What should your priority be in a Divorce?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

What About Men? Understanding "Value" Beyond the Pay Cheque

Our laws relating to alimony or spousal support have evolved greatly in the past 20 to 30 years - primarily, or rather, almost solely in response to a deeper understanding and appreciation for the rolls that women play in a marital relationship.  Women who are employed part-time, or who stay at home full-time to assist in raising children are now understood as making significant contributions to the marital partnership - albeit often not in a directly financial sense.  Beyond that contribution, we also have a much greater appreciation for the negative impact upon career paths often experienced by women as they subsume their career goals for the benefit of the marriage and the family - and this appreciation by society generally, and the courts in particular, has resulted in a heightened appreciation for the place that spousal support plays in the resolution of a family breakdown.

As it should.

However, it is perhaps time to stop to ask, "What about men?"

Often acting in a stereotypically stoic fashion, men enter into negotiation of family law issues unable or unwilling to express the impact of divorce and family breakdown upon them.

And this can lead to greater difficulty in resolving those issues, in particular, the issue of spousal support.

To be certain, more often than not, the career path of the male partner continues with only marginal impact related to marriage or birth of their children.  While men may have become more involved parents, maternity leave for men is rare, and extended full-time parenting by men is rarer still.

This often results in the courts and, yes, even collaborative professionals downplaying or even ignoring the underlying impact of a marital breakdown upon the male partner in a relationship.
We understand, now quite clearly, that it's not "just about the money" when discussing spousal support for women.  It's also about understanding and acknowledging the value and the commitment that they brought to the relationship.

So then, we must also take time to understand that, for men, it's also not "just about the money" when discussing their obligation to pay support.

Men are, typically, less likely to express their emotional connection to their earnings and their employment.

And, sadly, lawyers and judges are also less likely to understand and consider that emotional connection.

For if we acknowledge that to a great extent, a mother's value in the relationship was the rearing of the children and the tending of the home - we, implicitly, ascribe the primary value of the father to the financial contribution he makes to his family's well-being.

What does that mean, post-divorce?

Well, an effort to potentially equalize income, in whole or part, may suggest that his effort in achieving that income has little value.  Often we hear men talking of an impression by the court or their spouse that, "money grows on trees." This is not simply a desire, I would suggest, to conserve their income for themselves.  It is also a desire to have someone show respect and understanding for THEIR contribution to the marriage...  for the reality that their pay-cheque isn't just given to them, but takes effort and commitment just as significant as the effort and commitment that a full-time home-maker has to tending to the home and children. 

A man's career and income is connected, strongly, to their sense of self and their sense of value in their marriage and society.  And a simple parsing of that "value" without a discussion of the commitment to attain that value and the emotional and psychological connection of a man to his income and his employment will make negotiation of spousal support much more difficult.

As we often hear, "it's not just about the money".

And it's not.

So, to facilitate a fuller discussion of "values" and "interests", take some time to talk about and encourage recognition for the husband's connection with his income beyond the dollars and cents.  Encourage an understanding and respect that when he got out of bed every day and went to his jobs, that required a commitment to his employer and his family.  And that asking for that income to be shared is more than just asking him to share his pay cheque, it's asking him to continue to share "who he is".  An expression of understanding and appreciation for that fact will, I suggest, make it easier for him to continue that commitment to his family, post-divorce.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Collaborative Divorce: Moving Towards Greater Efficiency

Collaborative Divorce is not magic.

Collaborative Divorce is not a faith based process.

With the greatest of respect to all organized religions, Collaborative Divorce is not a religious movement.

Why make these statements?  Because I'm not completely certain that collaborative professionals and their clients understand this completely.

Collaborative Divorce requires commitment, and honesty, and openness, and it also requires an understanding that it can and often does fail.

And I make these statements not to weaken the process - but to strengthen it.  Because as professionals or as clients, we need to understand that the process itself will not succeed without our effort and our attention.  Too often, I fear, clients and professionals enter the process believing that if they just spend enough time and talk enough, answers and solutions will magically appear and an agreement will fall down from the heavens onto the table between them.

Sorry to burst your bubble - but it won't.



We endure meeting after meeting - talking about interests and concerns, and the fees increase higher and higher, and before you know it - the dynamic in the room seriously changes.

Because now  there is suddenly a big gun to the head of the participants - in the form of tens of thousands of dollars in fees having been spent that, if the process is abandoned, will largely be wasted.

And if you're not paying attention, this creates leverage.  It creates the ability of one party - particularly if the costs haven't been shared, to use the leverage of wasted money to exert pressure for the other party to accommodate their "interests" disproportionately.

