Collaborative Divorce Process — As Explained by Pete Roussous

It comes as a surprise to many when they discover there are not two, but three options for handling a divorce. The two most common forms are traditional divorce and mediation, a process where a third-party, neutral mediator assists in dividing the martial assets. A relatively new, third option, has recently been added to the mix; Collaborative Divorce. Our friend and colleague, Pete Roussous, explains it in layman’s terms so the rest of us can understand this process and how it can benefit the families involved.

How does the Collaborative Divorce Process Function?

A Collaborative Process is a lot like a Charter Airplane Service. The “airplane” is co-owned by a highly trained, diverse group of professionals whose different areas of expertise are all required to operate the plane efficiently and safely. Collaborative clients are the passengers. Our passengers come to us because they want to get to a different place in their relationship with each other. As long as their destination is one of the routes we service, we are happy to take them on their journey. There are some destinations that we will not travel to, and passengers seeking to go to those destinations will have to find another carrier.

Our passengers select their own flight crew often starting from a list of the owner-operators of the plane and ultimately selecting their specific crewmembers with the different areas of required in-flight expertise. The passengers have a great deal of input into the flight plan. Do we take a longer, perhaps more scenic route? Do we take a faster, more direct route? How many layovers will we make along the way? Like any good charter operator, we consider our passengers’ input and recommend a flight plan that best meets their needs while conforming to safety rules and standards of operation. The passengers then decide if they agree with the flight plan. If they don’t, we refer them to other carriers.

There are other variables that will affect the journey. The baggage the passengers bring with them will impact the flight. Heavy passenger baggage may consume more fuel, slow the plane down and make the trip more expensive, but as long as the passengers understand this and are willing to be patient and bear the increased cost, the professional team can complete the journey and transport the passengers to their desired destination.

Bad weather or turbulence may require a course adjustment. Our passengers are always consulted about this. If they decide they are up to it, and if we think the airplane is strong enough, we may decide to keep our seat belts buckled and fly directly through it. Sometimes we need to land, refuel, settle the passengers’ (or our own) nervous stomachs, and re-take off when the weather has improved.

Our passengers hire us for our expertise in flying our plane. They expect us to be at the controls at all times, and we should be. There is no automatic pilot on this plane, and expecting there to be leads to disaster. We can’t expect our passengers to take the controls, as they do not know how to fly our plane- that is why they came to us.

There are rules that apply to our charter flights, and these rules must be complied with. Our passengers are not allowed to hijack the plane to try and send us towards a non-agreed upon, or unsafe destination. Neither passenger is allowed to grab the controls to steer us off course or put the plane into a catastrophic tailspin. When we put the fasten seat belt light on, everybody has to buckle up. Our passengers have to help keep our plane clean. Cigarettes or other inflammatory materials cannot be used on board.

Our passengers have to provide each other and us with all the information that we need to make sure that the journey goes safely. There can’t be any surprises such as finding out after take off that one of the passengers did not inform of us of dangerous cargo hidden in his/her baggage. Such things can be dealt with safely as long as we know about it beforehand. Every flight involves some turbulence, and getting through it requires that our passengers honestly express their concerns, trust our judgment, and at times defer to our expertise about what is required to fly the plane safely.

There are risks to operating a charter airline. Few flights go completely smoothly and not every flight ends well. Sometimes passengers decide that they made a mistake in choosing our airline, because they really want to fly to a different destination that we can’t or won’t serve. When that happens, we end the trip early and safely escort the passengers off our plane and try to help them find an airline that will better serve their needs.

Sometimes one or both of the passengers are not willing to comply with our in-flight rules. Sometimes this is unintentional and merely requires further explanation to help the passengers behave in accordance with our safety standards. Some passengers though, are just not willing to comply with the rules. When this happens, we have to land the plane prematurely, keep it on the ground, and escort the passengers off the flight, so that we and our airplane are not put in harm’s way. When a flight ends, even if it ends prematurely, the passengers will take their baggage with them, but the flight plan and flight records stay with the flight crew.

Ours is a very elegant aircraft, and it requires a great deal of mindful maintenance. The passengers have to help us keep the inside of the plane clean, but it is our responsibility to keep the plane operating safely and smoothly. This requires a great deal of coordinated effort during each flight. Sometimes clients may question whether or not the crew needs to do so much work during a flight, or whether or not each crewmember is really needed, but when it comes to flying the plane safely, ultimately those are our decisions to make. It is important after each flight concludes, that we get together with each other to debrief about the flight and talk about how we can improve our service and improve our airplane.

So how does Collaborative Process function? The clients define their destination and together with their chosen professional team decide if the process is the right vehicle for them to reach their destination. The clients own their final settlement decision-making, and they own their behavior, but the process, “the airplane” is owned by the professional team. Our clients step into it at the start of their journey and step out of it at the journey’s conclusion. Above all else it is the responsibility of the professional team to maintain “the airplane’s” structural integrity, so that Collaborative clients can be transported to the intended destination- a healthier divorce.

By Pete Roussos, MFT,