Collaborative Team Practice: Taking the Politics Out of Family Separations

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Politics in LawIn the heat of the US 2012 presidential election, the October 2012 job numbers in the US were released in early November 2012, just days before election day in the heated presidential election. There was good news. There was bad news. The good news: 171,000 jobs were added, beating expectations.

The bad news: the unemployment rate increased from 7.8% to 7.9%. While some, like economists, were able to see the news in full view (good news and bad news), the Democrats’ talking points included only the good news and the Republicans’ talking points included only the bad news, based on their respective goals in having President Obama re-elected or not re-elected.

 

Family law in a court setting can be like a bitter political election, with two sides focused solely on the goal of winning to the point of interpreting and stating facts almost exclusively to make one side look good and the other side look bad. That’s the court process in a nutshell in Canada. One side presents a set of facts, the other presents a set of facts, and the judge decides who is right. The problem with this adversarial process in a family setting is that those who lose the most are the children who need their separating parents to focus on the children’s real needs, not on who wins and who loses.

 

For example, in a court case where Child C is identified at a school as having a special need, Parent A’s court documents would typically state how excellently Parent A has parented Child C (with little or no praise for Parent B) and how poorly Parent B has parented Child C (with no admissions of Parent A’s own bad parenting). Parent B’s court documents would typically state the exact opposite, praising Parent B’s excellent parenting and highlighting Parent A’s bad parenting. Opportunities to work with professionals at the school and beyond the school to help Child C with a special need would typically be missed opportunities, with two parents unable to communicate and cooperate with a focus on obtaining information to help their respective cases, with two parents whose ability to trust each other as parents has been poisoned by what the other has stated publicly in court document, and with professionals hindered by an understanding that they may be called as witnesses at court.

 

I accepted my last family court case in the summer of 2012. I focus now on non-court solutions to family law issues. My preference is collaborative team practice (CTP). I prefer CTP because of its focus on children. CTP involves lawyers for both parents who are straightforward in their advice.

(In my opinion, a vast majority of family court cases when the facts are clear and honest are predictable, and the cost of going to court is avoidable when the two parents are clear and honest with the facts and the lawyers are straightforward.) A separation is never easy for a child, as challenging or almost as challenging emotionally to a child as a death of a family member. An unnecessary court case makes it even more challenging for a child to deal emotionally with the issue of a changing family.

 

Separating parents in a CTP process, with a child with a special need, for example, could jointly hire the right professional to help them deal better with their child’s special need in light of their changing family. The parents are not hiring two different professionals to support their own respective positions. Instead, one professional is working with both parents, who is able to be more straightforward in recommending how to address the child’s needs because the case is not in court and because the parents are
meeting together and not separately. Not only is this process less costly for parents than a court case, more importantly the parents are not distracted by a court process and can have more of a focus on the child’s needs.

 

The court process in a family separation is like a bitter election process, where two opposing sides are fixed on their own intentional interpretations of the facts, to the point of distracting them from addressing the needs of the people for whom they are responsible. It is also like a bitter election process, in that two sides will likely find it difficult to communicate with and trust the other after a bitter process which had them stating publicly the worst about the other. If you are separating and considering your options, take some time to focus on the needs of your children. Calling a CTP professional to get the process started, will likely be the best way for you to move forward, for you and especially for your children.

 

– Paul De Buono is a family lawyer and mediator, with a focus on non-court solutions to family law issues