A cornerstone in the Collaborative Process is interest-based negotiations. Early in the process each professional, and eventually the full team, listens to the clients describe their reasons for selecting Collaborative over other divorce processes. In this discussion we explore their interests, goals, and needs which are to guide the team in option building and in crafting the eventual Marital Settlement Agreement and Parenting Plan. When the team hits the inevitable bump in the road, returning to that initial statement of common purpose can help the team, professionals and clients, regroup to continue moving forward within this client driven process.
At the suggestion of one of the attorneys in our practice group, Charles Jamieson, Esq. in West Palm Beach, we have used a divorce mission statement where the couple will actually work together to create a statement of their common purpose. As Mr. Jamieson has written, “1. It integrates who you are. Includes the most important information about who you are, your values and your goals; 2. it provides focus; and 3. It simplifies your decision-making regarding important decisions that you must make.” Common themes in the mission statement include creating a nurturing and loving environment for the children, protecting the children from the conflict in the marriage or the tensions in the divorce, improving communication skills and co-parenting effectiveness, protecting financial assets, and allowing the opportunity for family traditions and lifecycle events to be celebrated in the future.
One such mission statement from a recent case which ended successfully reads:
As we transition into our new lives we will commit to each other the following: That both of us are financially comfortable as we move forward now and in the future. We will be respectful to each other and those that come into each other’s lives. We want a relationship so that we can choose to spend holiday and vacations together, even if that includes others. We want our children to feel loved and never feel that they are caught in the middle or have to choose between the two of us. We want our children to feel that we will always be a family. We want our children to be able to communicate with both of us and not be concerned that they will hurt the other parent’s feelings. We will always speak positively about each other. We want to communicate often with each other, regarding what is going on in our children lives; keeping each other up to date on what the children have communicated with each of us. We are both committed to our children’s college education and them obtaining their education debt free to the best of our ability.
The professional team must allow the clients to frame solutions to their problems that work for their individual family. This is promoted by listening empathically to both clients and allowing for their self-determination. The team should explore not just material interests but nonmaterial interests, the psychological and emotional.
- Recognize the core needs that underlie interests include:
o Fairness and Justice
o Social/Societal Fulfillment
When it looks like the process may be starting to derail or there is an impasse looming, it helps to:
- Appeal to their connectedness/common goals vs focusing on their separate selves with positioning. This can be done through reviewing their shared experiences, going over where and how they worked well together through the marriage, and rereading in their mission statement their shared interests in protecting the children, supporting their growth and development, and accomplishing the common goal of preserving financial assets.
- Return to the goals of the mission statement, which include:
o A commitment to work together to create mutually agreeable solutions
o A commitment to look for win-win solutions rather than one sided ones which create exclusion of the others’ interests
o A commitment to reinforce the shared goal that if both parents find satisfaction it is good for children
o A commitment to explore each other’s core needs, material and nonmaterial, and develop options to address them both
Collaborative Practice begins with understanding the stated interests of the participants and proceeds with helping them create their own solutions to the reorganization of their family based on these interests. The use of a divorce mission statement early in the process helps the participants organize their needs and interests into a concise framework which is a benefit to them and the professional team. Professionals are there to help them craft the necessary documents of a Marital Settlement Agreement and the Parenting Plan when there are minor children. The team must be empathetic to the uniqueness of the individual family and help in option building that is derived from their mutual needs and interests and allows for their self-determination.