Collaborative Divorce: Enrolling the Reluctant Spouse

This week a reader sent me an email and asked the following question:

I’m interested in using the collaborative process for my divorce. The problem is, I can’t get my husband’s attention. He’s in total denial that this is happening, and just will not discuss it with me.  I am so ready to move forward with this. What can I do?

This is a great question and one I have just dealt with recently. My client, Mary, came to see me a few months ago for a consultation. We went over her situation and her options, and she clearly expressed an interest in using the collaborative process. Her concern, though, was that her husband, Joe, was drinking a lot, not home very much, and she didn’t know how or when she would be able to talk to him about this option.

We were able to come up with a couple of ideas for ways she could present this to him, and this will also answer the reader’s question.  Here are the steps we planned:

  1. I gave her a brochure about collaboration that she could give to him. The plan was for her to find a good time to talk when she could tell him that she had met with me and that she wanted to use the collaborative process in their divorce and why (to protect their children, protect their assets, keep the peace, etc.).  She would give him the information and ask him to contact a collaborative attorney as well.
  2. When he didn’t respond to this conversation, I then sent him a letter, telling him that Mary had been to see me and that she wanted to use the collaborative process and avoid litigation. I also sent him a list of collaborative attorneys and asked him to let me know if he would be making an appointment with one of them for his own consultation.
  3. After three weeks went by with no response, Mary called me, quite exasperated, not knowing what to do next. We decided that I would send one more letter to see if he would respond. This time, he wouldn’t even open the letter.
  4. Mary now had the option of waiting and being patient for a while longer or taking some action.  If you have read The Four Divorces, you understand they were in different places in the Emotional Divorce. If you haven’t read it, take a minute to download it now. I think you’ll find it helpful. Since Mary had concerns about some financial decisions Joe was making, she felt she couldn’t wait any longer. I prepared the paperwork to file the divorce, set a hearing, and got a process server ready to serve the papers on Joe.
  5. But we weren’t giving up.  I prepared another letter to Joe to be served with the paperwork, telling him that Mary still wanted to use the collaborative process, and if he were interested, then I would cancel the hearing scheduled and withdraw the court case.

Guess what happened? As the process server was heading up the road to file the documents, I received a call from another collaborative attorney in town that he had just met with Joe and Joe was on board with collaboration. My client was thrilled! I was too.  And I was so proud of her.

What did she do to allow this to work out this way? She was patient but persistent, and she was kind but firm. And Joe got the message that something was going to happen here, and fortunately he saw that he had a choice as well in how this would go.

This is just one plan of helping to bring a reluctant spouse to the collaboration table, and it worked. Each case is different. The important thing to know is that there are ways to get your spouse on board with collaboration. Sometimes it just takes …. patience but persistence….. and kindness but firmness. Way to go Mary!



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