Divorce mediation is a true first love of mine, and that love informs all the other approaches to family law.
I have always loved mediating cases, even as I continued to practice in other ways. Litigation. Collaborative Divorce.
Mediation is different from the act of practicing law in that the Mediator is a neutral third party, whose role is to help divorcing couples discuss and resolve their disputes. This happens outside of court.
One method I use for Divorce Mediation is the Insight Approach. It comes pretty naturally to me because I’ve always been more curious when asking questions.
The idea of insight is to not have judgment, to ask questions to get at what really matters to the clients. To help them make decisions and get to a resolution that they’re both happy with.
Let’s say a mother and father are at an impasse, and very angry at each other. I can take them into separate rooms and ask a simple question such as, what do you hope will be different if you are able to engage in an active conversation with the other person. Just asking the question gives them pause to reflect.
Many mediators just want to get the job done. This is true in any profession! But such an approach is at odds with the very nature of mediation.
You can succeed in mediation by telling people what they must do. But you haven’t really mediated their case. You’ve just finished it for them.
What about when you can’t get people to find a way to work things out, and you all agree going to trial is not a good idea?
That’s why I look at Divorce Mediation as a process that needs to involve the engagement of both parties.
I ask four questions from the Insight Approach, which I keep on my desktop at all times. They are a really good way to start a conversation with clients to get them thinking about what’s important to them.
I’ve used the Insight method during a Collaborative Divorce meeting, too, by asking a question instead of making an assumption.
It’s imperative to not make assumptions. We often ask questions with assumption as part of the question. A lot of us are problem-solvers, especially attorneys, and we come with good intentions. But if we don’t provide all the ideas or feel like it’s our responsibility to solve all the problems, it opens us up to creative solutions that fit that particular situation.
Because I love Mediation so much, the mission and vision of my law firm guide us to provide a different approach when we must litigate. Someone who is not litigious can end up in court, and they need someone who shares their values and understands why we’re doing what we’re doing and can handle it with compassion. A lot of litigation attorneys are missing compassion.
But at Transitions Legal, we are dedicated to bringing compassion, insight, and listening to every case. And that comes from my expertise in Mediation.
Divorce strategies, or how we approach divorce, develop from listening to the client, understanding their needs and desires, and looking at the law. Once we know the needs of the family, we can decide in which direction to move.
When it comes to divorce strategy, at Transitions Legal, we consider whether Mediation, Litigation or Collaborative Divorce will best serve the client. I prefer to leave Litigation for last, as it offers the least control to the attorneys and the clients.
Sometimes the strategy depends on factors outside my control, like which attorney my client’s spouse chooses. If it’s a difficult, litigious lawyer, then we are likely to land in court before a judge and have a pretty acrimonious and costly path.
That affects my strategies in terms of cooperation and communication. I might be more guarded if I know the other attorney makes everything difficult or won’t easily share information. That’s a strategic decision.
Nonetheless, I prefer to have control over how we will go forward. I like to have choices to present to my clients, let them decide which way best serves their needs and goals.
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I love when the other attorney is cooperative, and we know and trust each other. Then, we’re going to be more open and collegial, not question every move and tactic.
If having the kids more time is important to a client, then I think strategically about how to frame everything in terms of Parenting Time and Custody so that it serves the children through this transition.
Even in the Collaborative context, a process strategy might be, ok well I think I’m going to guide you more to talk with the divorce coach about your needs and desires.
Strategy depends on a lot of factors – the client’s needs and values, the opposing counsel, the type of case, the law, and more.
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Even background, details-while-married, factor into the divorce strategies. For instance, if you suspect your spouse is having an affair, that will likely drive the case. Once I have a full picture, I can recommend the strategy that will best serve a client. Then, we have options.
We can strategize where to put a client’s money – investigator or therapy? For instance, if your spouse spent a lot of time away from the family, leaving you alone to manage your children and the household – were they having an affair?
Investigating an affair is usually only important if the spouse spent time away from family, lying, when they were needed to help with the children, or were with the other person while also being with their children or they spent marital funds on this other person.
Divorce strategies weigh and measure what to spend our time, and resources, on. So perhaps my client is better off spending money on individual therapy rather than a PI so they can get stronger and healthier by dealing with their own emotions as they transition to their new phase of life. All of these details inform how we will move forward. And this is just one example of many!
And it really does differ from client to client. At Transitions Legal, we focus on serving our clients’ needs toward their best outcome. We do not believe in a one-size-fits-all approach to practicing family law. We innovate based on listening to our clients, understanding their values, and applying information to inform our divorce strategy.
