No church leader favors divorce as a means of dispute resolution in family law matters. Church leaders (defined as clergymen, lay ministers and religious counselors) have done a yeoman’s job of providing congregants with models, sermons and classes on how to build and sustain a successful marriage. Church leaders have also done a yeoman’s job in attempting to save marriages which have foundered through individual and group counseling and direct intervention. Nevertheless, the rate of divorce among those affiliated with a religion is no lower than the divorce rate for people who do not have such an affiliation. But, once a couple has chosen the path of divorce, it does not appear that the church leaders have developed a program to shepherd their congregants through the divorce process. Most churches have post-divorce recovery counseling and classes to try to undo the damage done to the adults and children of divorce. Why not assist your congregants in preventing or lessening the carnage.
Undoubtedly one might ask why any church would want to embroil itself in the spirit-crushing process of divorce or post-divorce family law dispute resolution.
My personal answer is quite simple: For the same reason church leaders have striven for years to provide the services listed above– TO KEEP ONE’S CONGREGANTS ON GOD’S NARROW PATH and participating in the congregation. Far too many congregants fall away from the congregation before, during or after the divorce process. I am not suggesting that clergymen embroil themselves in negotiating the terms of divorce settlements but rather having clergymen and religious counselors do what they are trained to do – keep people focused on the Word of God and the standards to which He urges all of us, especially in times of extreme pain, fear and anger, such as divorce.
I am writing this open letter to all clergy to implore the churches to learn how to stay connected to these people individually during the divorce process and the manner in which I propose to train clergy is through their involvement in the Collaborative Law process.
Before I explain what I propose to offer the clergy, let me tell you a bit about myself. I am 60+ and divorced. My divorce was the model of compassion and respect and it still took me two years to recover. I am a lawyer and have been for 20+ years. I have two Grand Passions in life: GOD and the law. I have been profoundly spiritual since early childhood and even in my early adulthood rebellion against God, my true quest was to know Him better. My second Grand Passion is the law. I became a lawyer at the age of 40 as a second career and devoted my practice to aggressive litigation until 1997, when I began to soften my approach to handling legal conflicts. In 1999 I first heard of Collaborative Law. In 2000, I took my first course in Collaborative Law and it immediately became the focus of my law practice thereafter. I founded the Alliance of Collaborative Family Law Attorneys, am on the Executive Committee of the Gulf Coast Collaborative Law Network and am a Trustee of the Collaborative Law Institute of Texas, Inc., a 501(c)(3), nonprofit organization dedicated to making Collaborative Law the “prevailing process for resolution of family law matters.”
The three outstanding features of Collaborative Law which attracted me and which should resonate with the clergy are the following:
The parties sign a contract not to involve the court in their dispute, except, of course, for the signing and approval of the final orders as required by law.
The great incentive to succeed in that commitment and the severe penalty for failure is that the parties lose their collaborative lawyers and the lawyers lose their clients if one party breaches the standards for behavior embodied in the Collaborative Law Participation Agreement or seeks court intervention.
Collaborative lawyers are trained to bring to the table any neutral allied professional with skills to assist participants in the collaborative process in maintaining the high standards of communication established by the Collaborative Law Participation Agreement.
Remaining focused on the future of the “restructured family”.
Achieving a settlement which meets the future economic and emotional needs of both participants.
Each of these elements provides an opening for involvement of the clergy. Many of us in the Collaborative Law community are training allied professionals from the mental health, financial, communication and coaching disciplines in how they can join in the Collaborative Law process to assist divorcing parties to avoid the disinterested-third-party-imposed judgment of the court system while growing and healing their way toward a respectful mutual solution achieved with dignity. Many of us feel that the clergy have refused to join due to a lack of information about the process and, in not a few instances, a refusal to even hear about the process for fear it would look like they were “supporting/encouraging divorce.” I feel strongly that the church exists to serve the lost and broken, not just the regular Sunday morning crowd. Hence this letter.
I am asking for an opportunity to sit down with the leadership of your church or synagogue, those dedicated to working for the preservation of marriages and those counseling to explain the Collaborative Law process and to work out a program for training these leaders for participation in the Collaborative Law sessions with congregants. We believe properly trained religious leaders can assist congregants in meeting the aspirational goals of Collaborative Law and remaining on God’s path of love and respect for others despite the divorce.
I hope you will give me and some of my colleagues this opportunity. Our initial presentation, which should last about one hour (more if the participants have a large number of questions) is, of course, free of charge. Actual training in the process would more than likely be in conjunction with other people in the clergy at a time and place worked out with multiple groups.