September 19, 2013

To Divorce or Not to Divorce? What to do with this Question.

CounselingAs a Collaborative Divorce Attorney, I have seen many clients who are ambivalent about getting a divorce. How do I know they are ambivalent? Because, in addition to the story they tell me, I ask potential clients to take the following survey:

Even though divorce is a legal process, your emotions and your perspective on divorce, and those of your spouse, are very important and cannot be separated from the legal process. To assist me in beginning to understand your views about proceeding with divorce, please answer the following questions.

1.  People have different attitudes towards their divorce. Please check which of these statements most closely fits your own attitude right now.

(   )       I’m done with this marriage; it’s too late now even if my spouse were                            to make major changes.

(   )       I have mixed feelings about the divorce; sometimes I think it’s a good                          idea and sometimes I’m not sure.

(   )       I would consider reconciling if my spouse got serious about making                               major changes.

(   )       I don’t want this divorce, and I would work hard to get us back together.

2.  Readiness for Divorce

People come to the divorce process with different degrees of readiness to divorce. Some may not want the divorce and are not emotionally prepared to participate in the process, while others have been ready for some time and feel impatient to get things moving. And there is a wide range of feelings in between. Please rate yourself on the scale below by circling the number that best describes your readiness for divorce today.  

0        1         2         3         4        5        6        7        8         9         10

_________________________________________________________

I’m absolutely not                                                          I’m ready to move                           ready for this divorce                                                    forward immediately

This survey was created by a group of collaborative divorce attorneys working with Dr. William Doherty of the University of Minnesota. After giving this survey to people whose divorces had already been filed in court (Hennepin County, Minnesota), it was determined that in 12.6% of the filed divorce cases both spouses in the marriage were not sure they wanted the divorce!

This led to the recognition that there was a failure to provide services to this group of people. That has now been corrected. Couples who are ambivalent about divorce can now gain clarity about whether to move forward with a divorce or to move forward with a plan to restore the marriage to health. This clarity is achieved through specialized counseling called Discernment Counseling. Discernment Counseling is a focused, short-term process involving no more than 4 to 6 sessions. A Discernment Counselor helps the couple…

  1. gain clarity and confidence about what steps to take next with their marriage;
  2. understand what has happened to their marriage;
  3. look at problems from the perspective of each spouse;
  4. determine whether past counseling has been helpful or not so helpful;
  5. evaluate the possibility of solving their problems and restoring their marriage to health; and
  6. make a joint decision about whether or not to move towards divorce.

The clients I see who are ambivalent about divorce are greatly relieved to know this service exists. It provides them with a structured process where both parties can join in the decision of what to do about the marriage. If the couple decides to try to restore the marriage to health, they move to specialized counseling to create a plan for that to happen. If the couple decides to end the marriage, they are in a much better place to undertake a constructive and peaceful divorce. For more information about Discernment Counseling and to find a Discernment Counselor please go to www.collaborativelaw.org and www.mncouplesonthebrink.org.

Tonda L. MattieABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tonda Mattie

Tonda Mattie has been a Family Law attorney for over 30 years and has practiced exclusively Collaborative Family Law since 2006.  She has been involved in the Collaborative Law movement since 1992.  She has been past President and past Co-President of the Collaborative Law Institute (CLI) of Minnesota.  She has headed the CLI Training Committee as chair or co-chair since 2004.  She is engaged in the practice of her dreams using a collaborative process that 1) allows good people to be their best despite the crisis they are in; 2) is centered on the well-being of the children; 3) creates a safe environment for difficult conversations; 4) focuses on the future rather than on blame and past grievances; 5) identifies and meets the needs and interests of all family members; 6) empowers parties to control and create their own mutual settlement; and 7) creates a climate in which healing can begin to occur. Visit her website at www.mndivorce.com.

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