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Zen and the Art of Handling Divorce

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One of our goals at The Law Collaborative is to support the professionals who assist families in crisis in creating and maintaining collaborative practices. We believe that the California Family Law system as it stands today is destructive and harmful to families in transition, and we work every day to make a difference.  That said, when we find other professionals in the U.S. who are working just as hard as we are to create a kinder, gentler way for families to reorganize in the face of divorce, we like to send them a little love.

Today we’d like to point you in the direction of Nanci Smith, a family law attorney in Vermont who advocates for Collaborative Law and Mediation. From an article by Mel Huff of the Times Argus Staff:

A former client characterizes her approach as “Zen,” although Smith says she wouldn’t call
it Zen with a capital Z. She explains what she does as “trying to help people get through the
divorce process, or civil union dissolution process, purposefully, mindfully and as humanely
as possible, given the circumstances.”

Sometimes, however, what people want is for their lawyer to be their gladiator or pit bull or
their shark. “That’s under-standable,” Smith says, “because divorce is so overwhelming. It’s
as if there’s a death in the family, except nobody is bringing food. It’s a great loss. There’s
sadness and anger and regret and fear. You have to work through all of those emotions to
get to acceptance, and hopefully, a sense of freedom at the end.”

If a couple can preserve some sense of decency, she says, they can move on “without
ruining their relationship with somebody they once loved.” Choosing the “warrior path,” on the other hand, can lead to a process that is “indecent and cruel and vicious.”

Read the full article here…

Why We Collaborate (Part 3 of 5)

By Ty Supancic, Esquire

Changing Our Paradigm

We believe that in order to excel as masters of collaborative methods and techniques, we must apply them as often as possible. Given that the vast majority of our waking time is spent at work, work is the best place to develop and exercise these new skills. To that end, we have a unique management structure at TLC. The vast majority of law firms and businesses in general are ruled by a hierarchical system; managing partners supervising partners, supervising associates, etc. The classic “top down management” system. At TLC we practice a heterarchical system of management. That is, we collaborate in office management decisions and day-to-day operations.

At TLC we have group meetings where we attempt to solve problems and make decisions collaboratively. Rather than one person dictating the color of the paper for a particular form , we try to choose the color collaboratively. Rather than just the partners or a committee writing the mission statement, firm values, and the procedures manual, the whole staff painstakingly collaborated on everything. One thing we’ve learned is that a decision which one person can make in an instant, may take hours to make collaboratively.

Collaboration is not the quickest method of problem solving. If measuring only time, it is not at all efficient. But if the desired outcome is one with profound long-term impact, it is the most effective method. The time we spend collaborating on internal office issues is an investment in developing collaborative skills and instincts. They say that when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Collaborating with your co-workers all day is like standing in front of a great tool chest with all the drawers open.

If we are to become masters of this new technology, this technology so foreign to professionals trained and indoctrinated in adversarial and positional dispute resolution, it must become our second nature. No, it must become our first nature. Sensitive matters may not withstand a non-collaborative or aggressive response to a problem. Since either party can unilaterally withdraw from the Collaborative process and disqualify both attorneys from further representation, each response to conflict must originate from the right mindset.

If an attorney is sitting at her desk, making unilateral decisions, dictating procedure, making hierarchical demands, she is not in the right mindset to deal with a call from her client or opposing counsel on a Collaborative case. It is too easy to fall back into habits which do not foster or support collaboration. We can easily take a case sideways with just a few words coming from the wrong mindset. How can we expect our clients and opposing counsel to “collaborate” when the stakes are high if we can’t collaborate in the low-stakes day-to-day operation of our office?

We have seen Collaborative Law cases, where well-intentioned parties have made significant progress, unravel due to “good” traditional lawyering. In order to negotiate the minefield of conflict, one must proceed with caution at all times. Instinct and gut reactions are important, but they must originate in a place of commitment to the goals expressed by the parties. An attorney who is representing a party in a CDR case must remember that the scope of their representation requires that they adhere to good CDR protocols. Ignoring that fact ignores the scope of representation and violates the rules of professional conduct.

We’ve heard opposition to this approach; “What about your litigated cases, won’t they suffer? Won’t you lose your edge?” No, old instincts are hard to kill. Trying to think collaboratively all the time does nothing to dull our deep inbred fight or flight instinct.

