Collaborative divorce — a process that empowers

Divorce is never easy, and can often feel overwhelming and forbidding.  People who have gone through a litigated divorce have described it as a harrowing experience.  They spend large amounts of money, time, and energy on the court process and often are unsatisfied with the outcome.

Fortunately, there is an alternative to litigated divorce that makes the experience of ending a marriage much less painful:   Collaborative Divorce.

Most people who use the collaborative process feel that they have reached a fair and equitable resolution at the end.  Moreover, parties often find this process to be more empowering than traditional divorce.

Here’s what makes Collaborative Divorce a less stressful divorce option:

Collaborative Divorce begins with each spouse and their lawyer agreeing, via a formal Participation Agreement, that they will resolve all issues in a structured, out-of-court procedure, instead of through court litigation.

The Collaborative Divorce process strives to ensure that each person in the relationship is “heard” and that all of their concerns are addressed in an open and thoughtful manner.

  1. All financial matters, including information regarding income, property, accounts, retirement and all other assets are exchanged transparently. A neutral financial expert can be appointed to ensure that all finances are fully disclosed and equitably distributed.
  2. Collaborative Divorce allows for maintaining confidentiality in the couple’s private life. Instead of depositions, open court hearings, trials and motions, all negotiations are held in private meetings, until a settlement has been reached.
  3. Collaborative Divorce has the goal of helping couples maintain an amicable relationship for better co-parenting after the divorce.
  4. Parties who have gone through the Collaborative Divorce process express less bitterness and emotional pain than those who have gone through a traditional divorce.

If you are contemplating or facing divorce, consider Collaborative Divorce as a less stressful, more private and respectful means of ending your marriage.

About the blogger:

Hesper Schleiderer-Hardy, Esq., is an attorney with Childs, Rundlett, Fifield & Altshuler, LLC. She has devoted her career to representing clients in family matters, estate planning, and probate litigation. Hesper has been serving Maine families as a Guardian ad Litem since 2007, working with children of all ages. She received training as a Collaborative Divorce Attorney in 2008 and is a founding member and Board Member of the Maine Collaborative Law Alliance. She is also a member of the Family Law Section of the Maine State Bar Association, a member of the Cumberland County Bar Association and the York County Bar Association, and a Board Member of Maine Odyssey of the Mind. A Maine native, Hesper received her JD from Northeastern University School of Law and her undergraduate degree from Bowdoin College.

Things to keep in mind to make your collaborative divorce successful

In October, I attended the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP) 17th Annual Networking and Educational Forum.   One of the sessions I attended was Inspiration and Ideas for Creating and Sustaining a Remarkable Collaborative Practice presented by Ron Ousky (a collaborative law pioneer) and his paralegal Megan  Yates.

The gist of the presentation was that Collaborative Law is a wonderful process that focuses on interests rather than positions — if clients enter into it with a collaborative mindset. The presentation addressed these important questions:

What do clients need to know to embrace Collaborative Law?

How can clients let go of their positions to reach their highest vision?

How can clients see Collaborative Law as an opportunity, rather than a risk?

Here are some of the things I learned that could help you decide if Collaborative Law could work for you and your spouse and, if you proceed with Collaborative Divorce, how to make it as successful as possible:

  • Begin with the end in mind.  Think about where you want to finish from the beginning.                       Visualize what your future looks like after divorce.
  • Always focus on the big picture. Again, keep your goals in mind. Try not to get side-tracked by the small issues.   Once you know the big picture, you can deal with the details of how to get there.
  • Be candid about what you can/can’t bring to the experience.   What can you and your spouse each contribute to the process to help it succeed?  Sometimes we fail because we push ourselves into things we are not ready for.  If you’re not ready, that’s okay.
  • Don’t make it about fighting.  Arguments don’t change people’s minds.  For Collaborative Divorce to be effective,  you need to have open, non-defensive discussions with all parties involved, including your spouse and their attorney.
  • Trust your instincts and experience.  You know yourself and you know your spouse and what will/won’t work for the two of you.  Being realistic about that with your attorney will save time and money and reduce stress.
  • Be clear.  Communicate your knowledge and desires to your attorney, so they can help you make decisions that are best for you and your family.
  • Be committed to the process. One of the tenets of Collaborative Law is that if the process is not working there is a requirement of withdrawal by the collaborative attorneys before starting a divorce in court. Your commitment and confidence in your ability to resolve your own case will maximize the possibility of Collaborative Law working for you.

