Client as Peacemaker: Define Your Experience of Divorce by Choosing a Peacemaking Lawyer
“I know that you have a hundred complex cases, Against God in court, But never mind wayfarer Let’s just get out of this mess And pray to be loving and humble….”
- Hafiz, From Translations of Daniel Ladinsky “The Gift: Out of this Mess”
If you are considering or facing a divorce, I invite you to think outside the box. You alone have the ability to define your experiences upon separating your affairs from those of another whom once you loved. Seek out lawyers who aspire to be peacemakers rather than warriors. Destruction is easy: Set a brave new course instead.
The traditional adversarial model for resolving legal disputes as applied to relationship breakup invites dishonesty and promotes a cycle of distrust and resentment. A system founded upon conflict ignores the consequences of making a contest over every issue to individuals and to their families. Otherwise sane, decent people are encouraged to argue every point and to become obsessed with winning “at any cost”: A win at any cost is always a terrible loss, and an awful legacy. The next generation tends to repeat these patterns until someone does the work to overcome them.
In the adversarial process lawyers and family law litigants forget their ethics, they misplace their essential goodness, and so may cause themselves and others needless economic and emotional catastrophe.
Can we not agree that this is so? For if we are in agreement, clients and lawyers can begin to change how we respond to the crisis of divorce. We can look at what works and what doesn’t and chart a different course. Family law attorneys and divorcing clients today have choices that did not exist ten years ago.
There are voices within the legal community reminding us that ‘lawyers can be healers rather than destroyers.’ Forrest “Woody” Mosten is one such legal educator. Woody recently published a transformative article in the American Bar Association (ABA) Family Law Quarterly Journal (Vol. 43, No. 3) entitled "Lawyer as Peacemaker". It will be of interest to any person contemplating using the courts to effect a marital or partnership dissolution. It will certainly ring true for divorce lawyers since it speaks to the dilemmas we barristers know well.
"Lawyer as Peacemaker" is an invocation to attorneys like myself to rethink our legal practices as litigators. It is an invitation to adopt a wholly new role as mindfulness guides to redirect and benefit persons in relationship breakup. It provides an excellent overview of the peacemaking options available to family law attorneys, describes the evolution of peacemaking within American styled divorce, and points to how peacemaking is likely to develop as we move forward.
Peacemaking for Clients
Since what clients experience and how they experience it is intimately connected with their family’s well-being and their own, Woody’s views are an appropriate grounding point for a discussion of the peacemaking option with the people with whom I want to connect – men and women enmeshed in the crisis of dissolution and parenting contests, possibly such as yourself. Woody speaks to me, and I speak to you. I have found that many clients appreciate instantly the negative attributes and implications of the adversarial system that I am describing, and yearn for a workable alternative. But what to do next and where to go can seem challenging. We need more peacemakers.
Clients can make the difference in their own lives and a difference in the attitudes of the family law legal profession generally. As consumers, clients have the power to accelerate the spread of peacemaking services among lawyers by expecting lawyers to know about, offer, and perfect such services. There is a rich interactive opportunity between clients and attorneys for redefining the experience of divorce far differently from the toxic adversarial template. As the recipient of legal services, you have the power of choice and the influential power of your wallet and pocketbook in helping to reshape the behavior and expertise of lawyers in a fashion that might, ironically perhaps for the lawyers, redeem all involved in the process. Lawyers’ commitments to peacemaking may be the lock, but clients hold the key.
At the outset clients need to be informed about what true divorce peacemakers, like Woody Mosten, have discovered and are sharing. I see the task for clients in search of attorney peacemaking guides as involving this inquiry:
- What is it that divorce peacemakers do?
- What qualities should you look for in a peacemaker?
- What peacemaking options exist for you in resolving your circumstances?
- Where might you find a peacemaker?
- What benefits might you discover in a peacemaking solution?
Woody’s article provides some useful pointers.
What is it that Divorce Peacemakers Do?
What is it that divorce peacemakers do, and what do they avoid?
