March 16, 2016

Looking at Love

Categories: Collaborative LawDivorce

82137895-paper-heart-ripped-in-half-gettyimagesFrom the eyes of a divorce lawyer, I’ve also had the opportunity to observe goodly numbers of successful and happy marriages. I am not a psychiatrist, nor a psychologist, nor a mental health specialist nor a marriage counselor. I am also not an advice columnist, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn once.

The great jazz clarinetist, Artie Shaw was married eight times. When someone asked what he had learned about marriage he reportedly said, “Marriage! I can’t tell you anything about marriage. I can tell you a lot about divorce.”

I have spent the better part of my life representing clients in the process of obtaining a divorce. An attorney has a window into the lives of his clients and their spouses. From the bitter anger and pain that a betrayal of marriage vows can bring, to the tender compassion of someone learning how to let go of marriage they do not choose to end, yet learning how to do so with grace and dignity.

Marriages, are like snowflakes in the sense that no two are identical, yet large numbers of them similar. Two things stand out for me: that it is a miracle that any two people can ever fashion a life together, and the surprise that so many are able to do so.

Most divorce lawyers report that they have had cases where their clients have reconciled their difference during the divorce process, and found a way to re-create their marriage. Early on in my law practice this would happen in spite of anything that I did to contribute toward it. But, over time, a group of us came together to work on what we came to call, The Reconciliation Option. We worked together with a marriage and family specialist for three years create a focused conversation on ways that we could support parties entering the divorce process to slow down long enough to have some structured conversations with each other and a marriage therapist consider a few options before moving forward with their divorce.

We learned what we all knew, that a lot of divorces began when one party fell out of love first, and in essence went through all the stages of grief that Elizabeth Kubler Ross identified in her groundbreaking work with death and dying:

Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance

Too often they did so without engaging their partner in the process, and as a consequence when they reached acceptance and decided to leave the marriage, their partner was caught by surprise, and usually were quite unprepared to begin working through a divorce, because they had not had to opportunity to move through their own stages of guilt.

The result of our efforts was the creation of a new option called discernment counseling. It is an opportunity for the spouse left behind to have some critical conversations with their partner to learn more about how they had come to arrive at the finality of divorce. It provides the opportunity for them to participate in the, rather than something that was being done to them. It provides the parties with an opportunity to talk about the good times and the bad, and examine what might have gone wrong. They each participated in the process to become married, and it only makes good sense that they should each participate in the decision to end the marriage.

Discernment counseling is neither marriage counseling nor divorce counseling, because it does not begin with an end in mind, only a process to give the parties one last chance of looking at options to repair and recreate the marriage before ending it. Many couples do indeed elect to put some kind of plan together to do some kind of work on the marriage before taking the next steps.

Even when you ultimately decide to end the marriage, you will be in a better place with each other and able to participate effectively in the process. Couples that extend this consideration to each other are usually more likely to have a divorce process that does not spin out of control with horrendous results.

There are many different ways in which love can be present. Parties who can choose to operate at their highest functioning self with each during their divorce create another kind of love that seldom gets recognized.

To learn more about this process, contact any collaborative professional.

Bruce Peck

Bruce is one of the founding members of the Collaborative Law Institute.
Back in the Wonder Years, this small group was trying to figure out what a new way of practicing family law might look like. Today the collaborative law concept has exploded, not just throughout the United States, but also internationally. For over thirty years Bruce has continued to hone his skills to provide the highest quality of services to family law clients. He helps good people make tough choices during difficult times.

Bruce is a laid back and easy going person who listens well to others. He is a shameless optimist who can always see possibility and opportunity. Being very curious by nature, he is a voracious reader. His love for words has drawn him into being an avid poet.

Bruce’s skills supports clients interests without alienating their spouse. When the parties reach agreement, it is not under duress. They have the time to discuss all decisions with their attorneys before signing the agreement. Once completed, the stipulated divorce is filed with the court for a default hearing in which neither party, nor their attorneys, ever have to set foot inside a courthouse. Learn more at

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