20 Year Reflections

2020 is the 2oth anniversary year of CFLCW. Incorporated in August of 2000, the Council is one of the oldest collaborative practice groups and has a rich history of innovative training, programming and national and international leadership. We asked a number of members for their reflections on their earliest days with CFLCW and experiences that shaped the time and their professional lives. Some are founding members and other joined and began their practices in the past few years. Watch for additions to this as the 2oth year unfolds. If you have a reflection you would like to share, let us know.

Practicing in traditional custody and placement litigation was extraordinarily stressful. In many cases, litigation led to terrible levels of conflict that only ensured that conflict would continue for those families and their children for a long time. There was no winning, there was only hurting. The levels of “hurt” varied, but we knew that conflict certainly hurt the children. While the stress varied case to case, day to day, it was common for me to daydream about “another way.”

I remember being energized by the opportunity to advance Collaborative Practice. Finding a way to change how family disputes were resolved was fulfilling. I had a chance to learn an immense amount about dispute resolution processes, and I had a chance to find that my views about family law were shared by many other lawyers, many of whom became friends. Every day felt like an opportunity to help make a difference for the better for clients and children.

Diane Diel, JD | 2002 CFLCW Chair

I was drawn to collaborative practice because I spent many years focusing my practice acting as a guardian ad litem, representing children whose parents were fighting about custody and placement. In the gal role, I was urging parents to see the other parent’s perspective, to recognize each other’s parenting strengths, to think of divorce as a transformational process which ended a marriage but not a family; that created a family with two roofs, rather than one, that acknowledged the relationships that will last forever; that created co-parents who would communicate for their children’s highest good for the rest of their lives. While I was teaching that, the parents’ lawyers were litigating, setting court dates, drawing lines in the sand, advising their clients not to speak with each other . Diametrically opposing theories and actions with warfare being the default process.

I believed collaborative practice offered away out of the battlefield metaphor for divorce process. I believed it was the divorce process which damaged children, not the separation. I wanted to make the divorce process safe for children. Divorce happens and our role as professionals is to make the best of it with the resources we have. Lawyers leaving scorched earth behind and calling it a “win” just never worked for me. The atmosphere was one of excitement, inspiration, and possibility. There was a feeling we had found our tribe. My first formal exposure was a meeting with a small group of lawyers in Chicago, organized by attorney Gregg Herman.

A small group of us continued to organize. I believed we as professionals could change how divorce was practiced. The early years were filled with looking to other states and to IACP for practical help. There was an attempt by some Wisconsin lawyers to stomp out collaborative practice. The claim was it was “unethical.” Winner take all, fight to the death, leave nothing behind, is a deeply ingrained definitional belief deep within many lawyers. Offering an alternative was threatening to those who lived by the sword. We survived the attempt to ban collaborative practice and the struggle increased our dedication to the collaborative practice alternative because the pushback starkly revealed what was at stake.

Diane Mader, JD | Past CFLCW Board Member

As a child psychologist I worked with many children who were adversely affected by their parent’s divorce; most typically because the parents put them in the middle, did not protect them from parental conflict, and did not support the children’s relationship with both parents. Collaborative divorce offered an opportunity to intervene with families before the damage was done. Not necessarily an easier divorce process for parents or the professionals involved but almost always a better process and outcome for children. The atmosphere in the formative years of collaborative divorce was one of interdisciplinary hope and excitement. It was gratifying to work as part of a team of divorce professionals and families with the shared goal of helping the families move through their divorce and achieve a child focused outcome.

-Kathy Gehl, Psy.D. | Past CFLCW Board Member

Attending my very first collaborative training was an eye opening experience. I sat at a table of mental health professionals who shared stories of their clients’ stress, frustration, fear and lack of understanding as to the outcomes they had experienced in their divorce. These MHP’s expressed their hope that the collaborative process might provide an opportunity for better, healthier outcomes for people and families going through a profoundly transitional time of change. Professionally participating in a process that might result in a more positive experience for divorcing couples and families in transition became a mission for the work I do.

In the early years, there was so much to learn … learning about the process, learning to trust the process, learning how to work with professionals of other disciplines, learning how to effectively dialog with clients and team professionals … it goes on and on. Today, I feel I still learn so much from every couple/family/team I work with.

-Gaylene Stingl, CPA | 2006 CFLCW Chair

At first I was not drawn to collaborative – divorce practice was supposed to be strategically and substantively combative. But, I became impressed by the colleagues who sincerely wanted to work together to find good results for both parties, and I was persuaded that the model with coaches and financial neutrals offered the best help from the right professionals, instead of lawyers posturing in those roles. IACP conferences also were fantastic.

As for the early years of CFLCW, to me it was like The Audacity of Hope, right? Brand new inspiration…..

-Christy Brooks, JD | Past CFLCW Board Member

When I first learned of collaborative it seemed to me that this was something that made total sense and it was one of those things where you wonder why someone had not thought of it earlier. It was such a departure from the way things were done. Like many of my colleagues I was intrigued over a system that seemed to be simply more logical, rationale and family friendly. The level of activity and commitment to this new idea was exciting, challenging and at times frustrating but we all knew this was something very different and promising. The twenty years seems to have passed so quickly, and I hope collaborative grows and evolves well into the future.

-Steve Bach, JD | 2003 CFLCW Chair

Before I joined CFLCW in 2002, it was clear to me that the old system of “adversarial “ law only served to make problems worse during divorce. I was attracted to a new way to help families navigate divorce and come out on the other end with skills to help them move forward. The other people who were interested in the movement were the frosting on the cake. They were exactly the colleagues I was looking to connect with. They were dedicated, bright, and skilled. They were also willing to donate lots of hours to developing trainings and growing the movement. It was an exciting time!

-Jeanne Schroeder, PhD | Past CFLCW Board Member

I was excited to discover a process that recognized and supported staying out of Court as a better solution for families in transition. It also validated my long held opinion that being a “good lawyer” did not, by definition, mean needing to participate in contested litigation.

I enjoyed finding other lawyers who could admit that going to Court was frequently counterproductive for families. Usually lawyers won’t say such things out loud to one another! There was a sense of discovery about the formal use of an interdisciplinary model. There was revelation in hearing from mental health professionals about what divorce looks like when the legal model is stripped away.

-Janice Wexler, JD | 2014 CFLCW Chair

Collaborative practice intrigued me when I first heard about it 20 years ago. I was tired of the adversarial process and feeling like I was a weapon in divorce battles. The shift to becoming a positive problem-solver with a goal of helping families was a perfect fit with my personal values. I was also drawn to the value of working together with mental health and financial professionals to help couples create the best possible outcomes for their families. There was a mixture of excitement and skepticism amongst divorce professionals. The idea of being a positive change agent energized many of us who spent countless hours learning and working together in creating CFLCW. Though too many bylaw meetings for me, I remain very proud of the work we did together and my own early involvement as the first Training Chair and subsequently the first Public Education Chair.

-Susan Hansen, JD | Past Chair, CFLCW Training Committee