May 2, 2014


Categories: Collaborative LawDivorce

Ever notice the common metaphors that surround divorce? Images are conjured with words like stress and fear, sadness and confusion, cost and loss. Perhaps, what is needed is to look for new metaphors to describe a life event that is more about new beginnings than ending – for (to paraphrase Mary Catherine Bateson) the relationship is changing not disappearing. We simply have to broaden our understanding of it.

A puzzle heartPerhaps the long winter and too many snow-bound days has something to do with it, but I find myself using the jigsaw puzzle as my current metaphor for the divorce process. When we marry, the various bits and bobs of two lives intermingle, merge, and evolve to create the picture of our family and over time, new pieces – like children, careers, a home – are added. Then a divorce comes along and we are faced with the task of dividing up the various pieces that define a family.

Now, we could get two boxes and have some one else divide the pieces of the marriage between the boxes according to a set of socially acceptable rules. Now, this isn’t a bad system per say, it gets the job done in an objectively fair manner but can on occasion leave folks with pieces in their box that don’t make the best picture. Oh, it’s a picture that will do, but it’s a picture that never seems quite right; it may be that the colors are muddied, or the edges are a bit blurred, or there’s that one piece in the middle that seems a bit forced into place.

On the other hand, we could lay out all the pieces on a table and, if we are open to unique solutions, carefully craft two new pictures. To be sure, there will be false starts and incomplete attempts, but eventually we can craft the best pictures possible. Now these pictures may require us to share pieces, to accept that the pictures may occasionally overlap, and to realize that the picture each of us takes from the table will, over time, change and adapt as our lives change and adapt.

When a couple chooses a “traditional” divorce process, they are, in effect, asking some one else to divide the pieces of their jigsaw puzzle for them. The couple has for any number of reasons decided that they wish to work within the confines of what the law prescribes and that they are willing to accept resultant pictures, regardless of the blurred lines and muddied colors. However, when a couple chooses a collaborative process, they are building an artisan solution on top of the law’s foundation to create a pair of pictures incorporating their goals, aspirations, and best ideas – supported by input from their team of collaborative professionals.

Bruce Cameron
Attorney, Cameron Law, PLLC

Bruce Cameron, JD, MS is a second career attorney, practicing Quaker, and advocate for small town law practices. His solo practice focuses exclusively on collaborative law and mediation with just a soupçon of estate planning for excitement. Bruce believes that alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, like collaborative law and mediation, are powerful positive means to reduce the destructive conflict typical of litigation. He has found that a little peacemaking tends to produce better outcomes for his clients. Learn more at

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