Collaborative in a time of COVID

by Beth Aarons

When a former family law colleague told me about Collaborative Law Process sometime around 2008, conceptually it sounded like a series of traditional four-way meetings, but with a therapist present. As a young dispute resolution process, I saw no harm in adding these skills to my professional toolkit to help transition my practice from litigation to dispute resolution.

It wasn’t until a few years after completing the Introduction to Collaborative Law that I experienced the real magic of the Collaborative Legal Process. The family had slowly imploded for years and now everything was coming to a head. * Mom and Dad still occupied the same house, but had stopped talking years earlier after Dad had an infidelity. They had decided to get a divorce but didn’t tell the children until the plan was to split up into two households. Mom had lost her job and Dad’s salary was insufficient to cover two living expenses, so everything was in a deteriorating holding pattern, fraught with stress and tension. The middle school-aged child failed class and wetting the bed at night. The younger teenage child developed symptoms consistent with an obsessive-compulsive disorder. When the older teenage child made a failed suicide attempt, Mom responded with a divorce petition.

Dad was shocked at the divorce and discouraged at the prospect of a lengthy litigation. He turned to a lawyer and eventually invited Mother to postpone the lawsuit and try the collaborative process. In fact, it was a great achievement for this family to attend the first full team meeting. After so many years of emotional divide to be unpacked and children clearly in need of effective and proactive support in parenting together, the Collaborative Law Process provided the structural format this family needed to deliver the very difficult but necessary conversations lead from which they could be led out their toxic holding pattern. It was a framework in which Dad apologized for his indiscretion and Mom let her feelings of parental failure through regarding the children’s escalating problems. The professional team helped choreograph the timing and nature of challenging conversations like this so that the couple could “hang out” and deal with the important financial and parental decisions they had to make upon their divorce.

While not all dispute settlement procedures are suitable for every customer situation, and so many litigation disputes still have significant delays in court due to the pandemic, it might be beneficial to consider whether there is a dispute settlement procedure suitable for the parties. Many divorce clients are literally stuck at home in the same kind of stressful pressure cooker that mom and dad’s families have experienced. Litigation could still resume if the dispute settlement process is unsuccessful, but it would at least provide a chance for a faster settlement and an opportunity for families to move beyond the pandemic paralysis.

In addition, the collaborative legal process such as mediation, arbitration and arbitration can be easily transferred to virtual online platforms, as these are flexible in nature.

do you need any more information? Most dispute resolution practitioners are happy to provide information on the differences between processes to determine if a process is suitable for customers. Or consider training in dispute resolution for a deep dive into the pros and cons of its insides. More knowledge can only help professionals better support customers in controlling their process selection during COVID or at any time.

* Information to protect confidentiality changed

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