The Collaborative Divorce: Beginning, Middle, and End
Beginning: I have worked on many cases and find the team is very good at teaching the clients what to expect in the first of the Collaborative Process.
The team spends time going over the way the process works, for example, the first joint meeting everyone will discuss the Collaborative Law Agreement the MHP and FP participation agreements, go over goals and interests, talk about the homework the clients will have, etc. The team reviews The Roadmap to Resolution and Expectations of Conduct. The clients start scheduling offline meetings with the communication facilitator and the financial professional as well as the attorneys. There is consistent contact with the clients and the team.
Middle: At the middle of the case, the clients see progress. They have gone through some difficult discussions and now know they will get to a resolution. Parenting plans are getting developed and the couple is working on co-parenting, if they don’t have children they might be working on communication skills and how to talk to friends and family about the divorce. The clients are meeting with the financial professional and talking about financial issues and how to divide the pie, getting budgets together, what to do with personal inventories. The joint meetings continue at a regular interval, every two to three weeks. At the last meetings the clients start talking about settlement issues. They start brainstorming options, ruling out unwanted options and develop agreements. The agreement goes to the attorneys to be finalized and joint meetings may come to an end. The attorneys continue working on the decree and often the clients wait for several weeks before hearing from the team members.
End: I know this is not in all cases and maybe rarely does this happen to anyone else. However, there is often a dead zone after the last joint meeting and finalizing the divorce. The end of the collaborative process is often the last memory the clients have of the Collaborative Process. I always want them to walk away with good recommendations and spread the word. So I have thought about how to make the ending better in the cases I work with.
The clients usually get concerned about cost and don’t want to show up for a signing meeting and it seems like one of the most important one to me. I suggest we talk about the signing meeting at the first joint meeting, as though there is no option but to show up. It could be talked about when we have discussions about fees and reminding the clients often that the signing meeting will be happening.
I also think it is a way to keep the team accountable. I don’t know about you but in nearly every case I have worked on, one of the first goals and interest of the clients is – a timely and cost effective divorce (or words like that) and having a scheduled signing is one way to keep each team member responsible for their participation in the process.
At the signing meeting, I suggest the clients could give a few post-divorce goals and end the last meeting as the first began, with thinking about the future and forward thinking. I suggest the MHP set a meeting with the clients after the joint meeting to discuss how communication is going and how the parenting plan is working. The FP can also stay connected to the clients during this time to give support and answer any questions for the clients. I also suggest that team communication stays active during this time so there is no one left out of the loop.
I am interested in any suggestions you might have or things that have worked for you and your teams.
Vicki James works as a team member with Collaborative Law as a communication facilitator. She is also trained as a Parent Coordinator and Family Mediator. She is a member of the Collaborative Law Institute of Texas, International Association of Collaborative Professionals where she is on the National Civil Law Committee. Vicki is on the Board Texas Association of Family and Conciliation, and a member of Texas Collaborative Law Council, Inc.