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A Better Divorce is a group of 30 collaborative law professionals consisting of attorneys, mental health professionals and financial professionals.

A Better Divorce was formally established in 2002 by a group of professionals whose goal was to provide a better way for people to resolve their family law matters than the traditional litigation process. Our goal as a group is to help families resolve their issues in a way that preserves the family, so that everyone can participate in major life events, such as graduations, weddings and other important events.

It is our belief that in order to truly work well collaboratively with other professionals in the stressful arena of family law, it is essential to get to know and understand each other and our styles of working. Some of the ways that we do this include regular monthly meetings, ongoing trainings, retreats, as well as participation in LACFLA, CP Cal and IACP , the local, statewide and international collaborative organizations. We host trainings for other collaborative professionals, and have provided educational seminars to the general public, thereby sharing critical information and expanding awareness of collaborative divorce as an alternative to litigation.

A Better Divorce assists families in non-court, non-adversarial solutions to their family law matters with a ‘win-win’ attitude toward resolving conflicts.

CP CAL Board Workshop

CP CAL Board

CP CAL Board

Presented by Board Members – Vi Ballard, MFT

COLLABORATIVE PRACTICE

When: TBA

There are several committees planning for the upcoming 2017 Conference at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Redondo Beach. The conference is open to mental health professionals, financial professionals and family law attorneys to improve their skills or learn more about Collaborative Divorce.

Family Law Course UCLA

UCLA Law School – Family Law Course

UCLA Law School – Family Law Course

Presented by Joseph P. Spirito, Jr. of McGaughy & Spirito

PRINCIPLES AND GUIDELINES FOR COLLABORATIVE PRACTICE

When: November 10, 2015

Joe was a guest lecturer at UCLA law school on the principles of collaborative law. Joe discussed the various process options for parties seeking a divorce – including traditional litigation, mediation and collaborative law. The lecture was designed to educate young, future lawyers about the changing landscape of family law and the growing practice of collaborative law.

Divorce Magazine Podcast

Divorce Magazine Podcast

Divorce Magazine Podcast

Presented by Joseph P. Spirito, Jr. of McGaughy & Spirito

COLLABORATIVE DIVORCE IN CALIFORNIA

When: Fall 2015

Joe was interviewed for a nationwide podcast series by Divorce Magazine. Joe answered questions about selecting a collaborative divorce over a traditional litigated divorce. He also discussed several nuanced characteristics of the collaborative process that spouses may consider when choosing which process of dissolution is right for them.

Divorce options

Conscious Uncoupling and Collaborative Divorce

by Jon Kramer, LCSW

Editor’s Notes: Jon Kramer, LCSW is in private practice with an office in Santa Monica, as well as a founding Partner of the Collaborative Center of Southern California in Hermosa Beach, CA. He is also a member of a collaborative divorce group called “A Better Divorce Group”.

Isn’t it kind of fun when we are trendy and we don’t even know it? Thanks to Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin, when a couple who have decided to end their marriage inquires with a non-litigating attorney, they are officially trendy. OK, before you roll your eyes, let me explain further. Paltrow and Martin’s recent decision to end their 10-year marriage and “consciously uncouple” was all over the news. The term, coined by LA- based Psychotherapist Katherine Woodward Thomas, suggests the idea of divorcing and still holding that a family is still a family. Collaborative Divorce and Mediation are specific examples of conscious uncoupling. The common instinct when a couple decides to end their relationship is to act impulsively, largely out of fear and anger. This usually leads the couple into a financially and emotionally expensive litigation and courtroom process. Chaos rains on their family and creates all kind of anxiety, usually for their children and themselves. Conscious Uncoupling on the other hand suggests a calmer, more deliberate and respectful process. And it protects children.

As a Couples Therapist, I am in the business of firstly, assisting couples to stay together. And then secondly if they decide, assisting them to separate or divorce. The cross-roads of either are one of those “big decision moments” in a person’s life. It is 7:15 on a Thursday evening in my office, and I am seeing Steve and Mary (names have been fictionalized). We have been at the work of their marriage for several sessions. Not surprisingly, their emotional intensity has swayed from sadness to anger to disappointment and back again. It is on this Thursday night that the tone changes in the room. A metaphorical hurricane is brewing and I have been here before. Mary speaks up, “we have been trying Steve and it is just not working. I want a divorce!” I immediately assess Steve’s reaction. I can see it in his eyes. He is thinking the following: “How could she do this to me?” “I want to emotionally punish Mary.” “Should I sweep in with a litigating family law attorney to protect my financial assets before she takes them from me and our children? I can see the anger and fear roll over Steve and I focus my attention on managing his flight into “unconscious uncoupling.” I focus on slowing Steve and Mary down. This means encouraging them to sit in their fear and at least initially not make any decisions about their seeming path for divorce. It is at this point that I introduce Collaborative Divorce as an option for conscious uncoupling.

