A Better Walk to the Courthouse
A Walk to the Courthouse for a Collaborative Lawyer
By Gail B. Nunn
Today as I walked from my office four blocks to the county courthouse, I thought about how my seemingly simple walk was a lot like getting divorced. It also brought to mind the pieces of the collaborative team and process and how the collaborative experience can make the walk to the courthouse safer and saner.
First I took an elevator ride down 12 floors. When you first realize or decide your marriage is over it can feel like the floor fell away and that you descended to the depths of despair. You may hit bottom and not know what lies ahead. It’s a good idea to get some legal advice at this point, and I would highly recommend you consider talking to a collaborative practitioner. The collaborative process isn’t right for every family, but every family should start out considering the possibility.
Then I passed the bank located in our building lobby. Breaking up is economically scary. How will income that supported one household now support two? How will you pay your bills, keep the kids in their sports and lessons, get your car repaired or even buy a cup of coffee? It’s a good idea to see a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst at the beginning. They can help you keep your feet under you and figure out some of the hard decisions. That is why the collaborative process includes a financial neutral on the divorce team. They know and understand money and they are not afraid to talk about it and to figure out solutions.
I walked outside the building and as I was about to cross the driveway into the parking garage, a big black truck came roaring in off the street and I had to stop dead in my tracks. When your relationship is ending things happen that can stop you dead in your tracks, or make you feel you’ve been run over by a truck! Like you find out your spouse is dating, your teen is having sex or you get a DUI because you had one too many while out with friends trying to be happy for a change. Don’t panic. You will be ok. When we are going through a big trauma like a divorce, life events can feel larger than they are and will impact your already raw emotions in a whole new way. In the collaborative process, the team includes a coach. The coach is another neutral team member with a mental health counseling background and training. Many people don’t think they will need this team member, but they are vital to reaching a successful conclusion. They help the parties and the team with communication issues, calming emotions, working through the hurt feelings together; not as a marriage counselor but as a neutral who is there to help with finding your way as a divorced couple to the other side of that danger zone called getting divorced.
I made it to the corner and looked at the street sign, “California” it said. Hmm. At some point you are going to want to take a vacation, a break from your divorce. Plan something fun and rewarding to give yourself when it’s over; maybe a trip to California or maybe just a camping trip at a local state park. The idea is to be kind to yourself. That financial neutral I mentioned earlier may help you find a way to be able to pay for this.
On the other side of the street is a small college. Again, divorce is life altering. You or your spouse may need to get retrained to reenter the working world. How will that happen, how long with it take and what will it cost? Another major decision to have to make when you are feeling least able to make those decisions. Or, maybe you have a kid in college and you have to work out how to continue to pay for that. Again your collaborative team will help you and your spouse look at these critical issues and to make sound decisions about your future and the future of your family.
A block away was a fast food establishment. Getting divorced can lead to either weight gain or weight loss, lack of money for eating well, and lack of time. Just don’t double size everything, order salads and I’ll say it one more time, “take care of you.”
From the corner I could see the YWCA day care facility. If you have children you are going to be very concerned about the impact of divorce on your children. How will you co-parent? How will you share the children’s time, events, accomplishments and discipline? These are big issues that impact your children for the rest of your lives. In the collaborative process a child specialist may be part of your team. They too are a neutral team member with expertise in child development. They can help be the voice of the child in the process and a resource for making good parenting decisions.
Next door was the new marijuana dispensary. I live in a state where it’s legal. There are plenty of normal, everyday folks who enjoy recreational pot or a beer now and then. However, recreational drugs and alcohol can be a danger zone and this spot on my walk reminded me that sometimes when people are stressed they slip into bad decisions all the way around. Or maybe they have struggled with an addiction issue during the marriage. The collaborative process can be perfect for families with addiction issues. It can provide a safe place to discuss these issues in private instead of airing the issue in public court documents. (Yes, court documents are available to the public) If you litigate, your divorce is not private. If you use the collaborative process the coach, financial neutral and a child specialist can all be on your team and hold your family in their wisdom while you make decisions about treatment plans and recovery.
Continuing my walk, out of the blue another car came rushing out of a driveway and my anxiety soared for a moment. Yes the road to divorce can be bumpy and scary and there will be more than one hard place to get past. In the collaborative process your team will be there for you, guiding you past the bumps, big and small.
I then crossed the street and found myself at the entry to my county courthouse. Ultimately all divorces end up in a courthouse. The decision you can make is when and how that happens. Some families end up before a judge from day one seeking restraining orders and temporary court orders regarding finances, houses, children and support. In the collaborative process, the parties can make these decisions themselves. No one has to spend their emotions, energy and money on name calling, one upping, and positioning. You don’t have to put your life into the hands of a third party judge to decide what will happen. In the collaborative process YOU and your spouse get to decide. YOU have the reins.
If you are facing a divorce, my wish for you is for a safe passage to the courthouse. After many years of taking the walk with many clients, I can assure you that the collaborative way is the safer, saner way.