The Collaborative Process

Lisa

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Lisa Alexander

Lisa Alexander Law Corporation

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My initial conversation with the client had been friendly, but brief. He gave me most of the relevant details unprompted and had obviously done some research on what might be expected during the divorce process. We arranged a meeting and at the allotted time on the scheduled day, Charles was in my waiting room,completed intake forms in hand and ready for his appointment. I went to greet him, and we shook hands warmly. He was very much what I’d expected from our phone call.

At the outset, he spoke in measured tones,setting out the facts. But as soon as I asked more probing questions,he became flustered. He began to shift uncomfortably. A couple of questions more and his face became a blank mask. I asked another question and he seemed not to hear me. He was staring out the window, miles away.

“Charles?” He started and then looked at me. His anguish was palpable. “What’s going on?”, I asked.

He slowly began to open up. His parents had separated when he was 12 years old and he rarely saw his father after he moved out.His mother blamed his father for the breakup and only years later would Charles find out why. In his early teens, he discovered that his father had an affair. Charles vowed that if he ever married, he would be faithful to his spouse. He would never put another person through what his mother had endured.

Charles had met his own wife, Jessica, towards the end of university. They had fallen completely in love and married shortly after graduation. Over the next few years, they had three children. When I met him, they had been married about 18 years. During that time, they had jointly grown a successful business, which was completely dependent on each of them.

Charles was in my office because he had had an affair. He had done exactly what he had vowed he would never do and his self-loathing was evident. But his business was also at risk. He was having the affair with one of the key employees and furthermore, it was a serious relationship that he had no intention of ending. Jessica had kicked him out of the house, and he hadn’t seen his kids for over a month. People were starting to ask questions at their business.

Over the course of our meeting, Charles vacillated between shame for his choices and angrily declaring that Jessica’s coldness had precipitated the affair. But underneath it all was a deep fear that he would be cut off from his children. As he started to calm down, Charles asked when the court documents would be filed and how expensive -and destructive - this whole process might be.

I am sure you can imagine the devastation it would have caused had Jessica and Charles decided to use the court system to resolve their separation. Their business may have been irreparably damaged and the wealth they had so carefully built up during the marriage would have been consumed by legal fees. At the end of a destructive court battle, one of them would likely have been out of a job, temporarily halving the amount of money available to the family. And that’s not even counting the potential employment law action from the employee with whom Charles was having the affair.

Instead, Charles and Jessica decided to use the Collaborative Process to resolve the issues related to their separation and divorce. Despite Jessica’s anger, she saw the wisdom in choosing a process whereby she and Charles were the decision makers of what was best for their children and business. It was extremely tempting to let her anger and fear have full reign. She had been humiliated. But she also acknowledged that even though she was furiously angry at Charles right now and may not be able to muster enough trust to run a business together, she needed to take responsibility for finding a way to resolve their dispute.

At the insistence of their collaborative lawyers, Charles and Jessica worked together with divorce coaches (therapists and psychologists specially trained in supporting families through the divorce process). The goal wasn’t reconciliation (although it is for a small number of families) but rather to maximize the resolution for everybody. For Charles in particular, it was essential that his children not have the same experience he did. He was committed to doing whatever was necessary to repair his co-parenting relationship with Jessica.

With the assistance of their collaborative lawyers and collaborative divorce coaches, Charles and Jessica were able to reach a resolution within eight months. A court battle would have take years. Their overall cost, including the cost of divorce coaches and neutral experts,was approximately 25% of what they would have paid had the matter gone to trial. ■

Quick facts about Collaborative Process:
■ Each spouse and each professional signs the Collaborative Participation Agreement
■ Under the terms of the Participation Agreement, each spouse agrees to make full disclosure of all necessary information, negotiate in good faith, work together for a resolution that meets the needs of both parties, and keep all information confidential
■ While engaged in the Collaborative Process, no party will threaten to go to court or start court proceedings
■ If the Collaborative Process breaks down, the lawyers, divorce coaches, and any neutral professionals are disqualified from representing either spouse in litigation. This ensures that no party will ever need to be worried about information being used against them during the settlement negotiations
■ The parties may engage mental health and financial experts as part of the team
■ Other experts are jointly engaged as neutrals
■ Approximately 80-85% of cases using CP are resolved

For more information:
www.collaborativedivorcebc.com • www.collaborativepractice.com • www.bccollaborativerostersociety.com

Lisa Alexander can be reached at lisaalexander@telus.net • Tel. 604.733.8111

Lisa Alexander is a Lawyer/Mediator with Lisa Alexander Law Corporation/The Collaborative Centre.  The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of RGF Integrated Wealth Management,  which makes no representations as to their completeness or accuracy.