September 17, 2014

Finding Silver in a Silver Mine

186765081As I listened to the appalling news out of Ferguson, MO, last week, I was especially struck by two things:

First, a veteran police officer, a retired chief of a municipal department, shared an observation that his officers made during unrest in his city, that when they were deployed in riot gear, officers invariably discovered that the situation became riotous.  But when they met protestors wearing only their regular uniforms, they were able to talk to them and defuse many situations.

Secondly, early last week, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon put State Troopers under the command of Capt. Ronald S. Johnson, who grew up in the area, in charge of the police effort in Ferguson.  Capt. Johnson, as pictured on the front page of the August 15th N.Y. Times, wore only his regular Summer uniform.  He walked with protestors in the streets; he listened to them explain long-standing grievances.  And the temperature in Ferguson cooled perceptibly–before additional tear gas and rubber bullets reignited passions.

I am not a cop.  But the retired police chief–and Capt. Johnson–and I–all know from long experience that you will find trouble if you go looking for it.

Fortunately, my experiences as a divorce lawyer lack both rubber bullets and tear gas, but they are accompanied by strong emotions, usually expressed in the denigration of my client’s spouse.  My client recites how dishonest, abusive, or uncaring the spouse is; how neglectful or clueless he or she is.  It’s the opposite of the old lyric, “lookin’ for gold in a silver mine.”  If those negative emotions bubble over, they’re invariably met with–SURPRISE!–the same feelings on the other side! And the case becomes even more contentious.  The bigger waste, overall, is that the couple seems to believe that the family court system cares about this emotion.  Apparently they believe that if the fight becomes bitter enough, someone will “win”.  These folks could have been the inspiration for Elton John’s lyrics in “Honky Cat”:

         “It’s like trying to find gold in a silver mine. It’s like trying to drink whiskey from a bottle of wine.”

Collaborative Process was conceived as a problem-solving exercise, based on a belief that husbands and wives might put their children’s welfare before their own.  When I can get my client to take that leap of faith, s/he is often astounded to discover that, because they’re not spending the time fighting, both of them are able to make decisions that directly benefit the entire family.  When my client starts out believing that their spouse also wants to complete the process and care for their children, they discover–SURPRISE!–that the spouses do.  And when that happens, they’re more willing to listen to the variety of ways in which that could occur.  Time and energy  are now spent devising productive ways to reorganize their family.

If you’re looking for peace by waging war, don’t expect to find it.  If, on the other hand, you start out waging peace . . .

Steve Yasgur

Stevan Yasgur is a Collaborative Family Law attorney practicing in Edina, MN. A 1980 graduate of the William Mitchell College of Law, he was active in the organized bar early in his career and drafted legislation amending the child support law. He has tried numerous dissolution cases and resolved hundreds of others without trial. For the last decade, his practice has emphasized assisting clients in the Collaborative process. He is also a qualified Rule 114 neutral on the Supreme Court's roster of qualified neutrals. He is a member and past-president of the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota, and a member of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

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