Part 1 – Why We Collaborate and Collaborative Problem Solving
Part 2 – The Collaborative Paradigm
Part 3 – Changing Our Paradigm
Part 4 – Leading By Example
Part 5 – God is in the Details

Enrolling the Reluctant Spouse

M. Marcy Jones is an author, speaker, lawyer, coach, and advocate for change. She lives in Lynchburg, Virginia and she writes a wonderful blog called Graceful Divorce Solutions – if you haven’t been over there yet, you should check it out today at

A couple of weeks ago she posted an article about how to enroll a reluctant spouse in the collaborative process:

My client, Mary, came to see me a few months ago for a consultation. We went over her situation and her options, and she clearly expressed an interest in using the collaborative process. Her concern, though, was that her husband, Joe, was drinking a lot, not home very much, and she didn’t know how or when she would be able to talk to him about this option.

While every case is different, Jones gives some great ideas for how to get your spouse on the same page and, most importantly, how do it with kindness and dignity.

Orange You Happy?

Two children were in the kitchen fighting over an orange. Their father walked in, saw what was going on and decided to put an end to it. He grabbed the orange from their hands, put it on the chopping block, cut it in half, and gave half to his son and half to his daughter.

Both children burst into tears. Astonished, the father turned to his son and said, “Johnny, why are you crying?”

“I wanted the whole orange!” Johnny answered, sobbing.

“You can’t have the whole orange, there’s only one orange. You have to share it with your sister. Stop crying.” Then he turned to his daughter and asked, “Suzy, why are you crying?”

Suzy sniffled and said, “Daddy, I didn’t want the orange at all.”

“What? What are you talking about?”

“I only wanted the peel. I need it for an icing recipe for a cake I just baked. But I have to have the whole peel.”

The father scratched his beard, thoughtfully. “You only wanted the outside of the orange?”

Suzy nodded her head sadly, a fat tear dripping from her chin. “Yes.”

“Can Johnny have the inside of the orange?”

Her eyes widened and she bounced on her toes. “Yes!”

“Johnny? Will you give your sister the orange peel if she lets you have the inside of the orange?”

Little Johnny’s face brightened and he clasped his hands together. “Yes! Of course! I didn’t even want the crummy old peel!”


The truth about litigated divorce is that the judge doesn’t have the time, the inclination or the imagination to find out what your interests are. When you get a traditional, litigated divorce, you get distributive bargaining. The judge is following the law. He’s lead by the rules and the statutes.

With Collaborative Divorce, as well as with mediation or The Kitchen Table Divorce, there is creativity and imagination. Your wants, your needs, and your fears are heard, acknowledged, and understood. Your spouse’s wants and needs and fears are heard, acknowledged, and understood. It’s impossible to be angry or hateful towards someone you understand.

You went into your marriage with love. If you’re getting a divorce, you have the opportunity to reorganize your life with love. It’s your choice.

Rules for Fair Fighting

Everyone disagrees sometimes.  In fact, a relationship that avoids conflict may be unhealthy. A healthy relationship does not avoid conflict, but uses it to clear the air productively, without hurt feelings.

Here are fourteen rules for fighting fair:

1.  Take Responsibility. It may take two to argue, but it only takes one to end a conflict. Make a commitment to never intentionally harm your partner’s feelings.

2.  Don’t escalate. The most important commitment you will make to fair fighting is to overcome any desire to speak or act hurtfully.

3.  Use “I” speech. When we use “you” speech, it is often perceived as accusatory.  Instead, talk about your own feelings: “I feel hurt when I hear that.” This may prevent defensiveness, as it’s hard to argue with a self-report.

4.  Learn to use “time out”. Agree that if hurtful speech or actions continue, either party may call a time out.  The three elements to a successful time out are:  1.) Use “I” speech to take responsibility, such as, “I don’t want to get angry.”  2.) Say what you need: “I need to take a walk to clear my head.”  3.) Set a time limit: “I’ll be back in 15 minutes to finish our talk.”  These steps will keep either of you from feeling abandoned.

5.  Avoid and defend against hurtful speech. This includes name-calling, swearing, sarcasm, shouting, or any verbal hostility or intimidation.  Agree to a key phrase that indicates hurt feelings, such as “That’s below the belt.”

6.  Stay calm. Don’t overreact.  Behave with calm respect and your partner will be more likely to consider your viewpoint.

7.  Use words, not actions. When feelings run high, even innocent actions like hitting a tabletop may be misinterpreted.  Use “I” speech to explain your feelings instead.

