The role of lawyers in collaborative cases is markedly different than the role of lawyers in traditional divorce representation. Traditional divorce process severs a family and imposes adversarial goals on clients: each lawyer is obligated to advocate only his or her own client’s position and the goal is to do whatever it takes to win the biggest piece of the financial pie and maximum control over the children for his or her client.
Most clients fall headlong into the divorce process with tremendous fear and the traditional belief that divorce is about winning or losing. Most lawyers don’t discuss divorce process options with clients. The traditional beliefs about divorce are not spoken and alternative ways to think about divorce are not discussed. That has to stop. Our children deserve better. About 50% of first marriages end in divorce but our society still treats divorce as an aberration and our children live with the message that their family is broken.
The Collaborative lawyer’s message to clients is simple: there is a better divorce process. Collaborative divorce process rejects the notion of a winner and a loser. No one in the family thrives unless every member of the family thrives.
Collaborative lawyers are specially trained to teach divorcing couples family transformation. We start by reassuring clients that family transformation through divorce is possible with hard work and dedication. Couples uncouple: it’s a difficult, sometimes personally devastating fact of life. But an equally important fact of life is that we don’t divorce our children. As parents, it is our duty to do everything possible to support our children in managing family transitions. Children whose parents are divorced survive, families continue, and those families frequently function better after divorce. It takes skilled lawyers, thoughtful mental health providers, and families who are committed to transformation: a family living under one roof becomes a family sheltered by two gates, two doors, and yes, two roofs. All of us that practice Collaborative law have seen families successfully navigate this transition many times.
I will always remember one family who exemplified the power of collaboration. The family was dealing with overwhelming grief over the death of their youngest child. While overcome with this tremendous loss, they had to continue to lovingly parent their two surviving young children. The family’s youngest child had died in a devastating accident. The parents could have blamed each other for the child’s death but they were committed to learning to treat each other with compassion, love, and dignity. Each parent was attempting to cope with their child’s death in different, often conflicting ways. They were doing their best to help their surviving children heal. They could not stay married but they worked very hard to remain a family. Their decisions about how to structure their parenting time (placement) with their surviving children were the result of much soul searching and support from their collaborative lawyers and their collaborative mental health team. The parenting plan they created was much different than the decision a court would have made, in my opinion. If the parents had decided to use the traditional divorce process with its insistence that there be a winner and a loser, the damage to the family could have been the final blow for these devastated parents. Their decisions were wiser than a Court could have made given the limitations of litigation and the collaborative process didn’t exacerbate this family’s deep wounds instead it was part of the healing process.
-Diane L. Mader, JD
Law Office of Diane Mader, Middleton, WI
Member since 2001