Collaborative Law can help families reach amazing outcomes.  When deciding whether Collaborative Divorce is right for you, keep the above points in mind.  That way you’ll be prepared to bring your best self to the process.

About the Blogger:

Jane Clayton is a partner at Vafiades, Brountas & Kominsky, LLP. Jane focuses her practice on all aspects of Family Law including Collaborative Law. Admitted to practice in 1988 both in Maine and before the U.S. District Court, District of Maine, Jane is a member of the Maine State and Penobscot Bar Associations. She is currently a Board Member of Maine Collaborative Law Alliance. She is also a member of the Family Law Section of the Maine State Bar Association. Jane was previously the Chair of the Fee Arbitration Commission, Chair of Fee Arbitration Panel IV, Chair of the Penobscot County Law Library Committee, a member of the State Court Library Committee, a Board Member of Equality Maine Foundation, a Board Member of Bangor Area Visiting Nurses/Hospice of Eastern Maine, a Board Member of Pine Tree Legal Assistance and a Board Member of Maine Association of Mediators.

Jane was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 1961, and grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Jane earned a B.A. (with high distinction) in Political Science from the University of Maine in 1983. She received her J.D. from the Villanova University School of Law in 1986. She moved to Maine in 1986 and currently lives in Veazie with her wife, dog and cat. In her time away from the office she enjoys creating stained glass panels, photography, movies, reading, and spending time with family and friends.







Considering divorce? Here’s how to make sure you’re sure

Susan came home one night and told her husband Tom she wanted a separation. He was shocked. 50408867_sSure, there had been some ‘issues’ in their marriage, but wasn’t that normal in a long-term relationship?

Tom approached Susan the next morning and suggested couples therapy, saying“don’t you think you owe it to me to at least try to fix the marriage?”

Tom’s request to dig a little deeper before calling it quits may seem perfectly reasonable — but couples therapy won’t be successful unless both partners are willing to do the work it requires. In fact, further frustration and stress can result if one partner feels pressured into therapy without genuinely believing it can help.

So what’s the solution here? What happens when one spouse is pretty sure they want out and the other wants to see if their marriage can be saved?

Fortunately there is a new option for not-on-the-same-page spouses like Susan and Tom: Discernment Counseling.

Discernment Counseling is a short-term (1 – 5 session) process intended to help a mixed-agenda couple where one person is ‘leaning out’ of the relationship thinking separation/divorce is their only option and the other is ‘leaning in’ and wants to rebuild the marriage. The beauty of this process is that it provides a much needed opportunity to slow down, take a deep breath, explore options, and arrive at a deliberated decision that works for both partners.

Who can benefit from Discernment Counseling?

Discernment Counseling is for couples in a situation where separation and divorce are being considered by one or both partners and there is uncertainty about whether divorce is the best choice for them and their family. It is not appropriate when one person has already made a final decision to leave.

How is Discernment Counseling structured?

The first session is two hours with subsequent sessions lasting ninety minutes. At the end of each session, the couple decides if they’d like to have another session, with a maximum of five sessions. Each in-person session starts and ends with both partners in the room with the counselor, and includes significant one-on-one time for each person alone with the counselor.

What is the difference between Discernment Counseling and couples therapy?

Unlike couples therapy, the goal of Discernment Counseling is not to solve your marital problems but rather to agree on one of three paths that would be best for you and your family.

The three paths are:

  1. Status quo – the marriage as it has been.
  2. Separation/divorce
  3. Couples therapy for six months with an all-out effort to repair the relationship, with divorce temporarily off the table, followed by a decision about the-long term direction of the marriage.Through the Discernment Counseling sessions, clarity is achieved in a non-adversarial, respectful manner. The process removes the stress and momentum people sometimes find themselves swept up in when there is confusion about marital issues and whether or not they are solvable. The goal is for you to gain clarity, based on a deeper understanding of your relationship and its possibilities for the future. Discernment Counseling also allows you to learn more about yourself and your partner and how each of you may contribute to the problems and possible solutions surrounding the marriage.To learn more about Discernment Counseling, please go to or contact me at (207) 797-6540, email:, website:

About the blogger:

Sara's Professional Photo JPEGSara F. Levite, MS, LCPC has been in private practice for over 25 years working with individuals, couples and groups. When working with couples her goal is to help them each feel heard and understood without judgment in an effort to assist each member to communicate with confidence and clarity. In addition to her private practice work, she has been a social worker and Guardian Ad Litem in Massachusetts, has worked as a counselor for the Department of Corrections in Maine,  and has extensive experience leading workshops and trainings in Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Florida.