And we, as Collaborative Lawyers, do ourselves, our clients, and the collaborative process a great disservice if we don't recognize and work towards responding to this problem.


Well, firstly, by making the process efficient and productive.

Assure your clients are doing the work required to provide information and disclosure in a timely fashion.  And if they are delaying or appear to be less than open and candid, having an honest conversation about your ability to withdraw from the process if they aren't showing a real commitment.

Assure you have candid and honest conversations with your fellow counsel if you feel THEIR client is doing the same - again, discussing with your own client that sometimes, ending the process is preferable to allowing it to be abused.

Assure that financial and child experts are likewise being used efficiently and properly. 

I recently encountered a file where disproportionate time and expense was incurred to educate the less knowledgeable party regarding finances - only to have yet another expert hired to "explain the explanation".   More fees, more delay - and no movement towards resolution.

The collaborative process is, indeed, a process which continues to serve the needs of thousands of parties in conflict - however, it is also showing it's cracks - and it is up to all of us who value the process to recognize those cracks and to apply our effort to repair them.

Or you could just cross your fingers and throw salt over your left shoulder.

Friday, November 16, 2012

What’s A Kid To Do When Parents Hate Each Other?

For fellow Collaborative professionals, clients and anyone dealing with divorce, Gary Direnfeld provides us with an excellent perspective on parents who find themselves hating each other and how that might impact their children.

I think the article is so timely that I decided to reprint it (Gary was kind enough on his site: YOUR SOCIAL WORKER, to allow permission to reprint the article as a handout or newsletter).

Thank-you Gary!

What’s a kid to do when parents hate each other?

Sometimes the animosity between separated parents is so thick, you can cut it with a knife. In such cases both parents deflect blame on the other while denying or minimizing their own contribution to conflict.

In some instances the allegations of both parents are unfounded. The parents are like oil and fire and simply do not get along. They both may be hurt for the demise of the relationship. They may feel embarrassed for the breakdown and need to vilify the other. Each stakes out the position of being hard done by the other thus gaining the sympathy of friends and family.

In other instances mutual allegations are founded. Both have in fact acted untoward. Both have acted poorly although not abusively. Yet, neither takes responsibility and both use the transgressions of the other to legitimize their own.

Pity the children whose parents are so locked in mutual despise. The child becomes the battleground. Each parent begrudges the child’s relationship to the other. Even though a parent may hold their tongue, the attitude still exudes. The child lives with their disdain.

The child is between a rock and a hard place. To survive they learn to mask their feelings. To avoid the disapproval of their parents they align with each parent through negative comments about the other. So when with mom the child tells bad stories of dad to gain mother’s approval and minimize tensions with her. Then with dad the child tells bad stories of mom to gain his approval and minimize tensions with him. Sadly though, the strategy only feeds the conflict between the parents as they feel more justified in their position with the new ammunition delivered by the child. Thus the parental conflict escalates and the child is subject to greater hostility, particularly during child custody disputes.

Eventually the child breaks down under the strain of conflict between despising parents. The child’s distress may take the form of school related problems, anxiety, depression, bullying, victimization and even physical complaints such as headaches and stomachaches. Because of the pre-existing parental animosity and then stories of the child, both parents blame each other for the child’s distress. Both parents present self-righteously in their position and both parents are remarkably defensive towards any insinuation that their behaviour may be contributory to the child’s distress. Both parents present with a profound sensitivity to feeling blamed. Discussing their dynamic with one parent can trigger a defensive barrage of the issues of the other parent.

In situations like these, favourable outcomes for the child are best achieved by working with both parents.

The service provider must be well experienced in working with such high conflict situations and the dynamics as described. The approach requires expertise with clinical assessment, mediation, education and reconciliation counselling.

Eventually, the parents must be brought along to understand that their antagonistic tug of war is the toxicity hurting their child. In some situations both parents feel they must let go of the rope at the same time. In other situations some parents take the position that the other parent must go first with regard to making amends or changes. The challenge is to achieve a plan for both parents that encourages a relaxation of the animosity and new collaborative behaviour. Finally, the child needs to be brought into a session with both parents where they demonstrate their maturity by cooperating for the child’s sake and grant permission for the child to love both parents equally.

One never knows at the outset, if one or both parents can muster the maturity to take responsibility for their contribution to conflict. However, there is a secret to ending tugs of war… Only one side has to let go. The question is who is going to step up first.

What's a kid to do? Send both parents for help!