8.  Be specific. Use concrete examples (who, what, when, where) for your objections.

9.  Discuss only one issue at a time. If you find yourself saying, “And another thing….,” stop.

10.  Avoid generalizations like “never” or “always”. Use specific examples.

11.  Don’t exaggerate. Exaggerating only prevents discussions about the real issue.  Stick with facts and honest feelings.

12.  Don’t wait. Try to deal with problems as they arise — before hurt feelings have a chance to grow.

13.  Don’t clam up. When one person becomes silent and stops responding, anger may build.  Positive results are attained with two-way communication.

14.  Agree to these ground rules.

Remember, when you both agree to common rules, resolving conflict is more likely.  Sometimes, no matter how hard we try to fight fair, we simply can’t resolve a conflict.  When this happens, talks with a trained professional may help.  We are always available to assist you when you are unable to reach a resolution you can both live with.

The family law lawyers at The Law Collaborative, Los Angeles, is dedicated to providing useful tools like these to assist couples in managing conflict, resolving issues, and preserving families.  Please visit our website for more tools and resources.

How much does a divorce cost?

Very often the first question a divorce lawyer hears is, “How much is this going to cost?” It’s an important question, and Certified Family Law Specialist Ron Supancic answers it in this short informative video.

It’s your family, it should be your choice.

“Going to court is the only way to ensure you’ll get a fair share.”

This is a popular myth in our culture. In fact, the opposite is true. When you go to court, you get the product of distributive bargaining, which means that the court is limited to only those remedies that have been established in the jurisdiction in which that judge is a bench officer. The rules of law and the court cases interpreting the law change regularly. Most states have enacted statutes that would fill a book outlining all of the various circumstances and events that alter the rights to property and children. And those are changing constantly.

People who choose to resolve their family disputes outside of court can use much greater creativity, imagination, and flexibility to design workable plans for their children, their property, and their money. The legal professionals who engage in Alternative Dispute Resolution have long known this. Arbitration was designed to take litigation outside of the court. Mediation came about to eliminate the restrictions imposed by judges who sit in courtrooms. Collaborative law has evolved to give parties the best of both worlds. You’re free to be creative, and you have an attorney. It’s your money. It’s your family. It’s your life. It should be your choice.

Many lawyers today are exploring collaborative law as a new option. Collaborative Divorce involves professionals — such as lawyers, accountants, and financial planners who share a belief that a family is forever, and that family disputes are best resolved using collaborative strategies rather than adversarial approaches such as litigation.

Lawyers who practice collaborative divorce believe in and have been trained in the non-adversarial dispute-resolution process. Through this new process, they model for their clients a commitment to honesty, dignified behavior, and mutual respect. Imagine a divorce in which collaboration replaces competition, financial disclosure is mandatory, and mediation becomes the rule rather than the exception.

The advantages of collaborative divorce are many. Sessions are held in private, which keeps many details out of the public record. With their lawyers assisting, the clients are in charge and make their own agreements, rather than giving power and control to courts. Without the need to wait for a long time for hearing or trial dates, the divorce can proceed in a timely fashion, saving money on attorneys fees and court costs. Through good planning and the collaborative allocation of resources, accountants and financial planners may successfully assist the family to conserve its assets to the advantage of both the parties and their children.

Just as after the death of one partner, the family will naturally restructure itself after divorce. Yet for this restructuring process to be optimally healthy, the parties will likely need professional help, which the collaborative-divorce model provides. Lawyers, however well intentioned, have not been trained to solve the client’s emotional and financial issues without assistance.

Divorcing couples can also benefit from seeing a “divorce coach.” Usually a mental health professional, the divorce coach teaches communication skills, educates and assists the couple with consistent co-parenting skills, and normalizes the difficult closure issues. The divorce coach can achieve great strides in these areas and help the family unit, through change, emerge strengthened as a whole.

One might question the expense of involving so many experts in an individual case. Yet we have seen in case after case that a collaborative divorce saves the parties not only money but also the great emotional cost of litigated divorce by taking less time, inflicting less trauma, and causing less damage to children.

A Daily Journal Exposé

Photo courtesy of Michael Zara. All rights reserved.

By: Ronald M. Supancic, CFLS

As Chief Justice Warren Burger stated in 1984, “The entire legal profession … has become so mesmerized with the stimulation of the courtroom contest, that we tend to forget that we ought to be healers of conflict … Trial by adversarial contest must in time go the way of the ancient trial by battle and blood … Our system has become too costly, too painful, too destructive, too inefficient for truly civilized people.”

