Divorce Without Disaster - Collaborative Law - Introduction

This is the second post of a serialization of Janet P. Brumley's book, Divorce Without Disaster. This post is the introduction to the book.

Litigation was my life for the first 22 years of my practice. Like most litigators, I thought the opposition needed a swift kick sometimes, and I was the one to administer it. From the time I was a child on the playground, if someone was mistreated, it was my job to make things right.

There is something righteous and intoxicating about fighting for someone else. I loved to tell someone who was scared and lonely (as all divorcing parties are) that I would protect them. Each time I've been appointed a guardian ad litem for children, I've introduced myself by saying that I am a cross between a guardian angel and a guard dog. I work for them and will protect them from all harm. It's more than intoxicating. It's mother's milk.

I went into law for the joy of being this protector. I've heard criminal attorneys convince themselves that they are protecting the Constitution. I suppose attorneys who defend large corporations believe they are doing God's work, too.

But there came a time when I realized the avenging angel who only does good is a delusion. How could this be? I had to be doing right when my clients told me they didn't know what they would do without me.

I enjoyed what I was hearing, but not what I was seeing. What I thought was fixed kept coming unfixed. I would win a custody trial only to be back in court a couple of years later fighting modification of the custody order. 

You see, in family law litigation, winning only sets you up to lose. The person who wins thinks this is the end of the story. But just as no war has ever left the world a peaceful place, these divorce wars are only a precursor of battles to come. The supposed loser in the battle simply lies in wait to prove he or she was wronged. Nothing gets resolved. The parties' anger gets validated to the point that they can hardly stand to look at each other, much less work together for the good of children or themselves.

Finding collaborative law was an epiphany for me. Finally, a process encourages people to be reasonable, even when they don't want to be. Everyone can't leave the chaos behind and approach the future with new resolve. But they have a much better chance of accomplishing that with collaborative law than with litigation or even mediation. Plus, they get to keep their privacy and dignity intact.

The downside for the attorney is that in collaborative law, you are literally replaceable. Your participation agreement clearly states that if settlement fails, another attorney will replace you. But there's an upside for the attorney, too. The opposing party doesn't despise you. For each client who absolutely loved me, there was a spouse on the other side who hated the sight of me.

Now everyone in this process sees me for what I am - another mortal who knows Texas family law and is trying to help them help themselves. I am no longer the know-all, end-all and be-all, but I am also not the snake. Attorneys engaged in the process empower the parties to make good decisions and solidify their own futures.

That makes me proud of what I do today. I don't see myself reflected in anyone's mirror but my own. And I see those days on the schoolyard more clearly. Pulling that big-mouthed kid off the see-saw for calling people names didn't solve anything. It only caused the kid at the other end of the board to hit the ground as collateral damage.

Janet P. Brumley

Prior posts: Divorce Without Disaster - Collaborative Law


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