If you are like many people, the beginning of a new year carries with it the sense of a fresh start, a desire for change, and resolutions (oh the resolutions!) about various things…these last until about January 10th…maybe the 11th.
For some people, the start of the new year brings an end to a stressful and uncomfortable holiday season due to turmoil or unhappiness in their marriage. As a family law attorney, each January I meet with many new clients who tell me the catalyst for the appointment was that they could not imagine enduring another holiday with their spouse. They are ready to take steps to end their marriage.
In the spirit of fresh starts and positive changes, I encourage people who come to meet with me (all year round, not just in January) to consider the Collaborative process as a means to move forward with the vast transition that takes place as a result of a divorce.
The Collaborative divorce process puts the people who are at a pivotal moment in their family’s lives in charge of the process, not their attorneys, and not the courts. A judge knows little about the family and the needs of each individual in the family. Too often, the adversarial nature of litigation hurts the entire family—financially, mentally, and emotionally. Some litigants, and, sadly, some attorneys, fight with a “winner take all” attitude that cares little for the integral family relationships (particularly between parents and children) that need to function in a healthy (and dare I suggest happy?) manner post-divorce.
The Collaborative process focuses on interest-based negotiations and the participants focus on goals, as well as concerns, while working as a team to build a final settlement agreement in which the family, in its new 2.0 version, can flourish. Trained attorneys, financial neutrals, coaches and child specialists work with the participants in a respectful and dignified manner through a series of meetings, rather than showdowns in the courthouse. While the Collaborative process and its trained professionals concentrate on interest-based negotiation, this does not prevent all conflict, emotions, or even occasional hostility. Fortunately, the professionals who are properly trained and practice Collaborative divorce have myriad tools they employ to move through tense and difficult settlement meetings to reach resolution.
This alternative dispute resolution is not just for people who can “agree to disagree” and want to part ways peacefully with minimal carnage and conflict. Collaborative methods can be used in high conflict cases very successfully. First, all the Collaborative professionals have been trained to help the participants focus on moving forward into the future, and seeking solutions that can work for everyone. Second, often in a high conflict case, there is one person who focuses on generating drama instead of solutions. By taking this type of case out of a courtroom and into a conference room to discuss proposals and options, the “stage” on which that person has to perform and the other actors (the Collaborative professionals) involved, are no longer set up to support antagonism. Another benefit in the Collaborative process, in particular for high conflict cases, is the use of divorce coaches. Coaches are mental health professionals who come well equipped to reduce tensions, help the participants see the situation they face from other perspectives, and assist the attorneys in facilitating a resolution that is win-win instead of win-lose.
There are many people who choose litigation for their pre-decree case, but when issues arise post-decree, they would rather be more in control of the outcome by working together. The Collaborative process can be used in post-dissolution cases as well. Just because people litigated before does not prevent them from pursuing a Collaborative resolution for post decree matters. Any issues ranging from contribution to college expenses, to changes in the allocation of parenting time and responsibilities, or modification of spousal support can be approached from the Collaborative prospective.
As each new year reminds us, there is always an opportunity to try something new or to make a change for the better. We do not have to wait for January 1st to take that opportunity.
Anique K. Drouin is a family law attorney at Sullivan Taylor & Gumina, P.C. She is a fellow of the Collaborative Institute of Illinois, as well as a mediator. You can find more information at www.stglaw.com/attorneys/anique-drouin
CLII Fellow and attorney Beth McCormack provides an overview of the Collaborative divorce process and explains the importance of Collaborative training for professionals interested in offering this service to clients: Collaborative Practice Training: Gaining the Necessary Skills – Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, August 2016.
At the collaborative table, I have sat in many spots: first as a client in my mid-thirties with two young sons … then, because of what I learned in my own divorce, as an attorney establishing my own law firm with a focus on Collaborative Practice … and now, with the support of my colleagues and family, stepping into the role of President of the Collaborative Law Institute of Illinois (CLII) for the next 12 months.
It will be a busy year as I continue to serve clients in my growing law practice while working with my peers to create a culture where Collaborative Practice is the first option people consider when divorcing. CLII has been raising the visibility of Collaborative Practice in Illinois but we still have a ways to go: Too often, I have heard from people I meet that they learned about Collaborative after their divorce, and they wish that they would have had it as an option.
With over 10 years under my belt as a Collaborative lawyer, I feel a sense of responsibility to help mentor those just starting out in Collaborative family law. As president, I intend to strengthen CLII as the go-to resource for training and networking. In this community, Collaborative professionals of all three disciplines CLII represents – legal, financial, and mental health – share best practices, discuss new laws, and inspire each other to do our best for our clients.
So please join me in spreading the word about Collaborative Practice so that it is the first option people consider when divorcing! – Theresa Beran Kulat, JD
Ellene Lammers, LCSW, explains the importance of an apology and the impact that it can have on a relationship.
Conflict is part of every marriage. In order for the relationship to succeed, each individual will need to learn constructive ways of dealing with conflict—ideally as it arises.
