By: Renée le Nobel, CPA, CA, Creating Financial Clarity for Individuals and Families
You and your ex have decided to consider the collaborative approach to divorce. This is commendable, as it is a gigantic hurdle to get to this point of agreement with someone you are in conflict with. Most people I know like the idea of a collaborative approach and when I suggest it as the best approach to divorce, they look at me and say: "well, I can see how it might work with you and your ex...but my ex is not reasonable like your ex and it just won't work for us." My ex and I despised each other and did not want to work together, yet we both recognized that conflict was destroying our souls and the lives of our children. If you think it won't work, suggest it to your ex. You may be surprised how relieved your ex will feel to know that you are willing to give it a try.
So you've decided you are going to Collaborate. Now what?
The next step is to identify the issue that you are going to collaborate on - and try to make the issue as neutral as possible (which can be fairly hard to do with a divorce). In divorce, there seems to be two rather large issues that are fairly identifiable: split the money and split the kids. These are such big issues, that in the Collaborative Process, you each get a family lawyer to help you figure out how to split the money. You also get a divorce coach to figure out how to split the kids.
Again, try to make the issues neutral and not position-based. Start telling yourself that you need to communicate with your ex about finances and parenting. You'll notice that neither of these statements includes a position about finances or parenting (for example: "I want everything, 100% of the house and 100% of the kids").
So, you have now gotten to the second step. You are going to collaborate to come up with an agreement about parenting and finances.
Setting the Collaborative Stage
After deciding to collaborate and identifying the issues to collaborate on, it is time to set the time and place to do this. Choose the time and place that works for both of you. A time and place where there will be minimal stressors (as much as possible). It is important to have the support of your divorce coach and lawyer, as they are trained in the Collaborative Process and will keep you on track.
When you feel anger surfacing and when you start to think about your position, it is time to take a break from the discussion. I hated taking breaks because it seemed like we were wasting time and money. I now understand that it cost me time and money by not taking breaks. Forcing myself through the anger that I was experiencing kept me in a position-based stance and I lost focus and fell off the collaborative path.
Taking a break and letting your mind go quiet allows you to remind yourself that you are in the process to generate an outcome that you may not yet have thought of. Readiness allows you to begin the exciting part of the Collaborative Process, the Exploration Stage.
The Exploration Stage
You have agreed to collaborate with your ex and you have established the time and place. It is now time to start exploring and listening to your ex about what is underlying his/her beliefs and interests.
This is the hard part and can take quite a while.
Because did I just say you have to listen to your ex?
Yes I did. I think this is where we lost the picture. I was so intent on getting my ex to listen to me and vice-versa, that we never heard each other. I hated listening to my ex. I kept thinking "I've been listening to your values, beliefs, and ideas for the past 20 years and I know exactly what you are going to say." Further to this I thought: "I can't believe I'm paying $200 per hour to listen to my ex spout off on his crazy ideas again." And then I would talk louder and try to tune him out.
And this is what my ex was doing.
And you know what I discovered? I never felt heard.
So then one of the psychologists that we hired a year later when we were still fighting pointed out that each of us simply wanted to be heard.
This psychologist looked at my ex and asked him what he thought I was thinking. My ex still had no idea. So the psychologist listened to what I was saying and repeated it back to my to ex and then he got my ex to repeat it back to me.
It was weird, but all of a sudden, I felt good, almost happy. I should say, that I had not felt this way after talking to my ex in a very long time.
Then we did the exercise in reverse. My ex started to go on about his ideas and thoughts and I just sat there and listened quietly. Then the psychologist said it again and asked me to repeat what I'd heard back to my ex. I did.
We did this for 3 hours.
And then we left and nothing had been finalized or resolved.
Yet, I finally felt heard and that felt good. At this point, I was open to discussing options with my ex and I know this is how my ex felt because we have been discussing them this past week since our last counselling session. The exploration stage had opened up possibilities and things we had not thought of. It also clearly defined the boundaries in which we would operate.
The Final Step - Implementation
Creating plans and finalising agreements is the final step of the process. We had done the third step - exploring what was behind our position-based statements to find out what was truly important to both of us. This gave us an idea as to what options would be possible going forward.
We have been brainstorming some options and surprisingly we don't have to discuss them too long before they get implemented. This is because we have each finally listened to each other and we know what will work and what won't.
That is it. It seems so straightforward when I write it down in a blog post. Don't let that deceive you. It is very hard to collaborate. Emotions and misunderstanding still get in the way. That said, I hope this gives you an idea of how to start and a reminder of when things go off the rails of how to get back on track.