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Collaborative in a time of COVID

by Beth Aarons

When a former family law colleague of mine told me about Collaborative Law Process sometime around 2008, conceptually it sounded much like a series of traditional four-way meetings, but with a therapist present.  As a fledgling dispute resolution process, I saw no harm in adding this skill set to my professional tool kit to bolster the transition of my practice out of litigation and into dispute resolution.

It was not until several years after I had taken the Introduction to Collaborative Law training that I experienced the actual magic of Collaborative Law Process.  The family had been slowly imploding for years and now everything was coming to a head.* Mom and Dad still occupied the same house but had stopped speaking to each other years earlier after Dad had an infidelity.  They had decided to divorce but not tell the kids until there was a plan to separate into two households.  Mom had lost her job and Dad’s salary was not enough to cover two sets of living expenses, so everything was in a deteriorating holding pattern fraught with stress and tension.  The middle school aged child started failing classes and was nighttime bed-wetting.  The younger teenage child developed symptoms consistent with obsessive compulsive disorder.  It was when the older teenage child made a failed suicide attempt that Mom reacted by filing for divorce.

Shocked at being served with the divorce action and daunted by the prospect of protracted litigation, Dad reached out to an attorney and eventually invited Mom to put the litigation on hold and try Collaborative Law Process.  For this family, even proceeding to the first full team meeting was a huge accomplishment.  With so many years of emotional rift to be unpacked, and children clearly in need of effective and proactive co-parenting support, Collaborative Law Process provided the structural format this family required in order to have the very difficult but necessary conversations to lead them out of their toxic holding pattern.  It was a framework that let Dad apologize for his indiscretion, and let Mom process her feelings of parental failure over the children’s escalating issues.  The professional team helped choreograph the timing and manner of challenging conversations like these so the couple could get “unstuck” and attend to the important financial and parenting decisions they needed to make in their divorce.

While not all dispute resolution processes fit every client situation, with so many litigants still experiencing significant court delays due to the pandemic, it could be beneficial to see if there might be a dispute resolution process appropriate for the parties to try.  Many divorce clients are literally stuck at home in the same type of stressful pressure cooker Mom and Dad’s family experienced.  Litigation could still be resumed if the dispute resolution process is unsuccessful, but it would afford at least a chance at more timely settlement and a way for families to move beyond pandemic paralysis.

In addition, the Collaborative Law Process, like mediation, conciliation and arbitration, translates well to online virtual platforms because they are flexible in nature.

Need more information?  Most dispute resolution practitioners are happy to provide information about the differences between processes to help determine if a process would be appropriate for clients.  Or consider taking a dispute resolution process training to get a deep dive into the ins and outs of its inner workings.  More knowledge can only help professionals to better assist clients navigating their process choices during COVID or any time.

*details modified to protect confidentiality

If you're interest in learning more about Collaborative Law attend a Practice Group meeting or an  upcoming training at MCLC.


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