Without this ability, over time, the marriage could have major challenges and difficulties. Even after the decision to divorce has been made, an apology can go a long way towards encouraging a more effective communication pattern. If there are children, it is healthier for them to be in an environment in which their parents are able to respect and cooperate with each other. If their parents are unable to peacefully co-parent, the children suffer from the emotional state of their parents’ relationship.
Once a divorce has occurred, many believe it’s time to move on and forget about the past.
These would be the same individuals who continue to harbor negative feelings about their ex many years later. A simple apology for an action(s) or words that were hurtful can be
transformative in moving forward constructively in a co-parenting relationship.
An apology has a few necessary components, but most importantly. it must be given freely. If the apology is not sincere and genuine, it may cause further damage. Some individuals do not know how to apologize and may feel so uncomfortable that they refuse to put themselves in this position. Others may believe that apologizing is a sign of weakness. Needless to say, these are the people who think that always having the upper hand is of the utmost importance. They might also be under the mistaken assumption that offering an apology means that they have taken full responsibility for everything that was not functioning effectively in the relationship.
Ultimately, these are the people who decide to ignore the need for an apology. Ignoring will not help or improve any situation. It just encourages the negative feelings to fester.
When researching the best ways of expressing an apology, the experts are in agreement. The first step is to express remorse. Just saying “I’m sorry” means a great deal to the receiving individual. The next step is to take responsibility for the offense. That means, not only saying “I’m sorry” but also saying what the offensive acts or words were. This allows the receiver to feel validated and heard. It also ensures that the individual giving the apology truly understands what s/he is apologizing for.
The ultimate goal of an apology is to express true regret at what was said or done so that a more positive relationship can occur. There must be no expectation that the other person also offer an apology. If this is the case, the apology is not being given freely and so it is not sincere or genuine. If something can be immediately done to “fix” what happened, then that should be accomplished. Many would call this making amends. If this cannot be done, the apology should be accompanied by a promise/pact to not repeat the same offense in the future. Actions speak louder than words. The passage of time is the only way to prove that an individual has changed and will not repeat the same offense again. Everyone makes mistakes, however it is important to learn from them.
The individual receiving the apology must believe the offender truly understands what the
offense was. In this way, it will become easier for this individual to move forward with the
relationship and not dwell on the past. Without an apology, grudges and negative feelings
continue to multiply and grow.
No one is perfect. Parents need to teach their children the importance of apologizing and to be good role models in expressing when they have been wrong. This will be a great gift to their children because as a result, their parents will have a more respectful and cooperative coparenting relationship. It will also result in children that are able to cope with their parents’ divorce in a healthier and more constructive way.
Ellene Lammers, LCSW
Collaborative Divorce Coach and Mediator
Dr. Deanna Conklin Danao, clinical psychologist and divorce coach, offers insight and tips for handling situations that may arise during a divorce.
All divorces are unique. The personalities, lawyers, assets, and issues involved create a volatile environment that can lead the divorcing parties down many different paths. No matter how the path of your divorce unfolds, there are some things that almost all divorcing spouses can expect to encounter. Knowing these things, and anticipating how you will want to respond to them, will make your experience easier.
You will have strong emotions.
Divorce conjures up strong emotions including: sadness, pain, anger, grief and fear. Even if your divorce is something you wanted and/or you believe that it’s the right thing for you and your family, you will experience difficult emotions. Divorce is a stressful time and will impact you in a number of ways.
You will need extra support.
The strain of divorce will create a need for emotional and physician support. You will need a shoulder to cry on. You will need people to help you with your kids. Make sure to accept the help of friends and family to get through this difficult time and keep the door open to seeking professional support such as a therapist or financial expert. Divorcing couples should also consider professionals that are trained to help families through divorce such as a Divorce Coach or Child Specialist.
You will receive unsolicited input.
There will always be friends, relatives or neighbors who want the scoop on your divorce. They will tell you about their awful divorce or suggest you should “take him/her for everything they have.” Be wary of these Greek Choruses. Even if they mean well, they can bring out the worst in you or stir up your worst fears. Surround yourself with supportive people who want to see you navigate this as gracefully as possible.
You will not have control over the court system.
If you choose a litigated divorce, it is important to remember that the ultimate control over your case rests with the judge in your case. If you want to shape a financial and parenting plan that fits the unique needs of your family and ensure that is the plan that will come out of your divorce, choose mediation or Collaborative Divorce.
Your kids will have a reaction to your divorce.
Divorce is a major life change for kids but it doesn’t need to be devastating. There are many things you can do to reduce the negative impact and protect them during the process. Keeping your kids out of the middle of the divorce, minimizing the conflict with your co-parent, supporting their feelings about the change and creating a parenting plan that considers their personality and developmental level are all steps that you can take to help your kids get through divorce.
When you start the divorce process, consider the emotional costs as well as the financial costs. You can anticipate that this process will be difficult, but it doesn’t have to devastate you or your children. With the right support, you can come out of this phase ready to build the life you want for yourself.
Dr. Deanna Conklin Danao has been in private practice since 2006, seeing children, adolescents and adults individually and in family and couples therapy. For more information, please visit www.drconklindanao.com or call (312)493-2628.