Spiritual Aspects of Collaborative Law

Content taken from Mediate.com and edited by the law firm of Papa & Roberts, PLLC

We have become an adversarial society. Our adversarial relationship with one another can be witnessed in all segments of society, from the halls of the capital to the living rooms of the typical 'ego based marriage'. Our adversarial 'mindset' has become a way of life. We think of 'us' vs. 'them' within our relationships between countries, Republicans and Democrats, and other competing segments of society. We celebrate such differences and revere debate as a method of communication and entertainment. We pride ourselves in our ability to argue endlessly the most senseless and insignificant points, and we legitimize the entire process by our reliance on a court system that promotes argument and litigation.

Our adversarial society has become increasingly violent. Violence is glorified in the media, video games, toys, books, newscasts, T.V. programs, and even in our playground games. Our citizens are the most heavily armed in the world and the crime rate is one of the highest in the world with extremely violent crimes being committed by younger and younger children. We have the highest rate of prison population per capita in the world and are one of the few remaining western nations executing criminals. Underlying our violent society is the belief that has been held by the majority opinion throughout the history of the world, that my group is somehow better than yours, that one race or ethnic group is superior to another, or that one religion or belief system is more true than another. In its most extreme, these dogmatic beliefs are used to justify acts of violence: inquisitions, crusades, bombings and 'holy wars'. It is these beliefs that have lead to dozens of incidents of organized and state sponsored, or enabled, genocide.

It is apparent that we desperately need to find a better way of relating to each another. When Mother Teresa received her Noble Peace prize she was asked by a member of the audience, "What can I do to promote world peace?" She responded: "Go home and love your family." Another time she told the audience to "Sweep off your neighbor's porch." She was emphasizing that world peace can only be accomplished by the repair and maintenance of our personal relationships, starting with the members of our own families. Individuals are not aggressive by nature; violence is a learned response to the denial of our basic human needs, for love and security.

The good news is that within the last few years an explosion of new approaches to the resolution of conflict within the family has occurred. The adversarial system is now regarded by most far-sighted individuals as an outdated and ineffective method for resolving conflicts within the family. Usually, the adversary system makes the problem worse, as the members of the family are forced to talk trash about the other member to "win" their case and obtain custody of the children or a better financial settlement. One new method of dispute resolution is collaborative law.

Collaborative law allows the search for truth to be the primary focus of the attorney / client relationship. The parties pledge to engage in full disclosure; consequently, the clients must agree to waive confidentiality with respect to relevant evidence disclosed by the client to the attorney. Once all relevant information is known by both parties, the collaborative law participation agreement provides that the attorneys' responsibility is to engage in full disclosure and seek a fair and equitable settlement of the issues. The traditional role of advocating for a client (by the attorney) to the detriment of the other party is eliminated. The clients make the decision to settle the issues. As Rachel Felbeck and Marilyn Endriss stated in their article written for the Washington State Access to Justice Convention; "While collaborative law is not for every lawyer, or for every client, or for every case, it is a viable alternative for many who seek to end conflict through means other than costly litigation." The practical application of collaborative law has been described by Ms. Felbeck and Ms. Endriss, and other writers, but the most important benefit of collaborative law is how uplifted clients feel. Collaborative law is based upon principles which come from love, while the adversary system is all about fear.

Love and Fear

There are two main sources of your emotions. One is fear, and all the emotions that accompany fear such as hate, jealousy, envy, anger, resentment, sadness, and doubt or self pity. The other is love, and all the emotions that stem from love such as compassion, joy, kindness, and feeling connected to the world. We experience both emotions, but the one that dominates the lives of most people is fear.

Fear-based emotions dominate to an even greater degree the lives of individuals who are experiencing the emotional trauma of primary relationships being dissolved or modified. The adversarial system is not designed to deal effectively with emotional issues and when former intimate partners are forced into court to fight over money or children the attitude is often fostered that one is wrong and the other right. No one wants to be at fault for the divorce; so both partners try to cast the blame onto the other, or they accept and internalize the blame, casting themselves as the victim. The adversary system promotes such a process.

