Friday, December 19, 2008

Don't be Listening to Others

Usually, when people sign up to use Collaborative Law, they are really fired up at the outset. They see the advantages of using a peaceful and dignified means to settle their divorce or other family law issue. They may have researched Collaborative Law and decided it was their best option. They may have been referred to a Collaborative lawyer and then learned about the process. Regardless of how they got to Collaborative Law, the parties usually start out open to it and willing to follow the rules.

In Texas Collaborative Law cases, we have some standardized forms for the Participation Agreement everyone signs and for rules of conduct. Most attorneys also start out with some common instructions which normally include a warning not to seek advice from others about the Collaborative case. There are several reasons why this is important.
  • People outside the process don't know all the facts of the case. Giving advice based on incomplete information will almost guarantee a bad result. Without knowing all the facts that were considered, including the nonverbal communication that takes place, an advisor can't accirately evaluate what's going on.

  • The advisor likely is not trained in Collaborative Law and doesn't understand why and how the process works. (Someone trained in Collaborative Law is probably not going to be advising on the side because they know not to do that.) What you explain to the untrained advisor will probably not make much sense and the advisor is likely to be very critical of the process out of ignorance.

  • Most outside advisors who have experienced divorce have gone through the litigation approach. What works well in litigation may be very destructive in a Collaborative case. Don't listen to someone whose frame of reference is litigation. They don't know what they're talking about.

  • Many people who have been divorced and are now advising you will bring biases from their own experiences which can lead to some really inappropriate advice. They could be biased against men, women, husbands, wives, grandparents, teachers, judges, lawyers, counselors, CPAs, child specialists, or some other type of person who has a role in a divorce. The advisor's assumptions can lead to mistaken conclusions and bad decisions.
  • It is very common for friends to become very protective about a friend going through a divorce. As a result, the friends may question things and create unwarranted doubts about the process because they don't see the process going as favorably as they would like, even though they don't know the facts or how the process really works. Those doubts can eventually derail the process if the client doesn't ignore them.
Best Advice: Ignore friends and advisors. When you have questions or doubts or if you don't understand something, talk with your Collaborative lawyer or the neutral mental health professional about your concerns. The best advice comes from someone who is trained in the process who has actually been in the joint meetings and knows the facts and how decisions have been made. It can be tough to tune out well-meaning family and friends, but that can mean the difference between success and failure. Ask your advisors to trust you. Tell them you will explain what happened and how it happened, after a final agreement is reached. Remember, it's your life and your family!

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