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"Sometimes Two or Three Meetings is All That's Needed"
George and Linda had been married for over 30 years. George ran a successful small business that had been started shortly after he and Linda married. He also had some property that had come from his parents. Over the course of the last few years, George's avocation had begun to consume a great deal of his interest, time and attention. Recently, he had decided that his former hobby would become his new career.
As George's life moved in one direction, Linda, a very well experienced administrator, had contracted a disease that left her completely unable to work. This formerly two income couple faced not only the loss of their marriage (much to George's regret) but, the loss of a huge portion of the regular income that they had previously enjoyed. Their lawyers, during their initial consultations, explained how difficult it would be for a judge to make any constructive decisions, limited as courts are by the scope of laws that were not created with situations like theirs in mind.
The lawyers also pointed out that advocacy in court under these circumstances would most likely devolve to a contest of blame and accusation. As the lawyers described the Collaborative Family Law process to each of their clients, it became apparent that neither person would accept any other method of handling the situation. Both were highly motivated to 'take care of business' as soon as possible.
In addition, because of their business and administrative backgrounds, they actually developed and exchanged a great deal of information and documentation before their first 4-way meeting. Before the first 4-way meeting, the lawyers touched bases and discussed their perceptions and their clients' feelings and goals. They agreed that their clients were very focused on the issues they wanted to address. So, they decided that they would each try to cover much more ground with their clients in preparation for the first meeting than they usually would.
After introductions and some brief social conversation at the beginning of the first meeting, Linda's lawyer made some introductory comments and then he asked George what he thought they ought to accomplish that day. George said he was confident that they had most of the information that they needed for their negotiations. He knew that Linda had some concerns and he was sure that they could come up with ways to address them to her satisfaction.
When Linda's lawyer asked her what her goal was for this first meeting, she said that she wanted to settle the case. George's lawyer told Linda that he wasn't sure whether she was describing her ultimate goal or whether she meant that she wanted to settle the entire case before they left the table that day. Linda was emphatic; they had the ability to settle the case then and there and she was not prepared to accept anything less. The lawyer turned to his own client. What did George think about Linda's idea? George said that he was on board.
The meeting lasted less than two hours. George and Linda agreed on how to handle all of their property. They also reached agreements on a number of personal questions that had been nagging them for some time. How, the lawyers asked, did they want to address support. The clients responded in almost a single voice, you two have all of the information, they told the lawyers. Can't you go over it and tell us what to do? Isn't that your job, they asked.
In Collaborative Family Law, lawyers are trained to encourage and empower the clients to generate most of the possible solutions and to be sure that it is the clients who make the final decisions. But, George and Linda felt so empowered that they were comfortable with the idea that the lawyers could take the lead. The lawyers were a bit surprised but, they looked at each other and agreed that they would talk and come up with some ideas for their client's consideration which they could discuss at the next meeting. Linda and George somewhat reluctantly agreed to another meeting.
As the lawyers walked them out. Linda turned to George and mentioned their youngest child's upcoming wedding. Would it be o.k. if she went ahead and shopped for a 'mother of the bride' outfit, she asked him.
The next 4-way meeting (which needed to be delayed to accommodate the wedding events) was remarkably brief. The entire case had been settled in two meetings.
George's lawyer comments: "This is an unusual scenario in many ways. George and Linda had done an unusual amount of work in advance. What they needed the most, it seems, was not help with the information gathering or analytical work but, some help identifying and evaluating alternatives and a safe container in which their lingering resentments and suspicions could be mentioned and then allowed to evaporate. We also helped them to communicate effectively about the concerns that seemed to be standing in their way. Our training in collaborative concepts and skills (and our somewhat reluctantly given willingness to reshape the process) helped our clients express their feelings without blame. Although, they did not necessarily agree with each other's perceptions, each was able to acknowledge understanding how the other person felt and to keep those factors in mind as they contemplated various possible solutions."