Trendy or not, how a couple decides to end their relationship has long standing consequences. Unconscious uncoupling will usually lead both parties towards ultimately feeling bitter and emotionally wounded. And their family in pieces. Conscious uncoupling on the other hand, in the form of collaborative divorce or mediation, stands a good chance of leaving the couple transformed and able to hold onto their own personal as well as their family’s dignity.

Abstract:

The somewhat vague sounding term, “Conscious Uncoupling” recently made headlines when Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin decided to end their 10-year marriage. This article explains what the term means and how it is different from the conventional and often chosen combative divorce litigation process. Experienced Couples Therapist and Divorce Coach, Jon Kramer, also describes in this article one of his sessions and how he assists his clients to consciously versus unconsciously uncouple when they decide to end their marriage but hold their family intact.

Family attorney Elaine Thompson received the Athena Award from the Torrance Area Chamber of Commerce

Torrance Area Chamber of Commerce Presents Athena Award

A Better Divorce is very proud to note that on December 4, 2015, ABD member, attorney Elaine Thompson received the Athena Award from the Torrance Area Chamber of Commerce.  This award is presented each year in recognition of professional achievement, dedication to community service and generosity in assisting women in their achievement of professional excellence and leadership. She also received certificates from David Hadley, Assemblyman 66th District, Maxine Waters, U.S. Congress 43rd District, and Mayor Patrick Furey, Mayor of Torrance.

Divorce Options – May 20th

Options for Divorce

Presented by Jane K. Euler, Ron Anfuso, and Susan Schwartz
When: May 20, 2016
12:15pm – Check-in Time
12:30pm-1:30pm – Workshop

Where: Torrance Court Library
Cost: Free

Discussing different divorce methods such as Litigation, Collaboration and Mediation. We will be going over the basics of dissolution of marriage and financial implications.

48th Annual FL Symposium

Consentual Dispute Resolution: Resolving Disputes Outside the Courtroom Doors

May 14, 2016
Universal Hilton
Presented by Joe Spirito, Woody Mosten, Fred Glassman and Aviva Bobb

Joe Spirito will be the moderator to a panel discussion on the range of consensual dispute resolution option for parties seeking dissolution. The panel will discuss the ethical and statutory duties that practitioners have in utilizing mediation and collaborative processes such as  the duty to obtain informed consent and the duty to preserve mediation confidentiality.

Collaborative Divorce

CPCAL 2016

Informed Consent and Decision Making

April 29, 2016
Sofitel, Redwood City
Presented by Joe Spirito, Fred Glassman, and Warren Sacks

Joe Spirito was part of a panel discussion on informed decision making and the relevance of informed consent as the range of consensual dispute resolution processes expand. The panel also discussed  mediation confidentiality and proposed legislative changes to the evidence code, examining the impact said changes would have on the collaborative process.

collaborative divorce torrance palos verdes

Consensual Dipute Resolution – A Billionaire Chooses Collaborative Divorce

The Mediation Process Gives People a Chance to Tell Their Stories

When California passed the first no-fault divorce law in the nation, the reasons for the divorce were no longer relevant. Seasoned practitioners know the importance of telling the “story” of the divorce. It is by listening to the most profound issues in a changing or ending relationship that healing and resolution begin. The deepest feelings of hurt, abandonment, anger, revenge and ambivalence need to be expressed and understood. It is the experienced mental health professional who can do this in the context of mediation of custody and visitation disputes.

The attorney who attempts to dismiss feelings of a parent in order to quickly resolve the legal issues may experience an impasse. An inexperienced attorney once made a serious error in a conference when she said “Don’t talk about what happened. The past is not important; we need to talk about the future.” It’s true that family law orders focus on what will occur in the future, but to dismiss the past as not being important is a disservice to clients and doesn’t recognize important parts of our lives. Mental health mediators are often able to help parents express important feelings as a prelude to resolving the parenting plan issues.

