How to Achieve Civility in Divorce

How to Achieve Civility in Divorce

How to Achieve Civility in Divorce

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.)Civility Project Logo

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?

A conversation with Michelle Sarao: How to organize homes and lives after a divorce

A conversation with Michelle Sarao: How to organize homes and lives after a divorce

A conversation with Michelle Sarao: How to organize homes and lives after a divorce

In the Collaborative Divorce process, we build a team of professionals who can guide the divorce process in a fluid manner. Recently, I met a woman whose business fits so perfectly into this idea of a divorce team.

Michelle Sarao, through her business Divorce Rx, helps divorcing people organize their homes and their lives. Based in New York, Michelle recognizes that a divorce is a complete upheaval of a person’s life – emotional as well as physical.

Michelle Sarao

What better time than that to welcome an organizer into the midst of the unraveling, and let her guide you to a more methodical approach to the separation and rebuilding?

This type of organizing can focus on the divorcing people – helping them rearrange their physical space or divide up their shared belongings. It can also help the newly single adults get organized in their new life – manage their children’s schedules, learn how to be focused in managing all the activities and responsibilities as a solo parent.

Basically, Michelle helps people prevent the logistics of their life from falling through the cracks.

“When you are going through a divorce, the first thing you do is start assembling your team,” says Michelle. “Financial, legal, mental health, parenting coordinator, divorce coach. But then the physical space and coordination of what happens with your children, and the transition from one household to two, those details and ideas can slip through the cracks. That is where I felt there was a need to step in.”

Every situation has a unique imprint, says Michelle. She meets clients where they are, looking at what will be most helpful in this moment, right now, taking it one step at a time. A divorce can create confusion and stasis – she helps people move forward, one step at a time.

As an entrepreneur myself, I felt this concept was brilliant and definitely needed! In speaking with Michelle, I thought it would be helpful to gather some of her best tips in this blog to share with people contemplating divorce – or who have already been through one but still feel a sense of disorganization. Here’s what Michelle has to say:

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Regarding your physical space, a divorce begins with dividing your things. “Oftentimes, even in the most amicable divorces, people are emotionally tied to their stuff,” she says. “You’re already experiencing loss. No matter what you’re feeling about the divorce, it’s a loss. People have a hard time letting go of things. To have someone work with you and your soon to be ex-spouse as a neutral party to help divide things can be helpful, to help you stay on track.”

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Dividing up physical belongings can stall a divorce – and it’s senseless to pay lawyer fees to have them sit in your home while you divvy things up.

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Whether moving to a new space or staying in your current space, going through what you have and purging can be cleansing.

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Get rid of the storage unit idea. Not only is it another expense, it’s the place people put things and forget about them. You will eventually have to go through it all – and likely discard most of it – so why not do it now?

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If you just can’t part with goods but you don’t want to go through everything, label your boxes and mark your calendar for three or five months later to actually go through the items.

Michelle Sarao

Organizing is not just for physical items, Michelle says. It’s important for financial documents as well as for calendaring.

“It’s often the women who have no idea where the financial stuff is that they’re asked to bring into the lawyers,” she notes. “They’re paralyzed; they don’t even know how to find it or what questions to ask.”

While divorce coaches can help with that part of the process, Michelle can support clients through it as well.

“The biggest thing I do with people is just have a plan that is realistic and broken into manageable steps.” Once someone leaves the marital home, there is empty space to fill. That’s part two of Michelle’s work. She comes in to help the person who stays rearrange the furniture and fill the space – and she helps the person who left fill the new space where they will start their new life. “If you were not the one who wanted the divorce, it smacks you in the face when you see the couch is gone,” she says. “It’s a reminder of your loss. There are a lot of physical empty spaces – a whole closet that’s empty, drawers where silverware has been taken, empty walls. I help that person reimagine and arrange what you have before buying new things.” It’s better to move around what you do have and live with it for a few months than quickly buy new items, she says. For the person leaving, “talking it through is the first step,” Michelle says. “Then, it’s about finding resources – realtors, designers, etc.”

A member of the National Association of Productivity and Organization and of the National Association of Divorce Professionals, Michelle has resources far and wide.

Divorcing couples don’t realize all the details of this split when they embark on it. As granular as the photo albums and shared photographs – who wants to let go of their baby’s earliest pictures, or that family vacation they took to Hawaii?

Michelle Sarao

Michelle finds solutions. “Both parents want all the pictures. I have someone who is fantastic and will scan the pics and set them up for both parents,” she says.

A divorce is a transition from one stage of life to the next, but it’s not without heartache and emotion, and those very heavy phases can cloud judgment, obscure clarity. Michelle works with people at a vulnerable time to make the details easier – and less painful.

“There are areas of life you might not have thought of – who has the kids’ passports, can you get a second passport, do the children have toothbrushes at both houses? You don’t know what you don’t know,” she says. “I tell you what’s coming, I can help you get prepared, save time and money, relax and exhale.”

