When I started out in Family Law, I wasn’t entirely comfortable with resolving family disputes through litigation. It seemed like an awkward way to deal with such an intensely personal and unique experience. On one occasion, I was sitting in Court awaiting my turn to have a case heard when the spouse of a former client approached me. In a sarcastic-friendly tone they told me they recalled how I did a great job ensuring they left the family home without a single stick of furniture – not even a cognac glass. That particular day in court had been a winner take all situation where the stakes were high, the lawyers got into it, buckets of money were spent by both parties and all that was left was emotional and financial wreckage. It ended up being one of the defining moments when I knew I had to find a better way to help separating and divorcing couples.
INTEGRATIVE LAW MEETS COLLABORATIVE FAMILY PRACTICE
Integrative law strives to strike the necessary balance between the traditional legal system represented by logic, objectivity and predictability and newer ideals such as emotion, creativity and intuition.
The first time I attended a seminar on Collaborative Law 20 years ago I was exhilarated. I wasn’t the only one; the room was packed and buzzing with excitement. We were listening to a speaker describe a no court process where the lawyers and clients work together (just imagine!) and support families in designing their own creative solutions. This was it. There was a name for how I wanted to practise family law! In a way I was already doing it in an unstructured way as were other lawyers. I was always excited when my legal counterpart was of the same mind and we came up with solutions together. Working with another lawyer instead of against that lawyer meant that we could do our best work without competing. Ultimately, clients are better served when we operate this way.
Collaborative lawyers focus only on results without competing for points on the score board with legal strategy and fancy vocabulary sprinkled in aggressive letters intended to intimidate the client. Looking at you “contumelious”. The process removes the threat of court and leaves a mutual commitment to success in its wake. It does not mean there are no disagreements or difficult conversations, but Collaborative Family Practice gives us a way to manage conflict and help clients take ownership of their lives. Winning is definitely NOT everything in Family Law unless the entire family thrives.
Integrative Law is a relatively new global movement blending intangible human values with the more traditional legal/analytical framework. Integrative Lawyers serve clients with a focus on peace-making, problem-solving and healing. The resulting shift of perception allows conflict to be viewed from every angle. Collaboration, compassionate listening and creativity generate lasting agreements based on the unique interests and values of the parties involved. By examining and honouring the circumstances of each case, transformative outcomes are achieved both at the individual and societal levels.
They say “like attracts like”. I am a member of two collaborative practice groups. After countless practice group meetings, trainings, conferences, dinners, zoom meetings, debriefings and retreats, I can say collaborative practitioners are a wonderful group of caring professionals who engage in constant innovation and reflection. They care genuinely about each other and serving their clients. Along the way they have collectively figured out a way to generate satisfied clients and job satisfaction. Why wouldn’t everyone agree Collaborative Family Process is the way to help families?
What I did not know in 2002 was that Collaborative Law was simply one way among many to practice Integrative Law. Let’s take it a step beyond into an even more holistic and healing approach to family law where the lawyer’s values and ethics are important along with the quality of their legal mind. Integrative Law is a movement in which lawyers resolve conflict more peacefully while focusing on parties’ values and interests.
An Integrative Lawyer honours the human perspective and understands the practice of law is not simply a set of rules and procedures to govern in a win-lose/right or wrong vacuum. Integrative law strives to strike the necessary balance between the traditional legal system represented by logic, objectivity and predictability and newer ideals such as emotion, creativity and intuition.
Core fundamentals of the practice of Integrative Law include:
Examining people’s motivations and seeking personal and spiritual growth.
Purpose and Values
Functioning from the premise that integrity is critical for personal, professional and societal well-being.
Key values are love, compassion, authenticity, openness, connection, harmony, transparency, accountability, trust, and healing.
Seeing the world and everyone in it as interconnected.
Preferring collaboration and cooperation over competition and polarization. Operating collaboratively permits people to maintain their relationships while protecting what’s important to them.
Going beyond the law and bringing together other branches of knowledge to allow an enriched problem-solving consciousness.
Expanding beyond traditional dimensions to include philosophy, science, metaphysics, psychology and spirituality with the legal analysis.
Many families, impacted by separation and divorce, believe they are dealing with legal problems to be solved simply by applying statutes, legal precedents and policy. Separation and divorce are much more than rules and should not be imposed on families by an external system geared towards success and failure. Family law issues are not about winning and losing; clients are better served by creative problem-solving and a team of professionals helping them take ownership of their futures.
Our responsibility as lawyers, mediators and collaborative professionals is to guide, empower and support the entire family as it moves forward. Understandably, there may be members of the family who are not embracing all the changes at the same time. Emotions and feelings get in the way because the law was not designed to manage emotional blockages effectively in a tailored way. For this reason, we need to become more intuitive as professionals to meet the needs and interests of each person in the family group.
Most couples are not aware of what they are facing in a separation when they embark on the process. They don’t always know there is more than winning and losing and there is a way to discover the best outcome for everyone involved. This is where we can add value.
In order to be part of the solution, integrative professionals involved in divorce and family law offer enlightened services in accordance with the following vision:
Well-being and Basic Human Needs (Children, Financial, Legal, Shelter, Social)
- Understand the existing legal framework and assess if it is the best fit for the family
- Provide ongoing support with parenting: major and minor decisions, schedules and extended family
- Agree that perfect parenting is not attainable, but good enough parenting is realistic
- Educate family members about money management: saving, spending, investing and debt
- Design short and long term financial solutions that meet the needs of both new households
- Pursue positive future relationships for each family member with each other where appropriate
- Make room for anger, fear and sadness around change /loss/money and family connections
Respect, Support and Understanding
- Find a way to honour each party’s individual interests and values within the bigger picture of the entire family
- Respect and make space for the richness of different cultures and religious traditions
- Acknowledge different interests and points of view as valid and worthy of exploration
Dignity, Forgiveness, Healing and Compassion
- Heal pain and trauma at the roots: families of origin and the separating family
- Foster compassion and support for those afflicted with addictions and poor physical/mental health
- Deal with and eliminate all forms of family violence and oppression
- Honour and respect the dignity of all members of the family
- Apologize meaningfully when wrong – forgive where appropriate
Spirituality and Enlightenment
- Recognize transformation doesn’t happen in a day and some parties may take longer than others
- Embrace different modalities of mysticism and spirituality where appropriate
- Act in a way that promotes harmony, healing and peace
- Identify the foundation of conflict without assigning blame
- Optimize the gifts and talents presented by each member of a family
Communication and After Care
- Ensure families feel comfortable about adjusting to their new normal and asking for help if necessary
- Build new ways to communicate when the old ways no longer suit
- Persevere when the work gets tough and not allow failure to be an option
Active Listening and Curiosity
- Dig to get to the heart of the underlying issue
- Understand each person’s “why”
- Listen actively and ask curious questions
- Assemble a team of the right collaborative professionals with two like-minded lawyers, a family professional and a financial professional
- Firmly believe this is not utopian marshmallow mist and fairy dust – don’t give up when the going gets tough