Our adversary society has become an increasingly violent society. Violence is glorified in our media, in 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 our 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 still executing criminals. Underlying our violent society is the belief that have been held by the majority opinion in most groups of people 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 extreme 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; and most of the major wars during the history of the human race.
It is apparent that we desperately need to find a better way of relating to one another, and that the broken aspects of the world’s relationships between countries are reflected within our own individual relationships. When Mother Teresa was receiving 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 in another context 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 individual relationships, starting with the members of our own families. Individuals are not aggressive and violent 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 there has been an explosion of new approaches to the resolution of conflict within the family. The adversary system is now regarded by most far sighted individuals as an outdated and ineffective method for resolving conflicts within the family. Most of the time 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 to 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 to the detriment of the other party is eliminated. The clients can then 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 Seminar; “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 and reach resolution through means other than costly litigation.” The practical application of collaborative law has been described by Ms. Felbeck and Ms. Endriss, and by other writers, but the most important benefit of collaborative law is how uplifted you will feel. Collaborative law is based upon principles which come from love, while the adversary system is all about fear and the emotions that fear produces.
Love and Fear
There are two main sources of your emotions. One is fear, and all the emotions that come from fear such as hate, jealousy, envy, anger, resentment, sadness, and doubt or self pity. The other is love, and all the emotions that come from love such as compassion, joy, kindness, and feeling connected to the world. We experience both emotions, but the one that dominates in 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 adversary 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 this process.
In the adversary system there is a need to win. The need to win is a need of the ego. Ego creates the duality of winners and losers. The adversary system is by design a system based upon winning. The need to win creates fear based emotions and perpetuates the suffering of the client. In collaborative law the need to win has been eliminated. The pursuit is to find common agreements that are fair and equitable to both parties, and 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 adversary system promotes the fear based feelings within the former intimate relationship, those feelings that precipitated the dissolving of the intimate love relationship, and 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 bad behavior, the adversary system fails to resolve the problem. Collaborative law promotes the idea that both individuals 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 came from fear.
This does not mean that destructive behavior is ignored, and there are times when restraining orders have to be sought for the protection of children or the more vulnerable spouse, but once the request is made within the adversary system the litigants often have feelings of judgment or anger. Anger cannot dissipate anger. If you react to anger with anger you only create more anger. The adversary system feels like a reaction based upon anger. The loser is made to feel responsible for the failed relationship; the loser is made to feel guilty, sorry, or sad, while the winner’s ego feels superior.
Destructive behavior is the excuse for the condemnation, for the judgment, for the anger that the parent not engaging in the behavior feels towards his or her former intimate partner. The adversary 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 get rid of destructive behavior in others by decreeing it to be so. Each individual is responsible for his 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.
Destructive, fear based behavior is the result of the emotional poison of the individual engaged in the behavior. This poison is diluted when it is washed with the energy of spirit as expressed through love based emotions, but 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 individuals.
Collaborative law gives the individual the opportunity to fix his own problem. It does not take this responsibility from him. Collaborative law promotes each individual’s responsibility to heal their 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 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 the individual engaged in the destructive behavior assistance and guidance, so that the individual with the problem can make the choose to clean his emotional garbage or to continue to live in suffering. Collaborative law gives individuals the opportunity and permission to heal their emotional bodies and stop engaging in self destructive behavior. The adversary system avoids responsibility.
Collaborative law is completely responsible because 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 and equitable settlement is a choice made by the participant. Thus, parents tend to choose 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 they 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 individual to be responsible for their own behavior.
The Healing of the Emotional Body
Emotional wounds are healed in the same manner as physical wounds. When we have a cut that has become infected we must first cut open the wound and let it drain, then 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 cut open the wound. An acknowledgement of the truth by the emotionally injured person, no matter how painful that truth may be, opens the wound and allows the negative feelings to dissipate through expression in a safe environment. Once the individual begins to feel better the medicine of forgiveness can be encouraged. This does not mean that we condone the behavior of the perpetrator, but we do recognize that the behavior was caused by his emotional poison. We can teach forgiveness by application of the third healing element, self love. Forgiveness of others happens when the injured party first forgives himself. 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, and 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 by 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 will be healed. The emotional body must be healthy enough to allow the spiritual essence of an individual 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.
A New Paradigm of Family Law
Family law attorneys need to realize that you are not your victories. You 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 made to feel respected and understood so that they can start the process of healing. Let go of your need to win. That is your ego’s fear. You ego needs to feel important, superior to everyone else and “winning” feeds your ego. When you give up your need to win, you also give up your need to be right. Ego pushes you in the direction of making other people wrong. This is the source of a lot of conflict and dissension. When people are made 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 your own client, 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 our 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 true selves.
Family law attorneys, who have made the commitment to practice, as much as possible, 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 and 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 lawyers 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 between 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 adversary system, and to practice collaborative law, mediation, and other conflict reducing techniques. But because family law remains within the adversary system, these attorneys must occasionally engage in litigation. When this happens to me 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 adversary 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 can be removed from litigation to allow the settlement of issues without litigation. Collaborative law in its purest form requires that there be no litigation and the attorneys representing both parties are required to withdraw if either side wants to go to court. But collaborative principles can be utilized in the settlement process even when litigation is already pending. There is always time to ask your clients to consider responding with love to allegations and blame. There is always the possibility that you can direct your clients out of the darkness of fear and into the light of love. It is your presence within their lives and the love and respect that 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 them at their home. Connect person to person, listen and avoid judgments. Practice understanding. Ask them to accept responsibility for their own behavior.
Lawyers and service providers within family law may be compassionate individuals, but the nature of the adversary system requires blame and judgment. It is sometimes 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 you. Just remember this: what you condemn, you attract into your life. Fear, blame and judgment cannot be reduced by condemning it. Fear can only create 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 providing 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.