Collaborative Law process helps families in divorce create child sharing and parenting agreements

author  |  carol l. o'connell, j.d.

The court views the best interest of the child or children as the central factor for determining how parenting time will be decided. The process of determining this, if left to the court process, can be arduous and painful, often putting children through a trauma that rivals the loss of the family as a unit.

The beauty of the Collaborative Law process is that the underlying concerns of each parent can be heard and addressed in a confidential and cooperative environment.

The  Collaborative Law process:

  • Supports the communication of the parties and draws out the personal perspective of each parent regarding the safety and care of their children and the other parent's ability to parent.

  • Gives a place to voice the unique perspective (including gender differences) of each parent's role in parenting.

  • Provides couples the opportunity to become aware of the other parent's reality underlying the concerns they have about their children in a professionally guided and supported environment.

  • Uses tools to construct bridges between the different realities parents often have about their children's experience and needs.

  • Guides parties in developing options for addressing each parent's legitimate concerns and  for working together in new ways.

The result is a custom tailored parenting agreement fitted to their family's needs and unique situation. The Collaborative Law process facilitates understanding and awareness while the parents remain the decision-makers. The resulting agreements are based on the true needs and concerns of parents and their children‘s well being.

Easing Resistance to Making Parenting Agreements

The Collaborative Law process isn't just a problem solving process. It also helps the transition from a marriage relationship to a co-parenting relationship. Shifting these roles requires an adjustment to the changes brought on by the divorce or separation. Parents are often hesitant to enter into agreements addressing how they will share parenting of their children in a separation or divorce. Parents' anxiety about the loss of closeness and contact with their children feeds resistance to getting a clear parenting plan in place for their children. Financial uncertainties may also need to be addressed proactively to provide confidence in entering into agreements.

What children need most when their parents make a decision to separate or divorce is the stability and predictability in their lives that a new parenting plan provides.

The Collaborative Law process gives parents the opportunity to create trial run or temporary agreements regarding the care and share-time plan for their children. Parents can see what fits for their family. Adjustments can be made based on how children respond to changes leading to finalizing a co-parenting agreement.

The parties control the timing on the decisions included in their settlement agreement rather than the courts because the Collaborative Law process, although fully guided by a Collaborative Attorney for each party, can proceed without court hearings. This allows the time for fine-tuning parenting plans before becoming orders of the court.

Building the Co-parenting Relationship

The Collaborative Law process provides a structure for parties to transition to a new form of relating as co-parents. Professionals such as Divorce Coaches and Child Specialists are included in the process as needed to support the process. These professionals  educate and assist the parties to arrive at an understanding of what is in their children's best interest. With this support, parties learn to communicate and cooperate with each other with the goal of effective co-parenting. In the guided process of clarifying the details of their co-parenting agreements, parties are able to practice communication skills and problem solving abilities that serve them going forward as co-parents.

The Bucks County Collaborative Law Group has a network of professionals who understand the emotional and legal aspects of divorce and separation. The Group's approach is to look for what kind of positive outcome can be created rather than what is wrong or deficient about a parent‘s capacity to parent. This Collaborative Law process avoids the duplicate expense of each party retaining psychologist to support their positions and spares the emotional strain on the children and family in being involved with multiple professionals and interviews. This is how a couple's different perspectives of their children would be handled in the court process used in the traditional approach taken by attorneys who are not trained as Collaborative Law attorneys.

The family transition that the Collaborative Law process facilitates is a positive experience because the parties' real issues are kept in focus and because the parties have an experience of being heard. The process is structured to allow direct communication between the parties so there is the opportunity for the experience of being heard and interests acknowledged. This builds the trust required for workable and sustainable co-parenting agreements. Without the opportunity for direct communication clients are likely to regard their co-parent's concerns with the attitude: "I won't work with you unless I first see that you will listen to me and taken my reality into account".

As mediator, Conflict Coach and Divorce Coach I see that the stress that fuels conflict is relieved by all parties being able to directly express their true feelings to one another. This can happen in the safe environment that the Collaborative Law process provides and maintains. Clients can say what they think and feel, knowing that what is said will not be held against them because of the confidentiality of the Collaborative Law process. The participants' willingness to express their true concerns results in their agreements reflecting what is most important to them and their family.

About The Author

Carol L. O'Connell, JD is an accredited mediator, Divorce & Conflict Coach member of Bucks County Collaborative Law Group. She specializes in supporting families and couples in the life and legal transition necessary in divorce and separation. Her firm Princeton Mediation LLC., started in 1992, has locations in Hopewell, NJ, and New Hope and Newtown, PA. For information on the mediation and coaching services of Carol L. O'Connell see: (215) 862-0226