It is always my goal to do everything I do with excellence. That has been the standard to which I have aspired all of my life. But, excellence has many faces, just as failure. At my present age, I strive to bring wisdom to the demonstration of excellence; not mere performance. For instance, I can be the best, Rambo-style lawyer in my county, but if my tactics leave my client devastated, have I employed wisdom? Did I offer my client the wisdom gleaned over 30+ years of litigation; offer my client a perspective on the hidden cost to be paid for my performance as the “hatchet lady”?
Family disputes impact family members long after the ink has dried on the final paperwork and have far-reaching effects not anticipated by the participants, especially where there are children involved. Deep-seated anger and hate are not the only emotions scarring participants and the innocent (or not so innocent) bystanders. Unrelenting, subconscious, ever-unresolved insecurity, doubt and fear more often linger in bystanders (children, friends and relatives). Relationships between friends, participants and the children of the dispute, participants and their extended families, children of the dispute and their extended families are forever severed or rendered fretful and with impaired communications. While people, both adults and children, tend to get over moving from one physical location to another, rarely does either get over the feelings of abandonment, loss, rejection, uncertainty, self-doubt, self-condemnation, being conned, etc.
In my own divorce in 1978, my husband and I worked it out ourselves and then my lawyer took me to Court to enter the paperwork. It was dreadfully painful for us, but we accomplished this dreadful task without any degrading mean-spiritedness. Each of us walked away knowing we had honored the love which once existed between us, though we might not have felt that love at the end of our marriage. The field of mediation was in its infancy throughout the nation at that time and Collaborative Law was not even a gleam in Stu Webb’s (the originator of Collaborative Law concept) warm little heart.
Then I became a lawyer and learned my profession at the feet of one of the acknowledged finest litigators in the State of Texas. I have seen the destruction of the economic and emotional lives of participants brought about by the litigation process because I have been a participant in that process.
Though mediation is now a household word throughout the country, the way it is practiced in much of Texas and most assuredly in the counties in which I practice is anything but healing. What is referred to as “caucus style mediation” is brutal, confusing and devastating to clients because of the compressed time period during which negotiations are conducted and a “settlement” achieved (usually one day or less), the method used by the mediator in pushing parties toward settlement (each party being told how weak their cases are) and next morning’s shock of the irrevocable nature of the “agreement” reached; reached without time to reflect; reached while emotionally, intellectually and physically exhausted, and often while not fully comprehending the ramifications of their decisions; the parties are asked to sign a written outline of an agreement which is judicially irrevocable.
I believe with all my heart that Collaborative Law is the better way because it allows participants to do what my husband and I did 1978, to walk away with personal dignity and respect for the other spouse with an agreement each can remain faithful to because each party knowingly participated in its construction. I urge any couple who, having decided that the marriage is at an end, wants to avoid expending the equivalent of the cost of a child’s college education or a significant portion of one’s retirement account on litigation to consider Collaborative Law. Without regard to money, I urge any couple who, having decided that the marriage is at an end, desires to move into their new lives with self-respect and respect for one’s former spouse to consider the Collaborative Law alternative.
Divorce is not easy and the collaborative way does not take away the pain of participation in the death of a relationship. What it does do is avoid the additional emotional and financial carnage which the litigation process imposes on all involved.
That having been said, Collaborative Law is not for every case. No matter how conciliatory, honest, forthcoming and reasonable one spouse may be, if the other spouse is not like-minded and committed to the avoidance of aggressive, pugnacious behavior and having dirty linen aired in public, then the case should not be handled collaboratively. In that event, my 30+ years of litigation experience remains intact and available to my clients.