In the adversarial system there is a need to win. The need to win is a need of the ego, which creates the duality of winners and losers. The adversarial system is by design a system based upon seeking victory. The need to win creates fear-based emotions and perpetuates the suffering of the client. In collaborative law the need to win is eliminated. The pursuit is to find common agreements that are both fair and equitable to all parties. In doing so, the qualities of love that once existed in abundance within the former intimate relationship are recognized and honored. Both individuals learn to find other ways to love and respect their former partner. The adversarial system promotes the fear-based feelings within the former intimate relationship, those feelings that precipitated the dissolving of the intimate love relationship. In doing so, the adversary system adds to the problem that already exists. By making one party a winner and the other the loser, or by judging one or both parents guilty of poor behavior, the adversary system fails to resolve the problem. Collaborative law promotes the idea that both partners deserve to be treated with love and respect, and that if the intimate relationship must end, it is more important to honor the loving aspects of that relationship, rather than to emphasize the aspects which evolved from fear.

This does not mean that destructive behavior is ignored, and there may be times when restraining orders have to be sought for the protection of children or the more vulnerable spouse. Yet, once the request is made within the adversary system the litigants often have feelings of judgment or anger. Anger cannot dissipate itself. If you react to anger with anger you only create more angry feelings. The adversary system feels like a reaction based upon anger. The loser is made to feel responsible for the failed relationship; the loser often feels guilty, sorry, or sad, while the winner's ego feels superior.

Destructive behavior is the excuse for the condemnation and the anger that the parent not engaging in the behavior feels towards his or her former intimate partner. The adversarial system attempts to force parents into proper behavior around their children; while the collaborative system allows the parents to change their own behavior. We cannot eliminate destructive behavior in others by decreeing it to be so. Each individual is responsible for his /her own behavior. We cannot force another to engage in behavior that is love-based instead of fear based. Each person must be responsible for his own healing.

Emotional Healing

Destructive, fear-based behavior is the result of the emotional poison of the individual engaged in such behavior. This poison is diluted when it is washed with the energy of spirit as expressed through love-based emotions. When destructive behavior is responded to with anger, jealousy, bitterness, hate, or any other fear based emotion, we add our own emotional poison to that which we are responding to and we simply make it worse. We increase the emotional poison within both partners.

Collaborative law provides the individual the opportunity to fix his/her own problem. It does not take this responsibility from him or her. Collaborative law promotes each individual's responsibility to heal his/her own emotional body. The adversary system does not promote responsibility; it is inherently judgmental. If one half or both halves of the former intimate relationship has/have engaged in destructive behavior based upon some addiction or mental illness, then the goal within the collaborative system is to identify the problem in a non-judgmental manner and offer this individual assistance and guidance. Thus, the individual with the problem can make the choose to clean his/her emotional garbage or to continue to live in suffering. Collaborative law offers individuals the opportunity and permission to heal their emotional bodies and stop engaging in self destructive behavior. The adversarial system avoids responsibility.

Collaborative law is completely responsible; it promotes love and healing by resolving conflicts and treating each participant with respect and dignity. Collaborative law empowers the individual and creates responsibility because the choice to agree on a fair settlement is a choice made by each participant. Thus, parents tend to make the responsible choice for their children and are more willing to co-parent them. They tend to choose the expression of love in their lives and are awakened to the destructive power of their fear based emotions. Once awakened, they can make the responsible choice to avoid the harmful expression of fear-based emotions. Collaborative law allows each person to be responsible for his/her own behavior.

The Healing of the Emotional Body

Emotional wounds are healed in the same manner as physical ones. When we have a cut that has become infected we must first cut open the wound and let it drain and apply medicine to kill the bacteria causing the infection, then cover it and give it time to heal. With an emotional injury, like a physical wound, the injury must first be cleaned. We use the truth as a scalpel to open the wound. An acknowledgment of the truth by the emotionally injured person, no matter how painful that truth is, opens the wound and allows the negative feelings to dissipate through expression in a safe environment. Once the person begins to feel better the medicine of forgiveness can be encouraged. This does not mean that we condone the behavior, but we do recognize that the behavior was caused by his emotional poison. We can teach forgiveness by applying the third healing element, self-love. Forgiveness of others happens when the injured party first forgives him/herself. Self-love is the time that we give an emotional wound to heal, and it is what is necessary before the individual can forgive, first himself, then everyone that he perceived injured him at some time or another. Without self-love the injured will eventually fall back into a place of self blame and victimization and the emotional injury will again fester into an infected wound. Only after the forgiveness of the perpetrator of the emotional injury can the injury be completely healed.

