Most people approach divorce with the sense that it is something dreadful that one simply has to get through. Few have seen it as an opportunity to get a second chance to set themselves and their children up for a better future. While this is understandable given how divorce has traditionally been viewed and practiced, new paradigms are becoming available in which families not only survive divorce, but thrive after their divorce.
The legal approach to divorce was developed at a time when divorce itself was considered to be shameful. Confronted with the prospect of social stigma--and often stung by feelings of hurt, anger and betrayal--most people facing divorce would try to deflect the stigma from themselves by blaming the other spouse for the “failure” of the marriage. The legal system mirrored these social norms, making the legal process of divorce a game of determining who was “right” and who was “wrong.” In fact, to “sue for divorce” one typically had to allege and prove wrongdoing on the part of the other spouse, with divorce petitions often slinging (public) accusations of adultery, drunkenness, abusiveness, and so on.
The inevitable outcome of such a process was to most often leave once loving families in shambles by the time it was complete. Any children of the marriage would typically be placed in the sole (or nearly sole) custody of the spouse found to be “right”—thus losing their relationship with the “wrong” parent, to their enormous detriment.
Today, long after the advent of “no fault” divorce in the 1970s, we as divorce professionals still often hear parents say their greatest fear as they approach divorce is that they will lose their relationship with their children.
Much of the energy of the traditional system has remained embedded in the way lawyers lead their clients through divorce. Lawyers still encourage their clients to tactically undermine the other party, skew their financial resources, and paint the other spouse as wrong and bad in an effort to leverage custody disputes, regardless of how harmful such tactics are to the couple’s children (and they are almost always harmful, extremely so). All because people have refused to question their historical assumption that getting a divorce is about blaming and belittling the other spouse.
At Conscious Family Law & Mediation, we are part of a movement that is seeking to eliminate all unnecessary, added hatefulness and blame from the process of divorce. Yes, there can be and often are hurt feelings. Yes, spouses can feel a strong sense of betrayal. To consciously divorce, one need not give up any story of hurt or betrayal. However, those feelings and stories need not drive the process into something destructive and harmful to the entire family.
As leaders in the “conscious” divorce movement, we function as both mediators (neutral to each spouse) and as legal advisors (advocating for one spouse).
When functioning as Conscious Divorce Mediators, we differ from conventional mediators in that we are not simply seeking compromise. We are not looking merely to facilitate agreement. Rather, as family law professionals who have seen all the common post-divorce pitfalls, we look to ensure that you reach legal agreements that are clear, enforceable, durable over time, appropriately address the children’s best interests, and cover all the important issues. In other words, agreements that set you and your family up to succeed post-divorce.
When functioning as Conscious Family Lawyers, we differ from conventional lawyers in that we operate from a different set of values and priorities. We do not shy from conflict and strong advocacy of our clients’ position. At the same time, we will never generate conflict that is unnecessary to advance our clients’ real interests. We see such behavior as benefiting only the lawyers, while being extremely harmful to the families whose futures are being determined.
Further, no matter which role we are in, we help our clients get in touch with the deeper interests and values underlying their positions, and to operate from that space. In our experience, this results in a far stronger position than one coming from fear, pain, confusion and anger. We hold space for people to open their hearts, and keep them open, in midst of a hurricane. And, in the same way that we ask divorcing spouses to avoid a battleground mentality, we seek to apply the same maturity when we deal with aggressive, opposing lawyers. Often, we are able to turn the opposing lawyers’ aggressiveness against the polarized position they are seeking to advocate.
Ultimately, many of our clients discover that despite the pain and hurt of divorce, it is a rare opportunity to set oneself up for a successful future. For parents, the ones who are supported to to stand tall in the storm, and do what is best for the long term health of themselves and their children, are the ones who thrive post-divorce. We are proud to support individuals and parents who want what is best for themselves and their children to achieve their hopes and aspirations.
Peter Fabish and John Hoelle are family law attorney-mediators, and the founders of Conscious Family Law & Mediation.