Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Problem of Unrealistic Expectations

There have only been a few studies or surveys into why Collaborative Law may not work in some cases, but one of the biggest problems encountered has been unreasonable expectations. These problems arise in both the outcome expected and thoughts about how the process will work.

Some of the outcome expectation problems are as follows:

  • Having a pre-determined outcome in mind and being unwilling to change. Some people are attracted to Collaborative Law because it is more private and more civilized, but they are unwilling to compromise on the initial results they desire. In other words, they don't fully commit to the process. Sometimes they can be lucky and reach agreements that achieve their goals. More often, they become frustrated, and frustrate everyone else, when agreement cannot be reached. They usually blame everyone else for the breakdown.

  • Expecting to solve impossible problems. Sometimes the other party is mentally ill and simply can't work through the process and reach an agreement. Sometimes there just is not enough money to go around, for example. Sometimes a party or a child has physical or mental limitations that prevent them from doing something a party really wants done. No amount of wishing or peaceful negotiations will make some solutions possible.

  • Believing the process can overcome the unrealistic or unreasonable other party. We can do little to control other people. If the other party is unbending in pursuit of unrealistic objectives, such as demanding a certain level of retirement income that is not achieveable, the process can't solve the problem.

  • Expecting to achieve everything that they want. Usually, there are finite resources, or at least limits, and that may mean that some goals are impossible. While Collaborative Law will provide the means for creating more effective customized solutions, there usually is still need to negotiate and compromise. Parties generally will come out ahead of what they could expect through litigation even if they don't get everything they want.

  • Thinking you can change your spouse's behavior. While some changes can be made through the assistance of the mental health/communication professional or the child specialist or financial professional, your spouse must want to change before it will happen. The process does not just magically change personalities or behaviors.

There are also problems relating to expectations about the process.

  • Expecting the process to be fast. Unfortunately, "fast" is relative. In Texas, there is an automatic 60-day waiting period between filing for the divorce and the earliest date that the divorce can be granted. In litigation, in Tarrant County at least, it is normal for a contested divorce to take at least 6 months to a year (or more) to be resolved. In Collaborative Law cases, there is a wide range of time spent in the process, but it rarely goes a year, unless the parties want it to. Usually, it can be done in a few months, but it may seem longer to a party because there is so much direct negotiation at meetings. For whatever reason, the process often seems slow, but it actually can be a much more efficient process than litigation, although the parties may not recognize that.

  • Anticipating a cheap process. Like the time/speed issue, the cost is relative. In all likelihood, there can be some cost savings, but there will still be a significant time and attorney fee investment, partly because the cases involve substantial assets and other complex issues that cannot be resolved quickly. If you are in a Collaborative case and become concerned about the cost, ask your attorney to give you an estimate of what the cost might have been to get to your position through the litigation system. You may be amazed!

  • Believing the process will be easy. While Collaborative Law is more civilized, it will be stressful, difficult and emotionally draining. Nonetheless, it should be less damaging to family relationships and should provide a peaceful means to settle the issues.

  • Expecting your attorney to carry the load for you in discussions. You will need to participate more, not less, in this process, but your attorney and the other professionals will help you be better prepared and will help the meetings proceed in an orderly, safe manner.

  • Thinking that you can skip some of the steps in the process. Some people want to go right to negotiating the settlement and skip goal setting, gathering information, brainstorming and evaluating the options. Although the process may seem a little rigid to someone in a hurry, it proves valuable in the end because you have an agreement that both parties fully participated in and support.

What are the solutions to unrealistic expectations? The attorneys, mental health professional and financial professional should talk to the parties at the outset to find out their goals and needs, whether they will be flexible and their views of the other party. The professionals need to make sure that the parties understand and really buy into the process. The parties need to understand, in advance, how the process works and be committed to it. They should not insist on trying Collaborative Law if they know that they or their spouse may have unreasonable expectations.

If a party or both parties have unrealistic expectations, it is better to not try Collaborative Law.

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