My last post about collaborative divorce explained why you might like to consider it as an alternative method of getting divorced. And why you might benefit from the team-based approach it offers.
In this post, I want to expand on just who is on your ‘team’.
Interdisciplinary Collaborative Divorce
I’m not a lawyer – I’m a financial adviser. So my experience of the collaborative process is rooted in the interdisciplinary version.
In an ‘interdisciplinary collaborative practice (ICP), you have a team of professionals support you through the process. This team follows a holistic approach to addressing the legal, financial, and emotional issues that arise during divorce.
Depending on your situation, you’ll have the following members on your team:
A Financial Neutral
Our role is to help you understand the financial implications of your divorce and work with you and the team to develop a fair and equitable property settlement.
Much of our work is in the foundational phase of the process, where we’re helping you collect the various information you and the team need to make informed decisions.
We also work with each of you to identify what’s needed to make you both feel confident through the financial negotiation.
For instance, imagine a couple with a breadwinner who’s always paid the bills and made the financial decisions, and a homemaker whose primary role has been to care for the family.
Our breadwinner may be comfortable with the ins and outs of the mortgage, superannuation and savings accounts.
Whereas our homemaker may have elected to stay out of that part of their lives – and are now feeling intimidated by the need to make big, consequential financial decisions.
Part of my role as a financial neutral is to identify these differences and work with them to ‘plug the gaps’ in their respective understanding of their financial picture.
There are a few reasons, but really, the value of our work in this process is by taking (most) of the heat out of the financial discussions.
Talking about money is a fraught topic at the best of times – add the emotional heat of a divorce, fear and uncertainty and you have a combustible situation.
My job is to dilute that heat a little, and help you stay calmer during the tough discussions – because staying calm leads to better outcomes for everyone.
A Communications, or Mental Health, Professional
Imagine, for a moment, a traditional conference during a divorce proceeding.
You’re there, with your ex, and your respective lawyers. And you’re all trying to navigate the issues at hand.
As you’re sitting there, what your ex is saying is just annoying the absolute bejesus out of you.
You can feel the anger rising from your feet, fuelled by years of this same nonsense, this same disrespect, this same deliberate ignoring of your needs and feelings.
Your ears start to burn as you watch your lawyer not ‘do enough’ to make your case and letting them just get away with it.
Until, eventually, it gets too much for you and you explode, making a snarky comment a little too loudly.
A comment that felt great at the time, but that you immediately regretted as your lawyer glared at you for a second longer than comfortable.
This not-unusual situation undermines your case, sabotages the process, pushes your ex into a defensive posture and seizes the entire process.
It’s counter-productive and exactly why there’s a communications professional in an ICP case.
Because, in this situation, they can tell when you’re getting angry.
They know that what your ex is doing is triggering long-held issues that you’ve been carrying.
They’ll look at you and see it in your reaction, the clenching of your teeth, the subtle eye-rolling, the impatient grunting and huffing.
And they’ll call a break to the meeting.
You and your lawyer will go to another room for a quick debrief – where they’ll explain what they’re doing and why, and give you an opportunity to vent.
Then your communications specialist will knock on the door and come in to speak with you as well.
To revisit the strategies you’ve both agreed to use when things go off track a little.
To recentre you on your main priorities out of the process.
To recalibrate your emotional reaction and bring your focus back to resolutions, not recriminations.
Then they leave the room, you take a deep breath and follow your lawyer back to the main event – with a clearer mind and renewed focus.
This – this is why having an expert communications professional in your collaborative divorce is so powerful.
You also have your own, individual lawyer. They’re on your side, and they’re there to help you identify and articulate your goals for the divorce.
They work with you to clarify your interests through the divorce – and then they tenaciously advocate for them.
They protect, pursue and prosecute your interests.
But they do so in a respectful manner within a team. And because of that team environment, they’re able to keep proceedings in the realm of reality.
They can temper some of your expectations, help you sidestep the landmines that could blow up the entire process.
They help you by making sure you know your rights, and sitting by you as you make the important decisions for you and your family.
At the same time, your ex’s lawyer is doing the same job for them.
They’re there to safeguard your ex’s interests.
But, again, they’re doing so within the context of ‘what’s right for this family?’.
They help by taking a longer-term view than you and your ex might want to in the heat of the moment.
A Walk in the Park It Ain’t
A collaborative negotiation, I should point out, isn’t automatically an ‘easy’ one.
It’s not a matter of the lawyers sitting around, holding hands and kumbaya-ing their way to an unacceptable resolution. I’ve seen lawyers dig their heels in, scoff and use every tactic in between to protect their client’s interests.
But it’s why they’re doing it that makes it so valuable.
They’re not doing it to ‘win’, to mark another notch on their belt by getting one over the opposition.
They’re doing it because they know that you and your family need to live with this resolution tomorrow, and the day after, and the month after, and the year after that.
And that if you’re there in a collaboration, it’s because you want what’s best for your family. And inherent in that is making sure that the two of you strike an agreement that works in your combined best interests.
Watching lawyers navigate this rocky terrain has been, for me, one of the real privileges of working in collaborative practice.
Because of the presence of the two neutrals, it is worth noting that the team is really there for both of you.
Keep in mind that the overriding goal of the process is to help you and your family reach a resolution that works for you – that it’s not about maximising your individual share of everything. This means that it’s the shared resolution that is key – hence the importance of the team being there to help both of you.
A quick note on this difference, because it is vitally important.
Open vs. Closed
It is critical that you go into the collaborative process with an open mindset, instead of a closed one.
Be open to expressing yourself, to exploring different options, to a different definition of what ‘winning’ looks like.
And remember that the pool you’re negotiating over – the shared wealth you have built as a family over the course of your relationship – is fixed. Which makes it a zero-sum game – for every dollar you ‘win’, the other person ‘loses’ a dollar.
This is the exact opposite of a collaborative approach.
Otherwise, defaulting back to a ‘how much can I get’ mindset will sabotage the entire process and – ultimately – lead it down the road to failure. And nobody wants that.
As you can probably tell, I firmly believe that an interdisciplinary collaborative divorce is an outstanding option for many families going through the sheer difficulty of a divorce. It can provide them with support and assistance through a difficult process and smooth out the highs and lows of the emotional rollercoaster.
If you’re considering your own divorce, I encourage you to check out the VACP or AACP websites to learn more about collaborative practice, or give me a call on 0414 318 048 to find out more.