Occasionally, I have the opportunity to step is as a temporary judicial officer for personal property arbitrations in Santa Clara County at the San Jose courthouse. I really enjoy working with these parties because they are litigated cases that are often having their first opportunity to mediate – albeit at the tail end of their case. Recently, I was poignantly reminded how important the client’s role is in the divorce process. Using different names, Jennifer and Mark had not spoken to each other for over a year. Jennifer was not even sure why she was before me, and I soon learned that Mark did not either. Both believed they had resolved the outstanding issues related to personal property, and were beyond ready to settle all remaining issues. In fact, they genuinely assumed the other was unwilling to settle, based on the information they received from their attorneys.

I was very disheartened. Here, both Jennifer and Mark wanted to treat each other fairly and desperately wanted a safe space to speak with one another to resolve their case. However, the only way they communicated was through their attorneys. Somehow the parties’ message was lost.

Divorcing parties need to actively participate in their divorce. Divorce revolves around the intimate details of the family structure. Just as you and the members in your family are best situated to operate your family, the same is for divorcing parties. This might require members in your family to learn about healthy living, but rarely should it strip them of their decision-making power.

How can you equip your clients in a divorce to stay in the driver’s seat?

  • First, the client should understand the process. How does it start, what has to happen, and how does it end. There are many resources available through the courts, online, and in print. Additionally, I have past columns written on this topic that are available at our website. Most divorcing parties are fearful because they simply do not know what to expect, and then “lawyer-up” or make fear-based decisions. Knowledge is power.
  • Second, encourage your client to have a divorce process vision. A few examples of a divorce process vision might be: a cost-effective divorce, a fair resolution, or a secure financial future. Remind them of that vision throughout the process. When the client sees that the divorce is no longer in line with their vision, he should immediately find out why and how it might be corrected.
  • Third, your client should know what his divorce professionals are doing on his behalf. Are the attorneys working towards settlement? What are the conversations between the attorneys? What is the billing structure?
  • Fourth, your client should understand why he wants what he does. If he knows why he wants 50/50 custodial time Developing a Successful Timeshare Plan, or she wants the family home, they will be better able to express it to their ex-spouse, attorney, divorce mediator, or judicial officer. When wants are substantiated, an ex-spouse may be more inclined to agree, and if not, your client can rest assured he has put his best foot forward.