Magic! It permeates my life. It’s why the collaborative divorce process has affected me so deeply. I talk a lot about the fact that my parents were divorced when I was seven and about how my mother loaded us kids into the van and moved us 3000 miles across the country. Away from my father. And how I Never Saw My Father Again.
Obviously, that has a lot to do with it, but I realized the other day, when my husband was recounting the anecdote that I was on my seventh or eighth reading of Harry Potter, that I’ve always been attracted to magic. To stories about magic, to books about magic, to fairytales and to magical events, to dragons and to unicorns.
Seven Is The Magic Number
I’ve actually read the Harry Potter series (please don’t think that I’m crazy) nine times.
I read it, in part, because I love the rush that the stories of magical events gives me. And, of course, it’s so well written and I’m attracted to that, too.
But I’ve also got the audio disks in my car. So, if I‘ve nothing that I really want to listen to in the way of TED Talks or podcasts, I listen to Harry Potter. I’ve listened to the entire set of seven CDs seven times. (Is that a magic number?)
And, of course, we own all the movies. But I can only make my husband watch those every once in a blue moon.
And it’s not just Harry Potter. My favorite animal (extinct, mythical, magical, or real) has always been the dragon, a creature of incredible magical power. Once I read Anne McCaffrey, I wanted nothing more than to partner with my own dragon, or at least with a fire lizard.
The Collaborative Process Is Magic
So here’s the thing about the collaborative process for those of us who’ve practiced it for any length of time. We’ve seen the magic. We’ve seen the apology offered and the room transform when it lands. We’ve seen the secret shared and the look on the other’s face when it alters his understanding. When the light dawns. The mystical sunburst of comprehension. We’ve seen the ceremonies that our clients are encouraged, just by the nature of our magical conference room (the “safe container” for their difficult conversations), to celebrate (together!) the end of one stage of their lives and the beginning of a new one, a fresh start.
Not “Let me out of here. I’m so done with you.” Not “You’re a terrible person. I’m so glad to be rid of you.” But more like, “Thank you so much for everything that you’ve done for me during our time together.” “Thank you so much for our amazing kids.”
Allowing me to do this kind of work for you, to experience these kinds of magical moments, has affected me. So, so very deeply.
I Am The “Aggressive Family Law Attorney”
I had a case recently in which I was retained, not for a collaborative matter, but for litigation. After all, I still have the reputation for being an aggressive family law trial attorney. The wife came to see me. She was a veterinarian who helps parents of pets let their loved ones pass from this world, in easy transitions for both themselves and their companions.
She’d heard about the work I do, and my efforts to change the way the world gets divorced. She was in the middle of a highly contested litigated divorce. Her husband, believe it or not, was (and still is) a practicing trial attorney. He had his trial lawyer; she had her trial lawyer.
They Were Not Collaborative
They were scheduled for their third mediation. Not a happy situation. They were not being very collaborative. And she thought, you know, I’m going to go talk to this woman, this Joryn Jenkins.
So we sat down… we talked for a little while. She’d already somehow managed to agree with her husband on a joint financial, an expert who was ready, willing, and able to testify, but who had also been collaboratively trained. Whom I knew. In fact, I’d worked with her on a couple of collaborative divorces.
Ultimately, this consult said to me, “What I’d really like is for you to come to mediation with me.”
And I said, “I’m happy to do that. Have you talked to your trial attorney? Because your trial attorney may not be comfortable with me there.”
So she went back, she talked to her trial lawyer, and the word was “That’s fine. It’s good. We’re all good.” I asked if the financial professional would be there and yes, that person would be attending the mediation.
Then I reached out to the opposing trial lawyer. I inquired, “This woman has asked me to attend your mediation. Are you okay with that?”
He and I had had several trials against each other. He had not been trained in the collaborative process, and I had talked to him about getting trained, because he’s one of those who really should get trained. But he doesn’t feel like he needs to expand his practice in “that direction.” So he hasn’t.
