Sunday, October 26, 2008

The 1st Joint Meeting -- Building a Foundation

Many people going through a Collaborative divorce, especially those in a hurry (which is usually just half of the parties), consider the first joint meeting to be a huge waste of time. They are anxious to get down to business and start negotiating. They don't like to discuss boring topics, such as how the Collaborative process works (the attorneys will manage it) or how they should behave (they'll be nice). They don't like to read through the Participation Agreement with the attorneys or the agreement used to hire experts. Often, the parties think that they don't need to read such documents because they won't understand them and/or the attorneys wouldn't have the parties sign something unless it was the right thing to do. For many people who are starting the divorce process, they don't want the divorce and often they are in a fog and not thinking or understanding well.

The Collaborative process requires a commitment by both parties to a number of principles that are explicitly spelled out in the Participation Agreement. It is important for the parties to discuss and learn how the process works in actual practice. We don't want someone to start the process based on mistaken assumptions about how it works.

The typical first joint meeting provides a foundation for the parties and the professionals to be sure they understand the process and they really want to commit to it. There is the little matter of the attorneys having to withdraw if the process breaks down. That needs to be well understood by the parties. It's actually the incentive for the parties to keep trying to find solutions rather than resort back to litigation. It's a significant financial cost to both sides, so it behooves everyone to be clear and in agreement about the process. The steps to be followed need to be understood. The expectations about behavior should be discussed as well. Finally, setting the goals for each party is an essential first step in the problem solving process.

While it may seem like a waste of time to some people, the first joint meeting actually is an essential, critical step in the Collaborative process. We apologize if it seems boring, and if it means that you can't start negotiating immediately. It's like when a young person starts to drive: s/he is very anxious to get behind the wheel. They have seen driving all their life and are sure they know how and what to do. Parents know that their children must be trained to drive and part of that is learning the rules and being patient. We need a little bit of that same patience in the Collaborative process. Building a good foundation increases the probability of success in houses and in Collaborative Law cases.

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