Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Looking for a Little Privacy!

Every few years, Hollywood will come out with a movie like "War of the Roses" or "Kramer vs. Kramer" that highlights the damaging effects of extremely litigated divorces. Most people have family or friends, if not personal experience, with a contested divorce, and they are familiar with how divorces can become a public spectacle. While divorces vary in the degree of animosity and fighting, even relatively agreeable cases often involve at least some public displays of very personal matters.

One way for people to try to protect their privacy is to choose Collaborative Law as the process they use for a divorce or other family law matter. If you are facing the end of a marriage and you are deciding how to proceed, you might want to consider whether you want to use a private process or go public.

Here are some reasons why some people want to protect their privacy:

1. Many people using Collaborative Law own their own business. They may have a family business or a start-up business, or there may be a small business they have nurtured with a plan for it to grow in the future. Divorce for business owners can be scary because of the possibility of disrupting or damaging the business. Owners don't normally want their competitors to be able to find out the financial details about the business and wouldn't want competitors to get aggressive while the owner is distracted by a public, litigated divorce. Keeping the divorce quiet makes good business sense.

2. Professionals facing divorce are often drawn to Collaborative Law. Doctors, lawyers,
CPAs, engineers, counselors and other professionals usually want to protect their professional image, and a messy divorce can really tarnish what had been a carefully protected image, which can hurt business.

3. Sometimes people going through a divorce don't want their neighbors to know. Not all neighbors are wonderful, but many people also wouldn't want good friends to know all about the divorce or their finances or personal habits, etc.

4. Similarly, many people wouldn't want some of their nosy relatives to know. Every family has busy-bodies and gossips. Some will have nasty relatives who are just trouble makers. In those situations, it can be really nice to do everything privately.

5. Protecting children
can be very important to some parties. Children should not be exposed to adult disagreements and should not become players in the process Kids don't need to be able to read about their parents' divorce in the paper or go to the courthouse to find contentious documents with unflattering statements about the parents. Kids will obviously know a divorce is going on, but they don't need to be privy to the gory details of the breakup.

At a time when privacy seems to be slipping away because of technology, it's nice to have a divorce option that goes against the tide and provides a process for parties to a divorce to work privately with divorce lawyers and neutral professionals in a civilized manner. Collaborative Law is the option with that opportunity.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

You Don't Have to be Crazy to Benefit from the Mental Health Professional

Collaborative lawyers in Tarrant County, Texas will almost always insist on using a neutral mental health professional (MHP) in a major role in a Collaborative Law case here. Although the Collaborative Law statute doesn't require the use of an MHP, there are few, if any, cases started in Tarrant County that don't include an MHP. If you are considering whether to try the process as a settlement method, you might want to know why we insist on bringing in another professional.

At first, using the therapist may just seem like an unnecessary additional cost for the clients to bear. When we started doing Collaborative cases 10 years ago, we didn't automatically bring in the counselor at the beginning. We sometimes brought one in during the process if things started to fall apart and the parties were threatening to quit. A therapist at that point sometimes was successful in helping us reach an agreement, but sometimes things were too far gone to be fixed. The lesson became clear: the neutral MHP was very helpful, especially if we brought them in early.

Here are some specific reasons why mental health professionals have become integral to the Collaborative Law process:

1. MHPs can help the parties change perspectives during the case. When the spouses are dealing with kid issues, they need to relate to each other as adult parents who are on the same team. When they are dealing with property division issues, they are in the roles of spouses -- husbands and wives -- which is different from parents. Co-parenting is an important goal for most well-intentioned parents, and an MHP can help spouses switch gears and get into a co-parenting mode when they discuss child support, visitation and other child-related issues. Husbands and wives still need to be cooperative in dealing with property division issues, but it is a different point of view.

2. MHPs can help the parties learn to listen better. That is a very valuable skill that will improve communication and can lead to better cooperation. Everyone feels better if they know they are being heard by others. Too often, spouses going through a divorce engage in arguments without seriously listening to each other. A neutral therapist can help train the parties to improve their listening skills and that may help the parties have a better relationship post-divorce.

3. MHPs can help the parties learn to communicate better. Word choice is an under-appreciated element of effective communication. With some guidance from a neutral MHP, a party can become a more effective negotiator by avoiding saying some things that will usually trigger an angry response from their spouse. Therapists can often help the parties recognize and avoid emotionally-laden words and phrases. Just avoiding using the word "you" and replacing it with an "I" statement (for example: saying "I feel insecure when I don't get to see the financial records...." instead of "You never let me see the bank statements" ) effectively conveys the message without attacking the spouse.

4. MHPs help the parties manage their emotions. With skills that attorneys don't ordinarily possess, therapists can often recognize anger, fear and other emotions in time to deal with them before they derail the process. As effective as Collaborative Law is, the process is still often very emotional and difficult. MHPs often meet or talk with the parties between joint meetings and can help defuse small problems before they become big issues.

5. MHPs observe and are alert to developing problems at joint meetings. They keep the peace and keep the parties from becoming upset at meetings. With a counselor watching and listening to the parties, we can quickly intervene and stop escalating bad behaviors, such as anger, offensive body language or controlling actions or statements. The MHPs help the parties keep the high ground and not fall into old patterns of arguments that can be very destructive.

Having a neutral mental health professional active from the beginning of the case helps the parties be prepared for problems, avoid problems and react appropriately to difficult and stressful situations. Rather than being considered just an additional expense, MHPs are usually a lifesaver for the process, an excellent investment in reaching an agreement and a better post-divorce relationship.

Don't be surprised if your Collaborative divorce lawyer in Fort Worth or Tarrant County insists on working with a therapist. You would be crazy to disregard that advice.