Today’s oxymoron is….
Sounds like a made-up term, doesn’t it? Sounds like a joke. Not a bad joke. A really, really funny one. To me. Now.
Almost two years ago, it sounded wonderful. Why hadn’t I heard of this? Think of it. Two people get married, have kids, build a life (sort of… stay tuned), and mostly get along. Except that they don’t get along. They live on separate levels of their perfect house in their perfect neighbourhood and manage to mostly not fight for years. Then one February day, not out of the blue, but after two years (in a twelve-year marriage) of hanging on and hoping things will get better, they sit down, very civilized, and decide to pull the plug. He has to leave. It is over.
A week later, before they have shared their decision with anyone, her father dies. But that’s another chapter.
Back to the week before, sunny Sunday afternoon coffee in their cheery living room, in their perfect neighbourhood. They cry a little. They talk at last. They prepare for the inevitable. They set a date. And it is Nice. Yes, Civilized. Clinical.
He is a lawyer. He talks to his colleagues. They suggest a better way for divorce. It’s called “collaborative family law”. It’s a “new” (fifteen years in my province) alternative to adversarial divorce. It will help them rip their lives apart with a clean, scalpel-like tear that will minimize suffering and mess for them (Like an episiotomy, I guess. Another procedure that seems like a good idea at the time). They will “divorce without ruining their children”, as one collaborative family law book tells them. How wonderful.
Each party in the divorce will hire their own, specially trained, collaborative lawyer. They will meet periodically in a boardroom. They will nosh on lovely crackers and cheese and offer each other “another cup of tea” or “perhaps a little coffee”. They will discuss, negotiate and keep their voices down while they dissect their lives and dispatch their children in a fair and equitable manner. Norman Rockwell would be inspired.
It all begins with a collaborative agreement. All four parties – two clients and their respective lawyers – will sign a contract. They will agree to play nicely together. They will be respectful and forthcoming. No one will make unilateral decisions, or plot – with or without their lawyer – to blind side the other party.
And if that works, they might just wonder why they are getting divorced in the first place. But I digress.
That describes the beginning. Cut to the “end” – the crash and burn in my Phoenix template.
It is March – just over two years after we decided to split. I have hammered out a letter to my soon-to-be-ex husband’s lawyer. I have hammered it out. Me. Why? Because I am without counsel. I have fired my lawyer. I am betwixt and between. Betwixt and between lawyers, that is. Emotionally, I am long past my wits’ end. I have the doctor’s note to prove it. The letter I wrote goes something like this (names, of course, have been changed, clumsily stolen from Oliver Twist):
I received your letter.
I will consider your client’s request to continue collaborative law after having released my counsel. However, I require information from Mr. Bumble [the ex] which he is refusing to provide. Perhaps you can help. I have asked for him to communicate [gasp!] with me about this decision directly. He wrote that he only wants to speak through you as counsel [Probably because he’s tired of being screamed at and of dodging mid-sized, smooth-edged, non-breakable objects]. I think this is counter intuitive to this process [as is, probably, verbal assault on my part, but again, to the point…]. Perhaps you could address this issue with your client? As I understood it, the collaborative process should be based on a modicum of trust between both parties. This has been severely damaged, admittedly by both of us. I have reached out to him […more recently, in a non-volatile, not raving lunatic manner, with hands object-free. So what’s the prob?]. I would need to see some effort on his part to attempt to restore some kind of trust before I could re-commit.
I have asked Mr. Bumble why he wants to continue with this process. I see no point in continuing if he refuses to communicate with me. Perhaps you can address this problem with him? It is important, no?
… [details that might bite me in the butt if I published them]…
Also, moving forward, I must ask, again… will Mr. Bumble honour the agreement for a collaborative process? Does he have any intention of addressing the breaches that led directly to my divorce coach’s resignation? [Divorce coach. And then there were six. And then five. And then four again. Yes. I will explain]
I remain, considering collaborative family law as a potential solution, and I look forward to your – or your client’s – thoughtful response.
Blah blah blah
Okay, somewhat gratuitous. Lots of details you may be wondering about. I guess I forgot to forewarn: There will be venting.
I think it seems clear – collaborative divorce is, um, not working.
Remember, as promised, I’ve skipped from “beginning” to “end”… “rising” to “ashes” to paint a picture. Now, what is that pesky middle part? How did things come to this? Ah, now that’s the story again, isn’t it? The pesky middle part consists only in what I can discern right now as that mess of beginnings and endings without plot lines.
So I will post the pieces, as they come to me. A failed marriage, complete with cast of characters. Raising children without screwing them up through all of this. Mental health, and lack thereof, and its restoration. Single motherhood. A new relationship. Re-entering the work force. Failed employment. Financial ruin. Great friends. Complicated family. Opportunities.
And about Collaborative Divorce? There will be more about that. For now, though, I will soar, briefly, through this lawyer-less time and consider my next “rising”… while anticipating the inevitable “crash and burn”.