Resolving Family Disputes Respectfully

Understanding the Collaborative Process to Divorce

By: Renée le Nobel, CPA, CA, Creating Financial Clarity for Individuals and Families

Divorce dramatically shifted the path of my life in a way that I could not fathom as I entered and experienced the divorce process. I credit the Collaborative Approach to divorce as the beginning of the path that I am now on to live life with hope. I realise that sometimes we need sticking points in life to force us out of the complacency we have settled into to find the path that is right for each of us. My divorce exposed me to the new ideas and tools that I needed to do this.

I am grateful because my ex-spouse and I were spared the traditional court route to divorce when we entered the collaborative process to create the separation and parenting agreements we needed to finalise our divorce. That said, by the time we decided to initiate the divorce process neither of us trusted each other and I don't think I am going too far when I say that we each despised each other. I wasn't in a good frame of mind to understand how the Collaborative Approach to divorce would help us. I was very emotional and the entire concept around collaborative - where a better outcome is constructed for both parties to the conflict - just didn't seem possible.

In fact, I didn't really understand the collaborative process until two years post separation and one year after we had finalised our separation agreement.

Two years later (has it really been two years?), I am finally at a place where I can see that a better outcome is possible. My life and the lives of my children have more potential than I would ever have imagined when both of us were compromising in a marriage that was not working for any of us.

I am adopting a collaborative approach for all areas of my life as after having first-hand experience of how effective it can be in one of the most conflict laden areas of life - divorce. I now understand how the collaborative process is supposed to work and I want to share my understanding to help add clarity to those who may be just starting out on the divorce process as often, during the initial stage of divorce the fog of emotion is thick and clouds understanding.

The Beginning

When you decide you would like to take the collaborative approach to divorce it is important that the person you are entering the process with is on the same page. So, the first step is to have a discussion with the person you are in conflict with. Decide together that you want to work together to come up with a Collaborative solution.

Pre-collaboration, my ex and I both had good ideas about what the solution to our problems should be and we thought negotiating those ideas with a mediator was collaborative. This wasn't collaborative. This was taking a position-based approach and this is how most of us have been trained in life to deal with conflict. We start with our own positions on what we want and then we use various forms of manipulation and argument to get to a point where we meet in the middle. This is called a compromise and I remember one of my professors at university stating that this was actually a lose-lose situation.

At the beginning of my divorce process, I was told by various people (including many professional mediators, lawyers and counsellors): "A good agreement is one that has the both of you coming away from it feeling like you can live with it but still feeling slightly shortchanged." I can tell you that is how my ex and I did initially come away from our agreement. We both felt like we got a raw deal. This did not set us up for success going forward as co-parents.

I now understand that we had reached an agreement with the Collaborative Process but neither of us understood what that meant because we did not have a discussion at the beginning about what we wanted to achieve. What we wanted to achieve was a better outcome than the one we would get from a compromising or position-based approach. It has taken a further year of fighting and conflict for us to go back to the beginning and start again by truly using collaboration this time around.

A good place to start is with understanding that the collaborative approach to divorce is not the traditional understanding of the divorce process that pervades our society. The collaborative approach is an approach that does not focus on the outcome but on the underlying values and needs of each party. This leads to building an outcome that you and your ex probably never thought of but one that will leave you both feeling like you have control and hope in your life.

Considering Collaborative divorce? Want to find out more information to see if it is the best choice for you and your partner? Contact one of the professionals on the Collaborative Divorce Vancouver team today!