Monday, December 8, 2008

Resolving Tough Issues is Hard Work *

*But it still beats the alternative.Two of the most common misconceptions about Collaborative Law are that it is set up only to handle the "nice" cases where everyone is basically agreeable, and the process is painless and easy.

Contrary to the image many people have of Collaborative Law, problems do arise in meetings, and between meetings. Sometimes, those problems are very challenging and sometimes they threaten the viability of the Collaborative process, even with experienced Collaborative lawyers and other professionals, and even including a neutral mental health specialist. Collaborative lawyers don't have a magic wand to wave to make conflict, anger and pain disappear. Even in cases that start out very amicably, there will usually be at least one time when things get a little tense. The message to remember: That's normal. Don't get too nervous about conflict. We can usually handle it if everyone will follow their original commitments to the Collaborative process.

Why there are problems? There are several reasons why progress can become difficult.

  • The process operates in an environment of conflict. Most divorces involve people with very different agendas, even when they both agree that they want the divorce. The reason for divorce is often deep-seated conflict between the parties over one or more issues. The amount of conflict expressed is different from case to case, but there will always be some conflict or the parties would have already settled.

  • The process deals with very emotional issues. Whether the issues are financial, honesty, betrayal or something else, the problems often trigger strong emotional reactions. Sometimes it's hard to discover the underlying issues, but there's usually at least some emotion showing on the surface. And it's not uncommon for people to suddenly switch from happy to angry or fearful in an instant. Words, facial expressions, tone of voice and many other seemingly small details can lead to a major mood swing.

  • Very stressful. As a marriage unravels, many tough issues must be decided and the parties face difficult and uncertain futures. Lives must start fresh and often the parties are not well equipped to start over. Parties are asking, "Can I do it?" and "How do I do that?". They often have to leave a well-established comfort zone and find a new home, new friends and a new job. They also find lots of stress.
So, what can be done to calm the waters?

1. Listen to the attorneys and professionals in your case. They are trained to deal with difficult situations and upset people. They want a successful resolution to your case and will do whatever they can to assist you in reaching an agreement that works for both parties.

2. Follow the rules you agreed to. Before the negotiations begin, you will sign a participation agreement that explains how you and the other party are to act. You should discuss any questions or concerns you have about the process, before signing up. Many attorneys and other professionals encourage the parties to discuss and agree to other rules of conduct as well. If you will follow the guidelines for conduct, the chances of success are greatly improved. The rules really work.

3. Slow down your reactions. Take a deep breath before reacting when you are provoked. Even in Collaborative, parties will sometimes say stupid, mean and inappropriate things in anger. If you will hold back, you can avoid escalating the situation. If you still respond after pausing, you may soften the response.

4. Keep things in perspective. Not every issue is important. Think about the big picture. Be prepared to concede on some issues, especially if that helps you get something else you may be interested in.

5. Avoid the temptation to retaliate. You may be better off in the long run by holding your tongue rather than getting upset at every provocation. The benefit of a final settlement will probably far outweigh the short-lived feeling of satisfaction from a clever or mean response.

6. Communicate. Everyone is at a disadvantage when you don't express your opinions, wishes and concerns. Remember to be respectful, but tell everyone what's on your mind. No changes will be made to deal with your concerns unless everyone else knows what's on your mind.

Remember, Collaborative Law is still better than litigation. If you don't try hard to succeed, the easy course of action is to return to the pattern of arguments that have probably been used for years. The better approach is to follow the suggestions listed above. Stick to the basics and you will be fine. Talk to your attorney and the mental health specialist, if you have one, and they can help you through the rough times. Experienced Collaborative lawyers have been through many such situations and can help you survive and reach a favorable settlement that works for everyone.

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