How does Collaborative Divorce Work?
By Pete Roussos, MFT https://peterroussos.com
Posted with permission by Sandra L. Popescu, CPA, CVA, CFF firstname.lastname@example.org
People hearing about Collaborative Divorce for the first time usually have a great deal of questions about the process and how it works. Collaboration is quite different from the other forms of divorce that people have typically heard of – litigation, self-representation, or mediation. Collaborative Divorce is a complex and comprehensive approach to the legal, financial, and emotional issues in divorce. Collaborative Divorce helps families to stay out of court and to end their marriage and, when children are involved, transition into their post-divorce co-parenting in the healthiest way possible.
A good metaphor for a Collaborative Divorce process is a Charter Airplane Service. The “airplane” is operated by a highly trained, diverse group of professionals whose different areas of expertise are all required to operate the plane efficiently and safely. In a Collaborative Divorce, the clients are the passengers. Passengers come to us because they want to end their relationship as a married couple and get to a different place in their relationship with each other. As long as their destination is one of the routes we service, (towards a respectful, and collaborative divorce) we are happy to take them on their journey. There are some places that we can’t take our clients, such as an acrimonious slide into litigation, and passengers seeking to fight or not cooperate with each other will have to find another carrier.
Our passengers select their own “flight crew” often starting from a list of the highly trained members of the Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego. Our member attorneys, mental health professionals, and financial professionals have the different areas of expertise which are required in a Collaborative Divorce. Our clients select the professional team whom they think best meets their needs and specific family circumstances.
Our passengers have a great deal of input into the flight plan. Do we take a longer, perhaps more scenic route? Do we take a faster, more direct route? How many layovers will we make along the way? Like any good charter operator, we consider our passengers’ input and recommend a flight plan that best meets their needs while conforming to safety rules and standards of operation. The passengers then decide if they agree with the flight plan. If they don’t, we refer them to other carriers.
There are other variables that will affect the journey. The baggage the passengers bring with them will impact the flight. Heavy passenger baggage may consume more fuel, slow the plane down and make the trip more expensive, but as long as the passengers understand this and are willing to be patient and bear the increased cost, the professional team can complete the journey and transport the passengers to their desired destination.
Bad weather or turbulence may require a course adjustment. Our passengers are always consulted about this. If they decide they are up to it, and if we think the airplane is strong enough, we may decide to keep our seat belts buckled and fly directly through it. Sometimes we need to land, refuel, settle the passengers’ (or our own) nervous stomachs, and re-take off when the weather has improved.
Our passengers hire us for our expertise in flying our plane. They expect us to be at the controls at all times, and we should be. There is no automatic pilot on this plane, and expecting there to be leads to disaster. We can’t expect our passengers to take the controls, as they do not know how to fly our plane- that is why they came to us.
There are rules that apply to our charter flights, and these rules must be complied with. Our passengers are not allowed to hijack the plane to try and send us towards a non-agreed upon, or unsafe destination. Neither passenger is allowed to grab the controls to steer us off course or put the plane into a catastrophic tailspin. When we put the fasten seat belt light on, everybody has to buckle up. Our passengers have to help keep our plane clean. Cigarettes or other inflammatory materials cannot be used on board.
Our passengers have to provide each other, and us, with all the information that we need to make sure that the journey goes safely. There can’t be any surprises such as finding out after take off that one of the passengers did not inform of us of dangerous cargo hidden in his/her baggage. Such things can be dealt with safely as long as we know about it beforehand. Every flight involves some turbulence, and getting through it requires that our passengers honestly express their concerns, trust our judgment, and at times defer to our expertise about what is required to fly the plane safely.
There are risks to operating a charter airline. Few flights go completely smoothly and not every flight ends well. Sometimes passengers decide that they made a mistake in choosing our airline, because they really want to fly to a different destination that we can’t or won’t serve. When that happens, we end the trip early and safely escort the passengers off our plane and try to help them find an airline that will better serve their needs.
Sometimes one or both of the passengers are not willing to comply with our in-flight rules. Sometimes this is unintentional and merely requires further explanation to help the passengers behave in accordance with our safety standards. Some passengers though, are just not willing to comply with the rules. When this happens, we have to land the plane prematurely, keep it on the ground, and escort the passengers off the flight, so that we and our airplane are not put in harm’s way. When a flight ends, even if it ends prematurely, the passengers will take their baggage with them, but the flight plan and flight records stay with the flight crew.
Ours is a very elegant aircraft, and it requires a great deal of mindful maintenance. The passengers have to help us keep the inside of the plane clean, but it is the professional team’s responsibility to keep the plane operating safely and smoothly. This requires a great deal of coordinated effort during each flight. Sometimes clients may question whether or not the crew needs to do so much work during a flight, or whether or not each crewmember is really needed, but when it comes to flying the plane safely, ultimately those are the professional team’s decisions to make.
So how does Collaborative Process function? The clients define their goals for their divorce process and, if they have children, their post divorce co-parenting relationship. Together with input from trained Collaborative Divorce practitioners, the clients decide if the process is the right vehicle for them to achieve their divorce goals. The clients own their final settlement decision-making, and they own their behavior, but the Collaborative process, “the airplane” is owned by the professional team. Our clients step into it at the start of their journey and step out of it at the journey’s conclusion. Above all else it is the responsibility of the professional team to maintain “the airplane’s” structural integrity, so that Collaborative clients can be transported to the intended destination- a healthier divorce.
Response from Sandy Popescu:
I’m not sure what year this article was written, but it was at the beginning of the Collaborative Divorce movement in the early 2000’s. Pete does a great job of explaining what Collaborative Divorce is and providing a visual analogy to a Chartered Airplane Service is genius! Not only does the Collaborative Team (the Flight Crew) help couples stay out of court and end their marriage in a more peaceful and respectful manner, but we actively assist them in transitioning to their post-divorce life!
We need to fly above the clouds to obtain financial clarity to help navigate the plane successfully. Visibility/transparency is a key factor for choosing and/or adjusting our “route” when the weather changes. With full cooperation and disclosure, we can craft creative solutions for your family situation that help everyone make the transitions anticipated.
When we work together, we have more choices to choose from and more ways to keep the plane stable and safe for all on board and especially when we land!
ABOUT SANDRA L. POPESCU, CPA, CFF, CVA, August 16, 2019:
I started working as a Collaborative Divorce Financial Specialist in San Diego in 2003. Nothing I’ve ever done in my career (forensic accounting, business valuations, start-up company accounting) has ever been more rewarding! As difficult as it is, I’ve seen people rise above the fear and upheavals in their lives and push forward to find solutions that work for both sides and especially for the children! It’s not about “winning” or just about money; it’s about cultivating those “loving” memories and forging ahead with a new plan for everyone. Relationships don’t have to end, they just need to change and adapt.
Sandra L. Popescu, CPA, CFF, CVA
Forensic Accounting & Business Valuation Services
Divorce Finances Negotiations