One of the cornerstones of the collaborative law process is the use of joint meetings. The transparency of receiving the legal information from both lawyers together builds a foundation to make decisions, as the parties do not have to second guess what the other party's lawyer has said in their absence. And it means that valuable energy, every bit of which is needed by the parties to reconfigure their lives, is not wasted on trying to assess if they are being manipulated.

The collaborative law process allows parties to gather the tools necessary to craft an agreement that will work for them, and develop the communication skills to deal with each other to solve both their present and future problems. The competencies they can develop in talking about very difficult matters when they are feeling emotionally raw often allows them to forge a good co-parenting relationship, sometimes that did not exist before. When this occurs they are then able to adapt to the changing needs of their children and their own circumstances without becoming embroiled in never ending conflict as every new life development occurs.

One of the most challenging aspects of the practice of family law is that life is not static. Children develop. Incomes change. People enter into new relationships. All of these events form the possibility of a new conflict.

Newly separated parties often have difficulty imagining a solution that will work for both of them. Change is difficult and frequently people are afraid of what the separation will mean for them and their children. They often feel committed to the particular solution or solutions they have worked up in their own mind, on what the child timesharing arrangements should be, how to divide property and debts, and the maximum amount of support they can afford to pay or the minimum amount of support they can afford to receive. These constructed visions of realities by each party are often at odds with each other, and parties can feel hopeless that they will ever be able to find a solution that they can each live with.

Yet, this is what happens time and time again. People do find acceptable resolutions. That is not to say that it is not without effort, and adjustment from a person's initial view of a desired outcome. But, the great majority of people are able to come to an agreement, through the collaborative law process, that will work for them over time.

Over breakfast on the morning of a meeting with parties involved in a collaborative case, I was thinking about the different solutions each party was presently committed to, which were mutually exclusive. I was trying to think about how they might come to a resolution. Quite frankly, I did not know "the answer" that would most likely work for them. Of course, even though there were many potential answers, the term "agreement" means that the parties have to agree, so whether or not I had my own "answer" for them is quite irrelevant.

As I was thinking about the upcoming meeting, my eyes fell upon the crossword puzzle in the newspaper. The clue was "crook". It was for a four letter word. As I catalogued the words in my mind I could think of for "thief", none fit. The other clues suggested a word beginning with "b" and ending in "d". No answer was coming to me. Then it did. I laughed as I reminded myself that to solve a crossword puzzle it is often wise to think of more obscure meanings of a word. I realized that I had narrowed my focus to only the more obvious line of thinking.

I knew that I could use the crossword analogy at our collaborative law meeting. I still did not know how the parties were going to solve their dilemma, but I did know how to describe how they might not lose hope in reaching agreement. It was a way of describing the process of how many parties get from Point A to Point B; how many have been where they were at that point in time, and yet come up with some amazing solutions.

There are many cross words that get exchanged when people are separating. This necessarily causes people to retreat into their more constrained problem solving patterns. However, just because the solution is not apparent at a particular point of time does not mean that an acceptable solution cannot ultimately be crafted.

A crook is also a bend. And a bend is also an invitation to move matters into an unexpected direction. And a bend can move around an obstacle.

Separation is very difficult. There is uncertainty, and the vulnerability of having intimate moments exposed to examination by strangers, as well as the helplessness of feeling misunderstood by everyone. It is hard not to get overwhelmed and simply stuck. It is difficult to imagine being able to live a normal life beyond the impasse of the thinking that tends to occur when people feel threatened.

The collaborative law process has been a way for many, many people to find their way out of what seems to be an impossible situation. Sometimes looking at things from a different perspective will allow answers to be found where none seemed feasible before. And just because resolution is not there right away does not mean that it is unattainable. Sometimes that new avenue of looking at a seemingly unsolvable problem allows for new solutions to arise.

It isn't easy. But it is possible.

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