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
(905) 628-4847


Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert on child development, parent-child relations, marital and family therapy, custody and access recommendations, social work and an expert for the purpose of giving a critique on a Section 112 (social work) report.


Friday, October 26, 2012

Say "Hello" To Canadian Collaborative Practioners on LinkedIn


The Canadian contingent at the recent IACP Conference in Chicago was loud and proud last week-end.

Of course, in addition to excellent conference speakers, I did have the opportunity to visit some of the more historic landmarks of Chicago...

During the conference I had the good fortune to gather with my fellow Canadians at the "Rock the Block" party on Friday night, which as you might expect, was closed down by the Canadian contingent.  And, like any good Canadian gathering, there was hockey, beer, Caesars (we smuggled in copious amounts of Clamato) and Smarties and, the highlight, a Canadian content quiz with our own version of Alex Trebec, Ottawa Collaborative Lawyer, Chris Arnold...

Taking advantage of the location, Canadian collaborative professionals gathered for a short meeting to discuss Canadian issues in Collaboration, and to continue the connection over this broad country we encouraged all Canadian Collaborative Professionals to maintain the connection via our LinkedIn group, Collaborative Professionals Canada.  To join the group all you have to do is set up your own "Linked In" account and then search for Collaborative Professionals Canada.. and, well, "link in".

Hope to see you all there and to continue the conversation from where we left off in Chicago.


And I would be remiss if I didn't plug the newly unveiled International Association of Collaborative Professionals blog, at Be-Fulfilled.org of which, for reasons beyond me, they have included me as one of their featured bloggers.

Connect.  Share ideas, ask questions - join the conversation!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

If You Thought Family Law Wasn't Confusing Enough Already...


How many of us have found the resolution of a family breakdown to be a complex and difficult task?

Well, if it's difficult with two people - imagine the parameters of discussion and potential disagreement when the union is a union of three people.


We're not talking about a a fundamentalist Mormon sect.. we're talking about an expansion of the liberal notion of "marital relationship" in Brazil, where, today, we read that a civil union was recognized between two women and a man who had already been living together, with a three-part joint bank account, for three years.

According to Public Notary Claudia do Nascimento Domingues, who confirmed the union, the man and two women should be entitled to family rights.  According to Ms. Dominques, "there is nothing in law to prevent such an arrangement."


How about that?

And what does that have to do with Collaborative Law?

Well, firstly, I suppose, should that union not work out, it may well be that a collaborative response to resolving differences might be more able to address the unique issues that the law, to this point, been required to grapple with.

But, beyond that, it reflects the reality that parties in interdependent relationships are not "cookie cutter" versions of every other relationship, and just as society is evolving to allow parties to organize their lives on THEIR OWN TERMS - perhaps, a process which is also controlled and effectively created BY THE PARTIES would be the best model to respond to difficulties or disagreement in that relationship.

Just sayin'

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

From Georgialee Lang: Is Collaborative Law a "Wolf in Sheep's Clothing"

Hello Little Red Riding Hood..   Welcome to Court!


In a recent article - August 3, 2012 in Canada.com - Georgialee Lang suggests that clients be wary of Collaborative Divorce, suggesting that it's a "wolf in sheep's clothing."

Georgialee appears to be a family lawyer of some significant experience and skill practicing in British Columbia, and, as many lawyers who criticize the formal Collaborative Process, her article critiquing the process ends with the now common refrain, "I have always practiced family law collaboratively, I just didn’t adopt the tag."

The theme of her article, essentially, is that:

a) Collaborative Divorce misrepresents itself:

"Whether it can be said to be less expensive is another issue, because the collaborative process also provides much-needed work for underemployed counsellors, child psychologists, domestic abuse specialists and financial experts.
It has also led to the growth of professionals who call themselves divorce coaches and parenting coordinators. With the addition of one or more of these “experts”, one can easily imagine spiralling costs. In one case involving a short marriage with no children, the collaborative process cost a couple $55,000.
This is not intended as a criticism of divorce coaches or parenting coordinators, who can each play an important role, however, to suggest this parade of professionals comes cheap is disingenuous at best and outright misleading at worst."
b) Collaborative Divorce is just another way of strong-arming:
"But make no mistake. Despite what you may have heard, collaborative lawyers are still out to get the best deal they can for their clients. In one respect they are like “wolves in sheep’s clothing” as they implement strategies usually reserved for “bulldog” lawyers, including the dreaded “Nothing is settled until everything is settled” and “We refuse to counter”, driving one party to negotiate against him or herself."

What do we, as Collaborative Lawyers, do in response to this?


