Skip to main content

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.

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, be

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 “W