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Why We Collaborate (Part 1 of 5)

By Ty Supancic, Esquire

One of the primary goals of The Law Collaborative, LLP, is to become masters and innovators of Consensual Dispute Resolution techniques and practices. In order to develop and promote Consensual Dispute Resolution so that it may become the mainstream, we must change our vocabulary as well as our approach.

We purposefully use the term Consensual Dispute Resolution (CDR) instead of the more prevalent Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) because the word “alternative” is a pejorative. It suggests that ADR methods are secondary or tertiary choices to “regular” or traditional dispute resolution. “Regular” suggests mainstream, preferred, and superior. But anybody who has ever been involved in “regular” dispute resolution (litigation) can attest to the fact that, while it may be mainstream, it is not superior. Oftentimes both parties are worse off after participating in the traditional dispute resolution process, and the only people enriched are the lawyers.

Competent and ethical attorneys should always consider CDR methods and approaches first. Litigation should always be considered the last resort as it is usually the most expensive and least predictable avenue. We believe that in the near future, litigation will be considered the alternative dispute resolution method.

One of the most promising developments in the field of CDR is Collaborative Law, a specialized form of con-joint mediation involving two attorneys. This article is not intended as a primer on Collaborative Law; many far more eloquent practitioners have already provided these. For a short list, go to the Articles section of our website.

Nor is this article intended to persuade you that Collaborative Law is the way of the future. Do not bother reading further unless you believe that Collaborative Law holds great promise. If you need convincing, I would refer you to the case studies on our website, or those on the websites of any of our colleagues. The proof of the pudding is in the eating as they say. Instead, this article is intended to discuss and reflect on what can be done to improve our collaborative skills and instincts.

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New Year’s Divorce Resolutions

It is nearly the end of the year, the end of a chapter – we are balancing on the eve of new beginnings. For many people this is the time to reflect on all that has happened in the last year, while resolving to make changes for a better future. Though traditional New Years resolutions such as resolving to quit smoking, eat better, and spend more time with family are fantastic, we at The Law Collaborative wanted to offer some suggestions designed specifically for those of you going through a divorce.

1.  Improve Your Relationship With Your Ex
Once upon a time you loved this person enough to promise “till death do we part” so this year, promise to practice courtesy towards them. Try to understand them. Your marriage may be over, but the relationship is not. Relationships never end. They get worse or they get better, depending on the choices we make. We make choices daily. Every choice has a consequence for good or bad. Are you making choices congruent with your intended future? If you are, they are good choices. Put yourself in your former spouse’s shoes. Recognize your differences. Acknowledge your feelings and theirs.

2.  Improve Communication With Your Ex
Listen without interrupting. Consider their point of view. Ask questions to understand better. Keep an open mind. When you talk to your former spouse, remember what you have in common. Explain what matters to you, and why. When you get angry, stop, take a deep breath, and carefully choose your words. Let go of the blame game. Instead, use “I” statements.  For example, “I feel angry when you walk out of the room while we’re talking because when you don’t listen to me I feel disrespected.” Express how you feel, accept responsibility for your feelings, and describe how their words and actions affect you. Improved communication can help you move through conflict to resolution.

3.  Practice the 7 Rules for Fair Fighting
When difficult conversations have to be had, abiding by the seven rules for fair fighting will help keep the conversation moving in a forward direction that will foster a fair resolution.

4.  Write a Marriage Eulogy and Resolve to Act in Accordance
Fifty years after a divorce, your children and grandchildren will tell a story about why you divorced. They will talk about what kind of person you were. What legacy will you leave behind?  You have the opportunity to design your legacy, to write your divorce story. By writing that story, and by keeping that story in mind, you can guide your actions in a way that the story will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Without having the story as a guideline, you are building without a plan, traveling without a map. You’ll build something you didn’t intend and end up nowhere.

5.  Be A Better Co-Parent
Resolve to keep your problems private, and out of your children’s earshot.  Be kind to each other in front of the children. Your child’s other parent deserves to be treated with kindness. Cruelty to their other parent is child abuse. When speaking about the other parent to the children, keep it positive. Focus on the good in each other, the things you enjoyed, and the things you loved about the other, to help you stay positive in front of the children. Your children are learning from what they see you do and will one day mimic your behavior in their own relationships. Be the bigger person and lead by example. Be a role model to your kids. Assure their successful future relationships. Always remember that your child’s other parent will be a part of your life forever, so treat that person with the respect that you, yourself, would like to be treated.

6.  Respect Family Relationships
Resolve to respect the relationship with your former spouse’s extended family – if it was good, maintain the integrity; if it was problematic, do your best to build cordiality and kindness.

7.  Apologize (Even if you are innocent)
It’s OK to say you’re sorry, even if you didn’t do anything wrong. Acknowledging your ex-spouse’s pain and showing empathy by way of a sincere apology can reduce tension and help your ex move on. And besides, no one is ever completely innocent.