When I started Transitions Legal in 2013, I created a tagline that has served us well: dignified divorce driven by compassionate expertise.
Those were the words and concepts I felt were important to convey about my approach to family law. In fact, I named my firm Transitions Legal because I wanted to emphasize that I see divorce as a transition from one stage of life to another – neither good nor bad.
Over the years, I’ve built a name for this firm, and for my approach to family law. After nearly 10 years in business, I felt it was time to change our tagline to represent how we’ve evolved and changed, to embrace insight and innovation in our approach to conflict resolution.
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So my marketing guru, Lynne Golodner, and I embarked on a quest to fashion a new tagline, that better represents where we are today.
I was surprised to realize that I could not come up with anything better than what we already have!! A tagline is supposed to serve as a quippy, memorable phrase that explains what we do and how we do it. What matters to us. What values this firm is built on.
Dignified divorce driven by compassionate expertise really says it all. The one thing I could change would be the word divorce – though I won’t, because I like the alliteration – only because we do so much more than divorce. Family Law is a far-reaching category of law that addresses any legal quandary or need in a family situation.
So why did I seek this change, then?
Because I wanted to make sure that key concepts were in our marketing messaging. Ideas like curiosity, innovation and insight.
But when I looked at my Guiding Principles, I saw that these concepts were already embedded in Transitions Legal language. My Guiding Principles emphasize how I talk to every client, ask questions and use insight to guide how we approach client cases.
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I reviewed my Mission Statement, too, and was thrilled to see that these ideas were already there, too!
I consistently operate with insight to learn my clients’ needs and guide them based on what they want to achieve. One key question on my intake form is, what are your goals.
The Our Family in Two Homes workbook, a resource which I encourage all my clients to use, helps people more clearly define their goals. It’s easy to say my goal is to make sure my kids are taken care of. Or make sure I have financial security. But what does that mean?
What does it look like for your kids to be feeling safe and secure? What does it look like to have financial security?
Such questions are not as easy to answer once you start digging into specifics. I’ve asked those questions, and the resources I’m using now are consistent with what I’ve always been doing.
So we are keeping our tagline! With almost 10 years in business, I am encouraged that the marketing messaging I initially created serves us still as we’ve grown and expanded. We are steeped in our values and approach. We are consistent. We know who we are.
This has made me sensitive to curiosity and the importance of asking questions, followed by focused listening. Many family law attorneys and mediators take a directive approach, working through the case to get it done.
But that’s not how we operate at Transitions Legal.
I embraced Collaborative Divorce long before it was a common approach in Family Law circles in Michigan. Even Collaborative Practice has changed!
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Since the Collaborative Movement started in 1990, and has been in Michigan approximately 18 years, we’ve learned that we can expand and evolve the model to better support our clients. Which should be our focus in the practice of law no matter what.
My marketing coach, Lynne Golodner, has always taught me that a tagline should be a pithy statement that is memorable, so that when a potential client learns of our firm, they know immediately what we are about.
We are about gaining insight so that we can innovate in the way we approach family law. Insight is a step deeper than knowledge. I help clients know themselves, their values, their intentions, based on a variety of factors – lifestyle, social affiliations, culture and background and more. From there, they can move forward with clarity.
When you’re thinking “should I get divorced,” you’re sitting in an uncomfortable place. Choosing a firm that will allow you to be dignified, where you will be led with compassion by experts in the field of family law, should be a comfort.
Dignified Divorce Driven by Compassionate Expertise. That’s what Transitions Legal stands for. That’s what we do.
Recently, I coordinated a program for collaborative practitioners with the Great Lakes Civility Project. It was a 90-minute virtual Civility Session, where we explored what civility is, why we need it in these trying times for our country, and how each of us can begin to build civility into our existing relationships. (Watch the session here.)
I had participated in Civility Sessions before, which is why I felt it was important to bring it to my colleagues in the Collaborative Practice sphere. By definition, collaborative practitioners seek ways to compromise, to find common ground, to create solutions that serve all involved. And yet, even we at times have trouble always being civil.
Frankly, don’t all people?
In the situation of a divorce, emotions run high and vulnerabilities do, too. My clients and their soon-to-be ex-spouses both have things to lose and things to gain as the marriage ends, and sometimes winning feels like redemption if we are sad and feel rejected by the breakup. But winning is not always the best outcome.