According to Woody: "A peacemaker is 'one who makes peace, especially by reconciling parties in conflict.' Reconciliation is defined as restoring or creating harmony in the family. Family lawyer peacemakers come from all backgrounds, have very diverse personalities, and offer services ranging from litigator to parent educator. Being a peacemaker is not defined by what role one plays in helping families but by how one provides reconciliation and harmony in interactions with clients, colleagues, opposing parties, children, and other members of the family, judges, court staff, witnesses, experts, and many others. In other words, the core values that the lawyer brings to work as a family lawyer define whether one is a peacemaker.
Woody reminds us that, in the words of Robert Mnookin and Lewis Kornhauser, traditional lawyers “bargain in the shadow of the law.” This means that lawyers tend to be stuck on right’s based analyses of their clients’ cases where advice and case management is directed to framing strategies in light of what a court ‘might do.’
Interestingly, so does the other lawyer who represents the opposing side, but often with very different opinions about expected outcomes. One side – and typically both – is wrong. The gap between the opposing versions is what fuels an adversarial arms’ race among divorcing litigants. Brinksmanship only escalates.
Lawyers who encourage it are not peacemakers. Lawyers who tease out the interests of clients in terms of their financial, emotional and familial context have a foundation for peacemaking.
What Qualities Should You Look for in a Peacemaker?
Attorney and author Steven Keeva describes the qualities of a lawyer in touch with his inner peacemaker: "To the extent that you enter it as a calling, the practice of law is about hunger - the hunger for resolution; for healing the lives of individuals,... and communities; for enabling society to function harmoniously and productively; and ultimately, for justice." According to Woody Mosten (pronounced “Moss-ton”), lawyers “[a]s healers … use our compassion to demonstrate a genuine concern for everyone we touch in our work. Peacemakers try to suspend judgment and try to help clients and others heal without dictating in what form the healing may be received….”
A peacemaking attorney does everything differently than a lawyer who is steeped in the tradition of adversity and who employs force as his tool of choice. Peacemaking lawyers have the advantage that they need not be sucked into personality or other conflicts and are trained to focus instead on resolving contests mindfully. Peacemaking lawyers have great freedom and creativity not to “go unconscious”. They avoid the “trance dance” of divorce reactivity.
Lawyers as healers demonstrate a genuine concern for everyone they touch, in the office and in their communities. The ethics of peacemaking manifests in a shift from self-centeredness and away from egoic strife. That shift, when it occurs, is reflected in every corner of a peacemaking lawyer’s life. Lawyers as peacemakers have as their most important core value a curiosity about and a respect for the genuine felt needs of their clients. I say “genuine” because these needs are not necessarily reliably embodied in how clients first describe them.
A lawyer who is a peacemaker understands that people in relationship break up are suffering perhaps the worst crisis of their life. These clients are looking to be stabilized and validated, but early on they are testing their views on the lawyers themselves to determine in which direction to go. This moment is the greatest opportunity for peacemaking intervention. Peacemaking lawyers listen deeply to their clients, and then they listen some more. They resist imposing a legal right’s based triage, or making recommendations for warfare in the courts or anywhere else. They understand that what matters most to clients is what matters most to the peacemaker, but they do not rush in determining what that might be.
Peacemakers do not pander to reactivity.
Peacemakers know that it is easy for adversarial lawyers to sign up clients by playing to their fears and anger, and to the fantasies about “righting wrongs,” and that such victories are hollow and short-lived. As a client, you are looking for abiding compassion and a “genuine concern” for resolution. You are seeking wisdom as much as you are seeking legal acuity. Indeed, the peacemaker who has established artistry in the field has redefined “skillfulness” in their daily life as a union between extreme competency and the highest healing ethics.
A good word for this is equanimity. Peacemaking professionals tend to have considerable mental health training and a passion for ongoing peacemaker training. They are deeply committed to legal ethics. Woody suggests some attributes that you might look for in a lawyer as “markers of a peacemaker”:
- “The quality of relationships with clients.” Is the lawyer merely a legal technician, filled with knowledge about the law and procedure, or is there another presence that includes rapport and emotional sensitivity to your personal experience?