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Diversity & Equity in Family Law

Diversity & Equity in Family Law

Diversity & Equity in Family Law

Growing up in a landscape defined by systemic racism deeply embedded into American culture, I am particularly sensitive to issues of access and inclusion. And yet, I am too aware that we can have the best of intentions and still not be as inclusive as we’d like.

That’s why I joined the Diversity and Inclusion committee of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP). I wanted to embed into my work as a Collaborative Divorce lawyer a deep and constant alert to whether we are incorporating diversity at every level and fighting racism.

As an organization, IACP is determined to be as inclusive as possible. At the same time, we cannot control who decides to join. There is a deeper issue at play, and one which we may not have nearly as much impact – how many minority audiences choose to become attorneys.

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Photo by James Eades on Unsplash

I’ve been aware for some time, and truly bothered by it, that the legal profession in America is heavily white. To be frank, according to the American Bar Association, only 5 percent of attorneys in America are African American. That is inexcusable!

The IACP is an international organization, which expands our view of inclusion and diversity beyond the borders of the United States. And there are so many aspects to diversity. It’s not just about race.

It’s also about gender, sexuality, socioeconomic factors, age and more. We want true inclusion, across defining characteristics to be a truly representative profession and industry.

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When the Equity and Inclusion committee formed three years ago, it was an area that I saw having a real need for diversity. We were all white, middle to upper class attorneys sitting around a pretty homogeneous table. How could we combat racism?

Our clientele was pretty white, too. How were we going to educate people? What strategies would we use to reach out to other communities and bring people in?

I joined this crusade because I saw it as an opportunity to get in at the base line level and really have an impact.

These days, a lot of DEI work feels like it’s the “in” thing to do. When people are marching on cities in the name of Black Lives Matter, it would be natural to take a closer look at areas that lack diversity.

But it’s not that for me. It’s not a trend or a bandwagon to jump on. This is part of who I am.

I believe in all people, and I believe all Americans should have access and entry to the industries and communities they desire.

When I was in elementary school in the 1960s and 1970s, my school principal was African American. I didn’t realize how groundbreaking that was at the time, for I was just a small girl, but looking back I am awestruck by the foresight that my school had in hiring a Black man to lead our school.

Both details – that he was African American and that he was male – are significant. So many educators were women and of course most were white.

Seeing a man of color in a powerful position, guiding children from the youngest, most impressionable ages through to adolescence, leaves an indelible mark on what matters and who should lead.

From my young vantage point, I didn’t see any of this, of course. I just saw a kind man who was nice to me and had a smile for every child in the building. I had no idea what a pioneer he was or that it was a landmark role for my community.

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As I’ve become more educated on systemic racism, I can grow sad about the struggles we still see happening for black and brown people in America. Why does this continue to be? 

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Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

I know all the intellectual and emotional reasons sociologists will cite, but deep down in my soul, I cannot understand it.

I sometimes feel like as an individual, I am so unable to make an impact or truly make lasting, tangible change in this area, at a high level. I’ll admit, sometimes I feel kind of helpless.

Of course, I could just resign myself to my little homogeneous bubble and go on with life. But I won’t. I can’t. I must do what I can to make even the slightest difference, in my profession, in my community, in my life.

It’s not who I am to ignore what is happening around me. This country needs righting, and I’ll do my part to make it happen.

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This Is What It’s Like to Work with a Divorce Lawyer

This Is What It’s Like to Work with a Divorce Lawyer

This Is What It’s Like to Work with a Divorce Lawyer

Some clients might wonder what to expect when working with a divorce lawyer. While your case is on your mind 24/7, your divorce lawyer has other cases simultaneously, so it’s helpful to know how the interactions will flow once you choose the lawyer you want to work with.

Step 1: Introductory Meeting

Here, you will get to know one another and learn about the lawyer’s approach to divorce. A good lawyer should offer a picture of how often and by what methods you’ll be in touch.

What if you feel an urgency arise, or have questions?

Is email the best method of communication?

How quickly will the lawyer respond?

What if it’s over a weekend or holiday?

It’s good to establish parameters up front, so you know what to expect when you work with a divorce lawyer.

Step 2: Gathering Information

It takes time to build a legal case. There will be a lengthy period during which your lawyer will ask for information, paperwork, evidence, and other resources to help build your case.

The more quickly you can gather materials, the more quickly your case will be built. That said, remember that your attorney has many clients and cases, and yours is in the queue!

A Michigan divorce can take anywhere from six months to years. Nothing happens overnight, especially when the courts are involved, but your lawyer should give you an estimate of the time frame for building your case and how quickly he or she can process the information you provide.

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Photo by Dan Dimmock on Unsplash

If your lawyer has to request documents from the other side, then the flow will depend on how quickly they respond and provide the requested information.

Delays can arise – and they are not always within your control or your attorney’s. Try to be patient, even though the case is always on your mind, with questions about how it will unfold.

Step 3: Negotiation

You may have a series of meetings with your lawyer, your soon-to-be ex and their lawyer. These require scheduling four people’s calendars, which can be cumbersome. Again, be patient as it unfolds.