First thing we ought not do is ignore possibly valid criticism.

We should not be marketing or describing collaborative divorce as a "money-saving" process.  It could be.  But then so could arbitration, or mediation, or flipping a coin to determine custody of a child.  The value of any choice should not be how cheap it is, but, rather, how effective it is.

And that leads to a second potentially valid critique.

If we are not careful, a collaborative divorce can become overly prolonged, inefficient, and, in the bargain, excessively expensive relative to the results obtained.

The clients and the lawyers must be diligent in assuring that collaborative meetings are productive, that they are finding results for the parties, and are not misusing the process to either prolong, unnecessarily, discussion without purpose or creating added expense without results.

Particularly in a case where one party is paying all of the costs of the process, there can be abuse.  The clients and the lawyers should be alive to that concern, and be prepared to address it, if need be, and, in an appropriate case, to end the process where progress is not occurring.

Beyond that, I take some offense to her suggestion that "make no mistake... collaborative lawyers are still out to get the best deal they can for their clients."  If the suggestion is that collaborative divorce is just another way of getting "the most dollars possible" or paying "the least dollars possible", in my opinion, that's clearly wrong.  And it either betrays an ignorance of the process on Ms. Lang's part (my guess), or perhaps an effort to "protect turf" by a litigator.

I have to say, I have encountered collaborative files that have become positional.  Files where the collaborative lawyer, while trained, didn't fully make the leap that positional bargaining has no place in a collaborative file.  Who didn't understand that the traditional approach of seeking to threaten, cajole, or manipulate to obtain the greatest amount of financial benefit (or time with children) is overly narrow in addressing a client's interests, and, in general, has a tendancy to create an atmosphere in which clients are more likely to make poor decisions about their settlement options.

But those experiences have been very, very limited.

The vast majority of collaborative files, in my experience, have lawyers who have comfortably removed their own interest in the outcome.  In other words, they are not "trying to get everything they can possibly get" for their clients.  They are invested in empowering their clients to fully and completely understand their options, their legal status in the matter - and the "big picture" which will, most certainly, include issues relating to entitlement to property and support issues and how that will impact their future.  However, the collaborative process allows parties to expand their view of what their full interests are - including the importance of considering the impact of their choices on their children and on themselves - in which money received or paid is perhaps only one of several factors to consider.


A "wolf in sheep's clothing"?


But, as a litigator of some 26 years experience, I can guarantee you one thing: the court system is DEFINITELY no place for little red riding hood.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Finding a "Real" Collaborative Professional

For clients, and collaborative professionals, this morning I received a note from the IACP advising that they have received information that IACP members are being solicited to advertise in an on-line directory with Mediate.com and CollabLaw.com.  A copy of the notice is as follows:

Dear Robert,
We have just learned that many IACP members have been or may yet be contacted by Mediate.com/CollabLaw.com with a commercial solicitation for placement in an on-line directory ostensibly dedicated to Collaborative Practice. Please be assured that IACP did not release your name or contact information and had no involvement with or consultation into the content of this offer or this directory. IACP will never release your name or contact information for any purpose to any vendors. Unsolicited commercial email can be reported as "spam" to the marketing company through which the e-mail was distributed.
We are concerned regarding this directory as it apparently lists anyone who has paid the fee to be included, whether that professional actually offers Collaborative Practice services or not. There are many services divorcing couples could consider. And, we believe the professional community who serves these couples owes them clear information. Advertising oneself as a Collaborative practitioner when, in fact, one does not offer Collaborative Practice services is misleading to the public and does a disservice to consumers who are sorting through complex issues during troubled times.
We urge IACP members to be very clear in all the ways and through all the means by which you educate the public about Collaborative Practice.
With best regards,
Lynda Robbins, President
Talia Katz, Executive Director

The concern raised is that there is no need to verify training in Collaborative Law to belong to the service, such that those coming to the site should be aware that these sites do not necessarily guarantee that the person being contacted is, in fact, fully trained in the process.

As such, while lawyers, financial professionals, or mental health professionals are free to use the service, if desired, those who are seeking to find someone to assist them in Collaborative Law may be advised to either search for practitioners under the IACP website, found here:

Or, alternatively, search their local area for their State or Provincial Organizations who may have  a similar list of TRAINED collaborative professionals, which, for Alberta can be found here:


Collaborative work is not easy, and it's not simply a matter of trying to be amicable.  Many practitioners have taken many hours of training, beyond simple interest-based negotiation - and those seeking out Collaborative Professionals are well advised to take care in seeking out the most qualified professionals possible.