During my 20 years as a marriage and family therapist, I have seen the good, the bad and the downright ugly when it comes to divorce. But one case sticks out in my mind as providing a good lesson for both the divorcing couple and the Collaborative attorneys who were handling their case about the need to step back and see the big picture.
This case involved a couple who had been married for about 18 years. They had three children and they were very well established in their community. They were two highly intelligent, successful people and they did not want their divorce to go to litigation.
Although they were seeking a Collaborative divorce, things had become quite contentious. It was clear that the husband felt his wife was not fully admitting her reason for wanting a divorce, which he suspected included infidelity on her part.
As the process became increasingly difficult, I met with the couple in my office, apart from their attorneys. It took some coaching, but I was able to move them to the point that he was able to admit that all he really wanted from her was an honest statement. Once the wife found the courage to be totally honest with her husband, they were able to move forward. It was as if once the truth was on the table, he could say, “We don’t have to hate each other because you are not playing me for a fool.”
But there was still another stumbling block that needed to be addressed. The Collaborative process encourages creativity, so the attorneys kept proposing solutions that didn’t necessarily fit the norm. These were two of the best attorneys I have ever worked with, but I had to point out to them that the husband was a black-and-white thinker. He didn’t want something that had never been done before. He needed to know that he was getting exactly what everyone else in Pennsylvania gets in a divorce. Once the attorneys realized that, they shifted their focus to more traditional, standard formulas for the settlement and the divorce was finalized to the satisfaction of both parties.
This case really demonstrates how important the role of the coach is in the Collaborative process. We can analyze the dynamics of what is at work and help take the necessary steps to move things forward.
Vivian Blanc, M.S., L.P.C. , Wormleysburg