With the application of these three principles; the truth, forgiveness, and self-love, any emotional wound may be healed. The emotional body must be healthy enough to allow the spiritual essence to become stronger, which in turn allows an individual to grow in spirit, to evolve spiritually, to become one with God. This is the foundation of all religions in their infancy stages, before ego contamination, and all spiritual quests.

New Paradigm of Family Law

Family law attorneys must realize that they are not their own victories. They can enjoy competing, and have fun in a world where winning is regarded as "fun", but "winning" in family law is inappropriate. It is not about winning. It is about responding to people who are expressing fear based emotions with compassion and understanding; listening to them and really understanding their emotions; then creating an environment in which they are encouraged to feel respected and understood so that they can start the process of healing. Let go of your need to win. That is ego's fear. Ego needs to feel important, superior to everyone else and "winning" feeds your ego. When one gives up the need to win, he/she also give up the need to be right. Ego pushes one in the direction of making other people wrong. This is the source of a lot of conflict and dissension. When people are encouraged to feel wrong or at fault more fear based emotions are created and we fail to serve each other.

Collaborative law is about service, to clients, but also service to the other half of that relationship, to the relationship itself, and to the world. There is no right and wrong in collaborative law; there is no winner and loser. When we promote "winning" to clients we create more fear-based emotions, both within our clients and ourselves. When we emphasize fairness, safety, respect, and healing, we lead our clients back to love, to their own true selves.

Family law attorneys, who have made the commitment to practice in the collaborative manner, tend to be already focused on the expression and celebration of spirit through them. More likely than not, they tend to see their clients, the other party, and attorney in a nonjudgmental manner. They feel love based emotions more often than fear based emotions and have awakened to the knowledge that love based emotions produce happiness, contentment and peace, while fear based emotions produce unhappiness, agitation, and war. There is a circle of family law attorneys who understand that with each other they can relax and simply engage in a search for the truth in order to reach a fair and equitable settlement that everyone can live with. Often nothing needs to be said among these attorneys. They understand and know that the other attorney will engage in full-disclosure and encourage their clients to seek a fair and reasonable settlement without resorting to litigation. These are the attorneys who are at the forefront in the quest to reform family law, to take it out of the adversarial system, and to practice collaborative law, mediation, and other conflict-reducing techniques. But because family law remains within the adversarial system, these attorneys must occasionally engage in litigation. When this happens I try to not take any thing said or done personally. I know it is not about me, and often it is not even about my client.

When responding to a family law problem which has already been placed within the adversarial system, ask yourself if it is appropriate to respond in a collaborative manner. Before asking your client to prepare declarations which offer counter-condemnations to the court, ask yourself if you are able to meet personally with the other party or his attorney prior to any hearing. Determine if the case may be removed from litigation to allow the settlement of issues without litigation. Collaborative law in its purest form requires no litigation; the attorneys representing both parties are required to withdraw if either side wants to go to court. Collaborative principles may be utilized in the settlement process even when litigation is already pending. There is always time to ask clients to consider responding with love to allegations and blame. There is always the possibility that you may direct your clients out of the darkness of fear and into the light of love. It is your presence within their lives and the respect you give to them that will give them the strength to respond with love. Your love gives them permission to also love. Call the other party into your office or visit that party at their home. Connect person to person, listen and avoid judgments. Practice understanding. Ask the other party to accept responsibility for their own behavior.

Attorneys and service providers within family law may be compassionate individuals, but the nature of the adversary system requires blame and judgment. It is often difficult to not take these judgments personally. It can be difficult to remain in the path of love when there is judgment and condemnation all around. Just remember this--what you condemn, you attract into your life. Fear, blame and judgment cannot be reduced by condemning them. Fear only creates more fear. Only love can heal the emotional body, and in the final analysis, it is only self love, the love that comes from within, that can heal that person's emotional body. You cannot heal your client's emotional body. You can, however, facilitate its healing by offering a safe, nonjudgmental, loving environment which will allow the client to heal their own emotional body. Collaborative law can more effectively provide that environment and promote the healing process.

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