Lies we tell ourselves to stay in a bad marriage

The human mind is amazingly enabling. We can use it to justify our behavior, to49191110_s avoid the pain of facing that we’re not doing what we know we should be doing to improve our lives. We’re not perfect and so we don’t have sufficient courage to always act on what we know deep down is good for us.  When we don’t want to face inconvenient truths, we camouflage the nagging pain of not listening to our inner wisdom by overpowering it with superficially convincing rationalizations.

Such as:

I can’t exercise because I’m too busy.

I can’t eat healthfully because it’s too expensive.

I can’t go back to school because I’m too old.

Nobody likes their job; that’s why they call it work.

And so on.

The more a prospective change requires of us, the more likely we are to make excuses to keep that change at bay. And so it makes perfect sense that people in bad marriages find all sorts of reasons to avoid the daunting work of divorce.

Here are some of the most common excuses people give for staying in a bad marriage, along with reasons why it’s easier in the long run to stop making them:

I can’t leave my marriage because it’s not the right time.   Being sensitive to your spouse when you’re planning to divorce is the decent thing to do.  Only an insensitive jerk demands a divorce on their spouse’s birthday, on a momentous holiday or anniversary, or just before their spouse takes a major exam.  The mature thing to do is make your announcement when nothing big is happening.  Because divorce is never fun, there is never a perfect time to bring it up, and you can spend the rest of your life finding reasons why you need to wait.    Eventually, if you want your anxiety to go away, you have to settle on a relatively neutral D-day, take a deep breath, and bite the bullet.

I can’t leave my spouse because they need me.   Ending a marriage is particularly challenging when you perceive your spouse as overly dependent on you – because, after all, what nice person wants to reject someone vulnerable? Two important things to remember here:  1.  You’re actually not being nice by staying with someone out of pity or obligation.  To the contrary, you’re preventing your spouse from moving on, growing, and hopefully meeting the right partner someday.  2.  Staying with someone because they supposedly need you is a handy way of making yourself look strong and thoughtful when you may actually be the needier partner; presenting this façade takes a tremendous amount of energy that could be better spent on facing that your marriage is over and learning to find your own way.

This is just what marriage is like.    When you’re unfulfilled in your marriage and reluctant to go through the pain of divorce, it’s tempting to believe that all marriages are miserable and so there’s no point in going to the trouble of ending it.  You can tell yourself that all couples have terrible problems and act disrespectfully toward each other behind closed doors, and only those too weak to accept that reality get divorced.    You can keep on presenting yourself as tough and devoted by broadcasting your capacity to stay committed to your spouse no matter how awful your marriage gets.  Again, though, it takes lots of  energy to cast yourself as a high and mighty martyr.   Accepting that your unhappy marriage is not the norm and ending it will free you up to find marital harmony in your future.

I’m staying married for my kids.   If you’re a parent, keeping your kids at the forefront when making major life changes is the right thing to do.   But make sure you’re not using supposed parental responsibility as a way to dodge decisions you are afraid to make.   Yes it’s certainly true that children are better off growing up with their biological parents in the same house, but only when those parents are in a thriving partnership.   Kids see right through parents pretending to be happy, and that experience can cause them long-term emotional damage.  If you and your spouse move through divorce in a way that protects your children from antagonism, they are very likely to be stable and secure being co-parented by the two of you in separate homes.

When you get down to it, pretty much every excuse in the book to not get divorced (when you’ve tried everything to save your marriage and you know divorce is the answer) just creates greater turmoil for everyone involved. The longer you sidestep what you know needs to happen, the more you are preventing you and your spouse and kids from having the life opportunities you all deserve.

So be honest with yourself:  are you putting off divorce because you’re not psychologically prepared to handle it?  If so, summon the courage to take action – and you’ll soon find that the anticipation of divorce causes way more dread than getting on with it.