This is especially true of divorces. A divorce is not an event – it is the process by which one makes the transition from being part of a couple to being single. The goal of a healthy divorce should be to begin as two, end as one and still feel whole.

This journey will lead the parties through an often treacherous and painful maze of transitions: legal, physical, emotional, financial and spiritual.

If this maze is to be successfully navigated, then in addition to attorneys, parties should enlist the services of experts in these other specific transition areas. This will more likely assure that dissolution can become a key to wholeness.

If we are to successfully navigate this treacherous and painful path, we must enlist the services of those who have expertise in specific areas of the divorce process, to guide us along the way, so that at the end of our journey we remain whole. When we do this we are doing something new and extraordinary called “Collaborative Divorce.”

Read more…

Healers of Conflict

At the annual convention of the American Bar Association in 1984, Chief Justice Warren Burger said:

“The entire legal profession: lawyers, judges, and law professors, has become so mesmerized with the stimulation of the courtroom contest, that we tend to forget that we ought to be healers of conflict.  For many claims, trial by adversarial contest must in time go the way of the ancient trial by battle and blood… Our system has become too costly, too painful, too destructive, too inefficient for truly civilized people.”

Alex Baldwin wrote a book called A Promise to Ourselves in which he decries the California “divorce industry”. It is no secret that the courts are in crisis. If you try to have a traditional divorce today, it will likely take you twice as long as it would have five years ago, simply because budget cuts have reduced court resources to nearly zero. For years Ron and Robert have envisioned a way to transform the business of law. Last year they teamed up with Kathryn Dager, an organizational expert, to help develop the process.  The current system may be in crisis, but now we have a solution.

The Center for Collaborative Learning (CCL) is The Law Collaborative’s brand-new educational division, designed to empower legal professionals to be what they truly are: Healers of conflict. CCL aims to change the way law is practiced; to turn what has traditionally been an adversarial system into a system that heals, helps, nurtures, and thrives.

The world is changing. Every second of every day new advances are being made in medicine, technology, architecture, security, agriculture, education, the list is endless. Collaborative Law is the newest and fastest growing method of alternative dispute resolution and it is revolutionizing the way law is practiced. Whether you are a lawyer, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, divorce coach, child custody mediator, psychotherapist, or judge, CCL is committed to providing the tools, skills, and support necessary to help change the face of America’s legal industry. Together we can create a community of professionals who are committed to healing conflict.

This November 12, 13, and 14th we are proud to introduce The New Model for The Business of Law, a three-day workshop that will give participants the skills, strategies, and structures to create a thriving collaborative legal practice. Last month we gave some of our esteemed colleagues a sneak peak at what we have to offer, and here is what they had to say:

“It’s really exciting to be a part of this revolutionary business model and the idea of having a more peaceful way to practice law.” Christine Campisi, Child Custody Mediator

“The most beneficial thing for me was really understanding how people process information and how powerful the exercises were in getting to resolutions and ideas.” Byron Lane, Estate Planning Attorney

“Collaborative Law really does look to be the future. The old system, as it works now, everyone knows it’s broken. It’s not a perfect world. It needs to be pushed forward into the next decade.” Jesus Silva, Family Law Practitioner

“We have an opportunity to get trained to practice collaboratively. Then they give you all the structures, all the tools, all the tricks of the trade that they’ve built for so many years to be successful. They provide that for you. These are leaders, successful practitioners, and they are compassionate. One out of five lawyers suffer from drug, alcoholism, or stress related issues. But if you are practicing collaboratively you can take the compassion you learn into your home and into your life. It’s incredible.” Michelle Daneshrad, Esq.

If you’re a legal professional and would like more information, visit, where you can watch video testimonials, view our online brochure, and register to attend.

Center for Collaborative Learning – We hold the key to a massive paradigm shift.

Trendsetter Justice Sheila Sonenshine on Family Law (Part 2 of 4)

This week Judge Sonenshine discusses the lessons she’s learned about family dynamics during her years as a family law attorney, how she became a judge, why she loves settling cases, what’s the best advice she can give to an attorney, and what’s the best advice she can give a person testifying in court. (Podcast #54, Part 2 of 4)

Missed Judge Sonenshine’s interview last week? Click here to listen now.

Like what you heard? Subscribe to Ron and Robert on Divorce on iTunes!