September 11, 2015

The Collaborative “Team”: The Role of The Divorcing Couple (and Their Family)

482307171-two-businesswomen-discussing-project-details-gettyimagesThe most important members of the collaborative team are the divorcing couple themselves. By choosing a collaborative process, they are agreeing to show up at the table, even when the conversations and decisions are difficult, even when emotions run high. They are saying that their future as individuals and as a family – whatever that family will look like – is important enough to put in the work now. We ask a lot of our clients, but the rewards are evident in the rich conversations around difficult topics, leading to well crafted agreements.

I say that the divorcing couple’s family are a participant, because even if not directly involved, the divorce will affect their loved ones. Of course it we think of this in the case of young children, but college age or older children will be affected as well. Parents, siblings, and friends will have their own emotions to process about the family change. The value of the child/family specialist in helping the couple craft how they want their divorce and post-divorce relationships to look.

The first step spouses in the collaborative process take is gathering their team. They each choose an attorney trained in the collaborative process, and a coach, financial neutral, and child specialist as needed. Compiling the right team is a key piece in moving the couple toward their goals. It varies for everyone, but some people will meet with or interview multiple professionals for each role in order to find the right fit for them, others feel a good connection and trust with the first person they meet with. I encourage potential clients to talk with multiple attorneys if they feel the urge, to make sure they end up with the right fit for them.

Once the team is compiled, each attorney and client will prep for what is called the first joint meeting. Typically this meeting will be between the divorcing couple, their attorneys, and the coach if used. At this meeting, the participation agreement is reviewed and signed, any preliminary items that need attention are addressed, a “Joint Petition for Dissolution” is signed – the document that officially begins the divorce process, although it will not be filed with the court until the end of the process – and most importantly, goals are discussed. Each spouse has an opportunity to share goals that they have, whether short- or long-term, for the process or outcome, and they might be a joint goal (shared by both spouses), or just an individual goal. Identifying these goals helps us as professionals to know where we are headed, what outcomes we should aim to achieve. The best outcomes are those that satisfy the goals of all participants.

The next step in the process is usually a variety of meetings with the financial neutral and child specialist, which the attorneys do not attend. At this stage, the couple is asked to take on a lot of responsibility, from attending meetings and being present, to compiling financial information, to listening to their children’s viewpoint to crafting a parenting plan. The couple are much more active participants than in a traditional divorce process.

The attorneys will be checking in with their clients throughout, and once information is compiled, they will discuss options for reaching financial goals with their client – possible options for resolution. A joint meeting will be held with the couple, their attorneys, the financial neutral, and the coach if applicable, at which time multiple options for financial solutions can be generated. Either at that meeting, or following the meeting (or both), the couple and their attorneys evaluate those options to determine if they are meeting their goals, if there are other options, if more information is needed, etc.

Meanwhile, the coach will have an eye on the pulse of the team, stepping in to offer assistance when necessary – if tension runs high or if the team begins to feel stuck. Attorneys will be checking in with their clients and working individually to prepare for meetings, as well as doing pre- and de-briefs with the rest of the professionals before and after joint meetings. Typically the child specialist will continue working with the family to craft the parenting plan, talk about discussing the divorce with the kids, transitioning in to two households, etc.

You can see that there are a lot of moving pieces, and much is asked of the divorcing couple. However, the outcomes are usually very thorough and high quality, and meet most of the couple’s goals, both for specific items such as division of finances, and for things like their relationship following the divorce.

Anna HagstromABOUT THE AUTHOR
Anna Hagstrom, Attorney and Mediator
Hagstrom Law & Mediation, PLLC

Anna is an attorney and mediator, and founder of Hagstrom Law & Mediation, whose mission is to create peaceful, collaborative resolutions by compassionately guiding people through major life events. She is experienced in alternatives to traditional litigation, and believes it is her role to empower her clients with knowledge and confidence to make educated decisions and move forward. Learn more at www.Hagstrom-Law.com

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