In the negotiation phase, there may be issues to discuss or debate, and there may be need for further information-gathering or fact-finding. Ask your lawyer for estimates of how much time each phase will take, so you have realistic expectations every step of the way!

Time estimates often change once we dive into the details, as we know more about the type of case it is becoming.

Step 4: Finalizing

Once everything has been laid out and agreed to, finalizing your divorce still takes time. Factors can include preparing a Settlement Agreement and Judgment of Divorce with language agreeable to both sides as well as the judge’s availability to approve the Judgment and make the divorce final.

Every step of the way during your divorce, you may be eager to hear back from your attorney on progress and next steps. Divorce lawyers are as eager as their clients to complete the case to everyone’s satisfaction!

If you’re waiting to hear from your lawyer and there is no email or return call, try to be patient. It’s hard, but sometimes they are waiting for response from the other side, or confirmation from the court, and they don’t want to waste your time with empty information.

The hallmark of a good lawyer is open and flowing communication with clients. Trust that your attorney will get back to you as soon as new information becomes available!

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Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm 

Every divorce client feels a sense of urgency to get their case done and decided. It will happen; waiting is the hardest part.

Michigan divorces take a minimum of 6 months to complete. Knowing that is crucial to taking a deep breath and letting the process happen as it should.

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Taking Divorce Virtual

Taking Divorce Virtual

Taking Divorce Virtual

How a Jameson Law Manages a Virtual Divorce Case in Colorado

This blog first appeared on the website for the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals. Read the original blog here.

In the era of COVID-19, everyone is using virtual meeting software to conduct business. However, my Collaborative Divorce colleagues and I were already doing it. 

A Case Follows Its Clients

This case began in the typical in-person format in Michigan. The husband met with me several times over nine months as he contemplated filing for divorce. Shortly after it became clear that ending the marriage was his next step, he and his wife decided to sell their home and move to another state, where two of their married children live.
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It is not like any case can go virtual; attorneys are bound by the parameters of the State Bar and can only practice in states where they are licensed to do so.

Based on my state’s laws, if my client moved to Colorado and then filed for divorce, I could not represent him.

But he wanted to work with me in a Collaborative fashion on his virtual divorce. Accordingly, we filed in the state of Michigan before they moved, which relegated the case to the state where they had lived during their marriage.

Committed to the Collaborative Process

They agreed to proceed in a Collaborative fashion, and the wife hired Collaborative Divorce attorney, Tucson divorce attorney. We created a team that included divorce financial planner Jacqueline Roessler and divorce coach Judith Margerum. Everyone agreed that this case would be conducted through video conferencing.

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Photo by CoWomen on Unsplash

I assumed the professionals would be together in one place, and the parties in another place, but this did not happen. For scheduling convenience, each professional joined from her own office, and our clients were in their home in different rooms.

As the case progressed, I thought it would be better for the team to gather in person, especially for a pre-meeting and a debrief after the client meeting. As it turned out, due to the pandemic, we connected via our own shelter-in-place locations.  

Meeting Virtually

For the most part, the virtual divorce case proceeded beautifully with Zoom as our means for communication and meeting. There were drawbacks of course. For example, it was harder to take side meetings with a client or team member on Zoom. However, it was possible using the Breakout Rooms feature.

On the positive side, the Collaborative tone remained in this virtual format.

Collaborative Focuses on the Family

As usual with Collaborative Divorce, we were able to focus the process to suit the family. This family was in transition, so we created virtual meetings to accommodate their desire to move, rather than having to wait for their divorce to be final in Michigan.

Another plus is that you can see people’s reactions and responses, which is crucial for the mental health professional on our team. While we cannot read the energy as we would in-person, we can still see, really close up, each face.

And, scheduling meetings is a breeze – no need to plan around drive time or calendar conflicts.

Today’s technologies make it easy to expand our Collaborative world while still getting the same great work done.

Here are some tips for making video conferencing work for divorce law cases.

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Pay attention; make sure you are looking at the screen. People often get distracted during a video conference and might look to another screen, thus missing reactions and responses.
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Because everybody is on a computer, the person taking notes can type it on their own device. I could look at the meeting and type while it was going on.
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It is easy to record the meeting for future review. People sometimes forget what they said or agreed to, or perhaps different parties have different interpretations of the proceedings. Having the ability to record the meeting eliminates confusion. Professionals should be aware of the most current privacy standards that apply to them in regards to use of this technology, specifically around recording. In addition, mental health professionals may need to determine whether their technology platform is HIPPA compliant prior to hosting or recording meetings.
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Choose a platform that you’re comfortable with. We use Zoom, but there is also GoToMeeting, AnytimeMeetings, and others. Choose one that offers the option of breakout rooms.
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Be prepared. Learn how to share your screen, know the software, know the technology before the meeting begins.
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Plan your pre-meeting and your after-meeting, especially if professionals are not in the same room. Planning is still very important.

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