Skip to main content

What can Star Trek teach us about Collaborative Divorce?

Image from Wikipedia
Two of my favorite articles regarding leadership were written by Alex Knapp of Forbes:  Five Leadership Lessons From James T. Kirk; and Five Leadership Lessons From Jean-Luc Picard.  While both captains were very different leaders, and each definitely has their own devoted cult following, there were still similarities in how they led.  For example, Alex points out that Captain Kirk surrounded himself with advisers who had different world views, and that Captain Picard was willing to ask for help when he needed it (whether from advisers or even sometimes from his opponents).

What can these leadership qualities teach us about Collaborative Divorce?

Ultimately when we are assisting divorcing couples, whether through the court process or through negotiation, we are leading them through a complicated and emotional process.  As leaders in this role we should be considering what types of leaders we want to be.  Particularly in Collaborative Divorce where the process is designed to model better communication for the divorcing couple, we are leading these couples through each step of the divorce process as a team.  The collaborative attorney is still the leader on legal issues, but we also involve a collaborative coach to help lead the emotional discussions and guide communication, and a financial expert to help lead the financial planning and summary.

Often attorneys have difficulty letting go of some of their power in these roles, and in fact many attorneys (even those who have been Collaboratively trained) refuse to involve coaches in their cases.  But this choice assumes that we can lead a divorce case without any help.  Just like Captains Kirk and Picard, attorneys need to recognize that sometimes we need help.  In order to effectively lead divorce clients through emotional and financial issues we should make use of the right advisors for these roles.

Does good leadership require the use of advisors?

Ever since Netflix Instant watch obtained all of the Star Trek television episodes, I have been re-watching both the Original Series (TOS) and The Next Generation (TNG).  Despite the fact that my wife is still resistant to liking Star Trek, she has been watching it with me and, of course, commenting on various observations including how ridiculous both shows look today.  We also recently discussed one of the striking differences between the two series: the presence of Deanna Troi, ship's counselor, on the bridge.

While Captain Kirk had Spock and Dr. McCoy as his trusted advisors, TNG took the concept one step further by having a mental health practitioner as an advisor, and a woman no less.  While Dr. McCoy was quick to point out that his skills were mainly as a doctor, damn-it, he was still a commissioned officer and a very masculine perspective.  Captain Picard, however, constantly asks for advice from a woman who isn't an officer (at least not until  later episodes) and who is so focused specifically on the emotional side of negotiation that she literally feels the emotions of those around her.

In the same way that Star Trek evolved to recognize the importance of emotions and the female perspective in leadership decision making and negotiation, the process of getting divorced must evolve as well.  There is no negotiation that is more likely to involve strong emotions and feelings than a divorce case.  So why do lawyers think they can guide clients through that minefield without help?

In my experience, many lawyers will try to avoid the emotional issues by simply recommending that their clients also see a therapist.  That disconnects the legal process from the emotional one, and as any good negotiator will tell you, it is not possible to fully disconnect one's emotional and rational interests in a negotiation.  Indeed, having and facing the conflicts that happen in a divorce case can often be an integral part of finding solutions.  This is a concept explored in a lecture from Collaborative attorney, Neil Denny, about How to Enable Conflict.

Since lawyers aren't trained to enable conflict, or manage communication and emotions, the Collaborative process is designed to bring an expert in those fields to the table: the Coach.  Divorce will get easier for clients when more lawyers realize the value of including a coach to advise clients on dealing with the emotional portion of conflict in real time, i.e. during the negotiation.

So if you are a spouse facing divorce, or a lawyer who helps clients through their divorce, the next time someone suggests using a coach or financial planner to help, don't think of it as a negative that the lawyer can't fill all those roles.  Instead, picture yourself on the bridge of a starship, facing down a force that seems more powerful than you.  Are you alone on that bridge?  Or is your trusted advisor sitting in the chair next to you, helping you to be a better leader?


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

What is the purpose of the Divorce Nisi waiting period?

In Massachusetts the statutory waiting period after a Judgment of Divorce and before the divorce becomes final (or absolute) is called the Nisi period. After a divorce case settles or goes to trial, a Judgment of Divorce Nisi will issue and it will become Absolute after a further ninety (90) days.

This waiting period serves the purpose of allowing parties to change their mind before the divorce becomes final. If the Judgment of Divorce Nisi has issued but not become final yet, and you and your spouse decide you don't want to get divorced, then you can file a Motion to Dismiss and the Judgment will be undone. Although many of my clients who are getting divorced think the idea of getting back together with their ex sounds crazy, I have had cases where this happened.

In addition to offering a grace period to change your mind, the Nisi period has three other legal effects:

1. The most obvious effect of the waiting period is that you cannot remarry during the Nisi period, because…

Does a Criminal Record affect Child Custody?

If one of the parents in a custody case has a criminal record, the types of crimes on their record could have an effect on their chances of obtaining custody. In custody cases the issue is always going to come down to whether or not the best interests of the child might be affected.

In the most extreme case, in which one parent has been convicted of first degree murder of the other parent, the law specifically prohibits visitation with the children until they are of a suitable age to assent.

Similarly, but to a less serious degree, in making custody and visitation determinations the court will consider crimes that would cause one to question the fitness of a parent. These types of crimes would obviously include any violent crime convictions which could call into question whether the children would be in danger around a parent who has shown themselves to resort to violence when faced with conflict. In addition, drug and alcohol abuse offenses would call into question a parent'…

The Questions that Lawyers and Mediators aren't asking but should: Let's talk about Pronouns

I recently had the opportunity to train with two of the most prominent mediators in Massachusetts: John Fiske and Diane Neumann. Each time they run a training, John and Diane share what they think is the most important question for a client to answer to have an effective mediation. John says that he thought the most important question is "What do I want?" But then he will tell you, with a knowing smile, that Diane disagreed with him and she would say that the most important question for a client to answer is "Who am I?"

I agree with Diane. The best lawyers and mediators ask their clients not just about what they want, but also deep questions about the clients' identity, goals, and values in order to help the clients resolve conflict in the most effective way possible. Despite knowing this, we often fail to ask clients the simplest questions when we first meet them or have them fill out an intake. We fail to give them an opportunity to answer the question “Who …