And he was fine with that… with my attending “their” mediation.
I Advised Her To Begin With An Apology
So, I showed up. I had no clue what would happen. I had said to this woman, during our heart-to-heart, “You know, it sounds to me like maybe an apology might be an order.”
But I had just thrown it out there. I had no idea how it had landed, in the urgency of her litigation.
We began the meeting. I introduced myself. We were at one of those big offices: lots of hard tile, cold marble, sharp corners, white surfaces, big conference room table, a/c on full blast. The mediator was way down there at the other end of the table; the financial neutral was way over there at that other end.
The wife and her two lawyers (me included) sat along the right side. We faced our “opponents,” two attorneys, both her husband and his attorney.
My client started to say something but they both interrupted right away. And I interjected, all in one breath, “No, hang on one second, sorry to interrupt, but I think you want to hear what she has to say.” I could feel my pulse in that moment, beating in anticipation.
She had clasped her hands in front of her, with her forearms resting on the table. She drew a deep centering breath of the silence that followed. And then, speaking from her heart, she apologized. “You know, this was my fault. I cheated during our marriage, more than once. It took me a while to understand that I just wanted out and that I didn’t know ‘the right way’ to say that. So, I just cheated. It was the coward’s away out and for all of that, I apologize to you. I should have been open and honest about how I was feeling. And I was too afraid. So I’m sorry that I did that to you. You did not deserve it. I hope that you can forgive me.”
His Reaction Was Like Watching Television
Then she thanked him. “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the years you put into our life together, the insights you offered me in growing my practice. I wouldn’t be who I am if you had not.
“And our wonderful, very special children. They wouldn’t even exist but for you.”
Of course, I was focused on her husband’s face. His reaction was hard to explain. It was like watching television . . . . I saw understanding (”Oh!”), sympathy (“Can we fix this? Can I fix this? How can I help?”), sorrow (“What did I do to provoke this? I’m so sorry!”), grief (“Wait, is this really over? But that can’t be!”), and also tenderness (“But I love you.”)
He began to respond, and she put her hand up like a traffic cop and said, “Stop, stop.”
Well, of course, he was taken aback. But she was so focused on getting her apology accomplished that she couldn’t hear him.
But he had something to say. And she had retained me specifically to help her with this, to get her through the divorce process with the least amount of damage . . . to everyone.
They Heard Each Other For The First Time In Years
So I placed my hand on her forearm, and said, “No, no, you don’t. You said what you needed to say. Now let him say what he has to say.”
I was surprised by her response. “But he never listens to me.”
“But he did. He heard you. I saw him hear you. And now it’s his turn. He has something he wants to say.”
I don’t recall his response, but I do recall it was from his heart. And I saw that that was a change for the two of them. They were both speaking from their hearts in that room. The mediator was quiet as a church mouse. Their financial professional and both of their trial attorneys listened and watched, respectfully observing.
The two of them talked to each other and heard each other. We were there for three hours. It was a longer mediation than my usual, but they settled their divorce then and there, in that mediation. And that was magic.
Her husband, that trial attorney, has referred me three divorces since then. My client herself has referred me both a divorce and a paternity matter.
Not all of my clients need a full-on collaborative participation agreement. I do a lot of “courtless” work. Mediations. Drafting agreements. Negotiations, with and without another lawyer. “Let’s just sit down and talk it out. We’ll figure it out.” So, we do all of that. But once you see the magic in collaboration, you can bring that magic into any divorce process.
Even, as here, into the litigation process.
Learn more about collaborative divorce. Follow Open Palm Law.
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About this week’s author, Joryn Jenkins.
Joryn, attorney and Open Palm Founder, began her own firm here in Tampa after a 14-year career in law, two of which she served as a professor of law at Stetson University. She is a recipient of the prestigious A. Sherman Christensen Award, an honor bestowed in the United States Supreme Court upon those who have provided exceptional leadership in the American Inns of Court Movement. For more information on Joryn’s professional experience, take a look at her resume.