- “The importance of clients’ return to wholeness.” Does the lawyer care more about your overall wellbeing, or do they stop at the door of the legal rights’ based definition of outcomes and seem uncomfortable with your distress? Do they show an understanding that having your rights met is not the same as having your needs satisfied?
- “Helping clients find and listen to their higher intelligence and inner wisdom.” This one is easy: You know when someone supports your inner wisdom and you know when someone seems to ignore it. Wisdom resonates – we know wisdom and true compassion when we hear it.
- “Stimulating a healing attitude and hope.” The lawyer-client relationship is more symbiotic and interconnected than most of us consciously realize. A peacemaking lawyer grows along with you, not despite you, and vice versa. Why not ask any attorney whom you interview to explain their philosophy for conflict resolution? With Woody’s words and these words ringing in your mind, you have a basis for informed decision-making.
What Peacemaking Options Exist for You?
Choices for peacemaking strategies include:
- Settlement meetings where at least one attorney is a peacemaker
- Collaborative Law
- Any combination of these.
Because this article would otherwise become altogether too long I urge you to research these processes for yourself. My hope here is to suggest attitudes and styles that you might look for in the lawyers whom you interview and hire.
Where Might You Find a Peacemaker?
You can obtain more information about peacemaking options from the following websites. You can also seek out peacemakers in your locale who have shown a commitment in joining peacemaking organizations. The best peacemakers are passionately involved with the craft and recognize that it is an ever evolving and life-long practice of devotion.
Mediate.com is a source of information about mediation and mediators.
CuttingEdgeLaw.com is dedicated to being a mindfulness source for integrating personal and spiritual values in resolving family law and other legal difficulties.
The International Alliance of Holistic Lawyers envisions a world where lawyers are valued as healers, helpers, counselors, problem-solvers, and peacemakers. Lawyers model balanced lives and are respected for their contributions to the greater good.
This site is by the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals. The heart of Collaborative Practice or Collaborative Divorce is to offer you and your spouse or partner the support, protection, and guidance of your own lawyers without going to court.
This is Woody’s website and it is packed with Resources for peacemaking.
This is my links and resources page.
What Benefits Might You Discover in a Peacemaking Solution?
Money may be an important factor in prompting you to consider the positive alternatives that peacemaking in divorce make available, but the benefits of peacemaking will echo far into your future and in perhaps presently unseen ways.
A peacemaking strategy to resolving relationship breakup offers a tone that is the opposite of courtroom litigation. It promotes emotional closure and forward looking impacts upon families. It cracks the door to the room of forgiveness. Securing your family's future, and hence your own, in a way that you and your former partner may agree upon trumps the expense of conditioned adversarial problem solving models every day of the week.
Any reason for avoiding conflict and reactivity is a good reason. Peacemaking as a solution for relationship breakup has countless benefits. Here are a few of the obvious ones:
- It is far less expensive than conducting litigation.
- It is less time-consuming.
- You can work out agreements that suit your unique needs, and so it is tailored to you.
- An experienced and passionate peacemaker understands reactivity, reframing, and mental health issues.
- The peacemaking experience is less stressful than a courtroom divorce, particularly on children.
- It is confidential.
- It is mindful.
- It promotes openness and transparency about the facts and issues of the case.
- Peacemaking is creative and flexible.
- Peacemaking is structured, and involves careful planning and predictable orchestration.
- Peacemaking includes sensitivity about interests that extend beyond legal rights without sacrificing your rights.
- Peacemaking moves at your comfort level, not a lawyer's convenience or a judge's calendar obligations.
- You are in control of the peacemaking process instead of being under control of the adversarial process. (You will never control the adversarial process and you can’t expect to).
- Both parties' entire, often blended, family units including grandparents can be listened to and honored.
- The two of you will part on amiable and dignified terms and so one day dance together at a child's wedding, or your high school reunion(s)...
The Take Away
Lawyers respond to the expressed needs of our clients, but hopefully to much more. By investigating the options that divorce peacemaking makes available, and by patronizing such lawyers and mediators, you may claim ownership over your life, right now. In this way you, the ‘client,’, becomes the most valuable peacemaker in the room.
T.W. Arnold III