About the Blogger:

Amy Wood, Psy.D. MCLA Founding MemberPsychologist Amy Wood, Psy.D. helps adults to articulate and accomplish their own unique versions of success through psychotherapy, executive coaching, speaking, mediation, and collaborative law coaching.   A pragmatic optimist, she is known for her capacity to simplify complexity and see manageable solutions amid the overwhelm of modern life and work. Dr. Wood is the author of the award-winning book Life Your Way: Refresh Your Approach to Success and Breathe Easier in a Fast-paced World, a founding member of the Maine Collaborative Law Alliance, and a member of the Maine Association of Mediators Board of Directors.   She earned her doctorate from the Adler School of Professional Psychology, graduated from the College of Executive Coaching, and is a certified mediator.   Visit her website at






Six ways divorce can turn your life around

Six ways divorce can turn your life aroundBack in the 1970s when I was growing up, the emotional pain of divorce was made worse by society’s general judgment of divorce as a character failing.  If you got divorced, it meant that you weren’t committed enough to your marriage, you weren’t trying hard enough, you didn’t take the institution of marriage seriously .

Thankfully, the contemporary view is that divorce is an empowering alternative to remaining stuck and demoralized in a stale union.  No longer stigmatized as a shameful defeat, divorce is now encouraged as a route to personal liberation, reinvention, and a brand new chapter when a legal romantic partnership has run its course.

When you get on board with the idea that divorce can open you up to better things, the stress of getting through it is lessened.   Focus on these six rewarding outcomes of ending your expired marriage and you will be able to see light at the end of the tunnel:

  • You don’t have to limit yourself anymore.   What ultimately drives couples to divorce is the sense that their marriage has become too small.   It’s impossible to be happy when you’re constantly contorting yourself to fit into a relationship you have outgrown, especially if you’re walking on egg shells to avoid setting off that other person.  When you divorce someone who cramps your style, you are able to get out of that confined space, exhale, stretch, move freely, and start growing again.
  • You become clear about what you don’t want. Because divorce forces you to face the cold reality of what’s not working, it sets you on a determined course of sweeping your life of everything else that no longer suits you.   You become highly discerning about what you don’t need or desire anymore — not just excess books and clothes and other unnecessary stuff but obligations, responsibilities, goals, beliefs that aren’t serving a purpose.  If it doesn’t add to your life in some truly useful and/or meaningful way, it must go.
  • You become clear about what you do want. The advantage of ridding your life of what you no longer want is that you become much more certain about what you desire.  The drudgery of dismantling your tired marriage and discarding all else that’s not doing it for you anymore leaves you with available space and time to fill as you please.  And only what brings you joy and is genuinely worth your time and effort is allowed in.
  • You set a positive example for your kids. When you bravely decide to go through the turmoil of divorce because you know the value of listening to yourself no matter how scary, you are demonstrating to your kids, and everyone else for that matter, the critical importance of personal integrity.  By refusing to tolerate a marriage that won’t allow you to be your best self, you are demonstrating the absolute importance of self-care.   And when your kids see you thriving in a new life that is so much more you, they really appreciate the value of not settling…and seriously, is there a life lesson more important than that?
  • You get to call the shots. Divorce is essentially an assertiveness training boot camp that teaches you once and for all how to speak, stand up, and act for yourself.  You learn through the experience how to stop looking to someone else to steer your life, how to enjoy true independence, and how to make the best choices for you.  You don’t have to argue anymore about money or chores or parenting, and you don’t have to fight to be heard or respected or get your way.  You get to decide what to do and when and how to do it, and resistance falls away.
  • You get to do it right this time. Once you’re out of the wrong marriage and into a new life situation that actually fits you, you are in the best position possible to be happy.  Wiser, stronger, and oh so much surer of yourself than you were the last time you said “I do,” you are completely poised to attract a great partner – if and when you are ready.   The biggest reward of divorce is that you realize not only that you can make it on your own, but that being alone is a whole lot better than being with the wrong person.  Once you know how to be by yourself and like it, you’re not at risk of marrying for any reason less than putting icing on the cake of an already fulfilling life.


About the Blogger:

Amy Wood, Psy.D. MCLA Founding MemberPsychologist Amy Wood, Psy.D. helps adults to articulate and accomplish their own unique versions of success through psychotherapy, executive coaching, speaking, mediation, and collaborative law coaching.   A pragmatic optimist, she is known for her capacity to simplify complexity and see manageable solutions amid the overwhelm of modern life and work. Dr. Wood is the author of the award-winning book Life Your Way: Refresh Your Approach to Success and Breathe Easier in a Fast-paced World, a founding member of the Maine Collaborative Law Alliance, and a member of the Maine Association of Mediators Board of Directors.   She earned her doctorate from the Adler School of Professional Psychology, graduated from the College of Executive Coaching, and is a certified mediator.   Visit her website at