 

A Better Divorce – Divorce Without Court

Collaborative divorce is gaining the public’s attention. The movie “Juno” mentioned it as the “latest way of getting divorced,” and more prominent couples are choosing collaborative divorce. Roy Disney, Robin Williams and T.Boone Pickens were able to work out the terms of their dissolution, privately, respectfully, fairly. Contrast that with damage to the family in the case of Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger. In his book, A Promise to Ourselves, A Journey Through Fatherhood and Divorce, Baldwin writes a scathing account of his divorce, including harsh accounts of his lawyers and the court system. He does offer some good advice for persons contemplating divorce.

The billionaire, T. Boone Pickens, for his fourth divorce, chose collaborative divorce. He was so pleased with the process, not only did he work things out without going to court, he told a room filled with lawyers the “collaborative approach saves both money and emotional wear and tear on families.” When asked how much the collaborative approach saved him he said “several million.” He was so impressed he donated $100,000 to the Collaborative Law Institute of Texas (http://www.collablawtexas.com/). A California judge going through his own divorce has recently chosen Collaborative Divorce.

 

 

 

 

Emotions and Conflict Affect Attorneys

It is the emotional support aspect of the divorce that seems to drain the energy of family law attorneys. It is the attorney who seems to bear the brunt of the angry client. The attorney hears it all: the court, the judicial system, the unfavorable evaluation, the high costs, and the unfaithful parent. Many attorneys are attracted to collaborative law and excited about the prospects of practices that don’t require trials, hearings and depositions.

 

Child Custody Evaluators Too Difficult

In an introductory session for the Los Angeles Collaborative Family Law Association several years ago, at a gathering of over 60 members of the family law community, a highly respected psychologist admitted she had almost decided not to perform any more child custody evaluations. Despite the income, it was just too hard. Recommending parenting plans, figuring out how much time children should be with their parents, choosing between two caring parents—these are difficult issues. Many child custody evaluators are providing their services outside of court as child specialists in collaborative divorce.

 

Collaborative Divorce an Enhancement of Collaborative Law

Collaborative divorce is an enhancement of the collaborative law model. In addition to attorneys, this model includes the participation of financial and mental health professionals. In cases involving children, a child specialist assists the parties in developing a parenting plan. Coaches help with the emotional aspects of a divorce, and the financial professional representing neither party, provides information about the financial aspects of the divorce.

 

Putting Your Best Foot Forward v. Being Honest About One’s Limitations

A father, who may want to hide his ignorance of an infant’s needs during an evaluation, presents himself differently in collaborative divorce, and is more likely to be honest and seek the recommendation of a child specialist. It’s like being in a classroom and the teacher asking if everyone understands. We’re afraid to admit we don’t know if the consequences hurt. With the child specialist in collaborative family law, the parents know we’re there to help, not to judge. Because there is no report submitted to the court, parents are free to discuss their fears and concerns, without the fear that their admissions will be used against them.

 

Putting Your Best Foot Forward v. Being Honest About One’s Limitations

A father, who may want to hide his ignorance of an infant’s needs during an evaluation, presents himself differently in collaborative divorce, and is more likely to be honest and seek the recommendation of a child specialist. It’s like being in a classroom and the teacher asking if everyone understands. We’re afraid to admit we don’t know if the consequences hurt. With the child specialist in collaborative family law, the parents know we’re there to help, not to judge. Because there is no report submitted to the court, parents are free to discuss their fears and concerns, without the fear that their admissions will be used against them.

 

A Coach Helps a Father Learn: Complimenting Instead of Criticizing

A father desperately wanted joint custody of his young children. The mother had reservations because he had never spent much time with the children. He persisted in pointing out his strengths and her faults. In frustration, he criticized her parenting. She responded by threatening to seek sole custody. The coach suggested a break, and asked him what he really wanted. He said, “I want to be able to take care of my children; I need to spend time with them.” A different strategy was suggested. Rather than criticize their mother, he was advised to tell her she was a good mother and highlight the many things she did well. He did. “Mary, you have been a wonderful mother for our children. You have given them so much; you have taught them so much. You are a wonderful mother.” Her anger disappeared, and instead there were tears in her eyes. A therapeutic response would have been to recognize his anger and value as a father and address his basic feelings about being good enough. The coaching helps in different ways.

 

Mental Health Professionals and Attorneys

Most mental health professionals don’t like working with attorneys. They don’t like receiving letters from them; they don’t like talking to them. It’s because they don’t understand the role of the attorney. The attorneys in collaborative law are different. They have become tired of fighting; they don’t like having to do whatever it takes to “win.” They too feel like casualties of the divorce wars.

Collaborative family law provides a better way for attorneys and mental health professionals to work together. The best of both professions are available to the parents. Phone calls from attorneys are welcomed, and it’s rewarding being on the same team.