What Stephen Henderson and Nolan Finley of the Civility Project teach is that all good people want the same outcomes – they just differ in how they will get there. I believe that’s true in divorce, too. Even when we are hurt by a marriage ending, possibly initiated by the other person, we want happiness, prosperity, security and to know that we are worthy of love. In the temporary fog of divorce, we can forget that the relationship might be over but both people’s lives (and the lives of their children) are ongoing and meaningful.
When people divorce, they can’t possibly agree on everything. Frankly, during the marriage, it’s unlikely that they agreed on everything! We all have different perspectives on everything from money to parenting, and I tell my clients that they didn’t agree while married, after the divorce, they’ll agree even less and have less control over the decisions their spouse is making.
The principles of civil discourse, as presented by Nolan and Stephen, are as follows:
A conversation is not a competition. Nor is it intended to convert the other person to your way of thinking.
Set honest goals for a conversation.
Learn to listen fully – which means not jumping in with a retort when the other person stops speaking. It means, asking follow-up questions and regurgitating what they said after they said it, so you know you’ve truly heard it.
See the person behind their politics. In a divorce setting, I’d say, see the person behind the breakup. See them as human if you can. It’s the only way to have fair and easy interactions.
Taking it one step further from just a civil conversation, in a co-parenting situation, you have to be more accepting of your ex-spouse’s different beliefs or values. All people come to their beliefs on the basis of experiences and values and all people make decisions that they think are going to serve them, their family, their community. So when your ex makes a decision for the kids that you wouldn’t, it doesn’t mean they’re evil or out to get you. It means they parent differently from you.
Whether in the professional sphere, or in our relationships, we could all stand to become more civil. If civility were the goal, how different would our lives be?
Introducing Our Family in Two Homes – a divorce resource now offered by Transitions Legal!
If I had a resource like Our Family in Two Homes (OFTH) when I was getting married and raising children, I would have been so supported!
It never occurred to me way back when, nor does it to most people, to think through and articulate my values, my perspectives, and my beliefs on parenting, partnership, finances and more – and if I had, I bet I could have avoided many marital arguments or parenting disconnects.
Most people don’t really think through these things when it comes to the most important relationships of our lives because it’s just not embedded in our culture to do so. Think about all the romantic movies you’ve enjoyed in your life, which painted a picture of relationships as easy, automatic and synergistic. That rarely happens in real life.
Of course, I see couples when things have gone so wrong, they’ve given up hope that they can stay together. Nonetheless, I am excited to offer OFTH as a unique resource to help couples who are contemplating divorce, already decided to split or going through mediation.
They begin by going through pages 1-13 of the workbook, where they’ll find questions to help them get in touch with what is important to them for the divorce process. These pages cover communication, trust, emotions, values, expression tendencies and more.
It goes so much deeper than the kids or the house. What I love about this resource is how it helps clients discover their personal and collective core values and decision-making preferences. There is a lot of work people can do on their own before they come to an attorney, and this work helps them be more efficient with their attorney, which can sometimes reduce overall legal costs and time spent negotiating.
An example of this is when a client comes to me and insists they want to keep the house, but they’re not sure they can afford to do so, I have to dig deep with them to determine first what is important to them about the house. Then we explore the feelings behind it. That can take a lot of time at billable rates! I enjoy doing this kind of work with my clients. I am also aware that some clients are watching their money. This can save them on fees that might be needed further down the road, or better yet for their kids’ college education.
But if the same client worked through this on their own with the workbook, they would save time spent with me, their attorney, and get moving on the actions required to facilitate their breakup.
I use OFTH in Collaborative Divorce cases and also in Mediation. Individuals can purchase the workbook directly from Transitions Legal, and in doing so, they also get three consulting hours with me as they work through it.
The goal is for people to understand themselves better and understand the divorce process more. Also, they gain insights in how they interact and communicate, which helps an attorney know what they are dealing with in the case. They can draw out an introverted spouse or respectfully ask an extroverted spouse to give the other person some time to speak.
There are, of course, instances where using this workbook might help a couple to identify some of their nagging problems and decide to work on resolving them in an effort to stay together. That’s a lovely outcome when it happens!!
Regardless of the situation, anyone who uses this resource will gain clarity. They’ll understand elements of divorce like parenting time and custody, and know how these are established in the state of Michigan, where I practice. They’ll also know the background of the law to help them reach their decisions.
People often say, “I don’t know what I don’t know.” This resource gives you what you want to know.
To learn more about Our Family in Two Homes or to purchase the workbook-consulting package, click here.