
  • Children whose parents divorced before the study began, but who lived in a stable family structure between ages 14 and 18(954 children).
  • Children whose parents divorced prior to the beginning of the study, and whose family situation changed once or twice between ages 14 and 18(697 children).

"In the two divorced family groups, children may have lived in single-parent families or ones with a stepparent. The key for this research was whether that arrangement – whichever it was -- changed between ages 14 and 18).

"The researchers compared how children in these groups fared on measures of education, income and poverty in 2000 when they were 26.

"Results showed that young adults who grew up in stable post-divorce families had similar chances of attending college and living in poverty compared to those from always married families. But they fared less well on measures of the highest degree obtained, occupational prestige and income.

"However, the young adults who lived in unstable family situations after their parents divorced did worse on all measures. In fact, they fared more than twice as poorly on most measures compared to their peers who had stable family situations."

Here's my interpretation and opinion:

Although there have been no scientific, long-term studies about the effects of a Collaborative divorce on the children, it is reasonable to surmise, considering the Ohio State study, that the Collaborative skills used by the parents to produce an agreement will often or even usually carry over to the post-divorce lives of the parents and children. Clearly, one of the most important advantages of Collaborative Law is that it enables the spouses to maintain important family relationships on relatively good terms in spite of the divorce. That will help create a more stable atmosphere for the children.

In addition, the parties may be better off financially after a Collaborative divorce as compared to a typical litigated one. While we really can't compare the costs of a divorce with the cost of how a divorce might have been (too many variables), it appears that there can be some savings in a Collaborative approach because of the cooperation and avoidance of unnecessary busy-work steps. The result is that the parties often are going to be not as financially devastated as they are in a typical litigated divorce. Starting post-divorce life in better financial shape will make it easier to be financially stable, which can be a major part of overall family stability.

My conclusion: Collaborative Law will encourage and enable a safer, more stable environment for children after a divorce, and that's certainly better for the children in terms of education, income and poverty.

Thanks to Jeffrey Lalloway of the California Divorce and Family Law blog for the mention of the Ohio State Study.