This post was written collaboratively by several members of the TLC Team: Ron Supancic, CFLS, Ty Supancic, Esq., Maria Barcena, JD, Terrie Frost, LMFT, and Patricia Frost, Executive Editor.

The Marriage Eulogy

By Ty Supancic, Esquire
Associate Attorney at The Law Collaborative, LLP

There is an old saying, “History is written by the winners.”  In litigation, there are winners and losers.  We believe that when parties in crisis choose mediation over litigation, everyone has the potential to come out a winner.  If the winners write history, why can’t the winners in a dissolution write their own history?

Fifty years after a divorce, the children and grandchildren of the original divorcing couple will tell and believe a story about why their parents and grandparents divorced, what kind of people they were, and what aftermath or legacy they left behind.  A couple going through a dissolution has the opportunity to write what they would like that story to be.  By writing that story, and by keeping that story in mind, they can guide their actions and decisions in such a way that the story can become a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.  Without having the story as a guideline, the parties are building without a plan, traveling without a map. They’ll build something and end up somewhere, but not with anything or anywhere they would have hoped.

The exercise of having individuals who are going through a dissolution of marriage write a “Joint Divorce Story” is not a new idea.  Ron has been recommending it to his clients for years.  Unfortunately, few ever take the time to engage in this useful exercise.  Oftentimes they confuse the Joint Divorce Story with a mission statement or their short-term goals.  The exercise might be more easily understood if it is renamed “The Marriage Eulogy”.

One of our paralegals, Maria, told me that when she was in high school, the nuns had them write their own eulogy as part of a “Death and Dying” class exercise.  The idea was that by writing about all the great things they wanted to be remembered for when they died, one might be guided in making decisions during their lives.  The Marriage Eulogy has the same goal.

At common law, upon marriage a couple ceased to exist as individuals and became one entity.  This concept lives on today as new couples dream about what their married lives will be like.  Couples build powerful dreams that take on lives of their own.  While divorce never ends a relationship, it does end marriage, and with the end of the marriage, that powerful dream of marriage dies.  Couples going through divorce really are witnessing the death of an entity. Psychology informs us that children witnessing the divorce of their parents can be as devastated as a parent losing a child.

Often when we lose somebody important to us, we feel compelled to write a eulogy in honor and memory of that person.  A eulogy is not something scrawled in haste.  It is not something we compose in our heads while driving.  A good eulogy is something we take great pains in writing.  It is something we craft and hone and polish so that the result is powerful and evocative.  We are trying to sum up the essence of an entire being in a few succinct words.  The Marriage Eulogy should be written in such a manner.

When couples are not ready to write a joint eulogy, I have proposed that they write individual eulogies to exchange and reflect on individually.  Knowing how your ex-spouse wants your marriage to be remembered by their grandchildren can be a powerful thing.

One might tread more softly and be more thoughtful if mindful of what history could say about them and their life.  “I can’t think about my ex in that way yet!  It’s too soon.”  Okay, but you could write a fairy tale about how a divorce would be remembered.  That is a powerful starting place.  If we all were to conduct ourselves in accordance with the values and motives of a fairytale hero or heroine, we would all find ourselves kinder, gentler, nobler, and wiser as a result.

About Ty Supancic

Before joining The Law Collaborative, Ty enjoyed working for more than a decade in the entertainment industry. Ty worked for five years as a talent agent representing as many as a hundred clients at a time at one of America’s most recognized entertainment companies before he realized that his detailed, in-depth approach with talent made him better suited for personal management.

Ty left the agency and joined a management and production company where he worked for six years developing talent and entertainment projects. Ty also worked to produce television and film projects, music acts and records, and even a Vegas headliner. As both an agent and a manger, Ty supervised and worked closely with attorneys negotiating talent contracts, drafting production deals, and licensing music for film and television.

Over time Ty realized that, as hard as he worked on behalf of his clients, everything ended up in the hands of the lawyers. If he really wanted to continue helping people using the skills he had developed, he had to become an attorney. With this realization, Ty enrolled in the California Bar’s Law Office Study Program and began “reading the law” at TLC.

After passing the First Year Law Student’s Exam, Ty continued his studies, passed the California Bar Exam, and was sworn in as a licensed attorney. Ty is thankful that California is one of the seven states that still provide an avenue to study and become an attorney on the traditional path followed by Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln.

Having worked as a paralegal during his studies, Ty continues to focus his practice in the area of Consensual Dispute Resolution and believes his expertise in transactional law and his non-traditional schooling work to his clients’ advantage. Law schools focus on adversarial, Win-Lose approaches which make Consensual Dispute Resolution methods difficult for many of their graduates. By omitting the usual adversarial indoctrination from his schooling, Ty hopes to forge new solutions for conflict resolution and expand the application of Consensual Dispute Resolution to other areas of law.