What is a Mindful Divorce?

What is mindfulness?
Merriam-Webster defines: “[Mindfulness is] the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.
Jon Kabat-Zinn defines: “Mindfulness [as] paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” Thich Nhat Hanh defines: “Mindfulness [as] what is happening in our bodies, our emotions, our minds, and in the world. Through mindfulness, we avoid harming ourselves and others.” This paper discusses how mindfulness can be used to assist parties separating and divorcing in ways that show a degree of care and concern for the other, that are otherwise values not usually experienced through traditional divorce.

What does a mindful divorce look like?
As professionals who interact with people during difficult periods in their lives, we are often looking for new approaches that will resolve difficult legal issues while minimizing emotional impact on those involved.

Over the course of my 35 years of legal practice, I have developed a methodology that can reliably bring positive results in emotionally challenging situations. I call this “mindful law.” Here’s how it applies in case of a couple facing divorce.

A mindful divorce establishes a framework for communication and listening. It provides an opportunity for mutual understanding by focusing on each person’s concerns and interests. Mindful divorces resolve conflicts that are in the way of settlement in ways that respect each spouses’ right to self-determination. Mindful divorce addresses the following questions:

Can your clients work out a kitchen-table agreement?
If the clients have a modicum of civility and resourcefulness, they can work out some of the essential agreements on their own. This should be encouraged; it demonstrates self determination and a capacity to work through conflict on their own. Kitchen table negotiations become a mindful process when the parties can apply key listening skills that help transcend
disagreements. However, at this stage of mediation, a legal/conflict divorce coach is often still required to support and finalize technical aspects of an agreement.

What is a mindful mediation?
In a mindful mediation a third-party neutral carefully sets up a structure of communication that encourages the spouses to learn basic listening skill sets and to pay attention to the charges they are experiencing in the moment. A mindful mediation stops the action as appropriate to
inquire into the source of the charge and reflect in a quiet way on that matter. A mindful mediation encourages each party to reflect back what they understand being stated and provides give and take to further understanding of the other’s interests. This becomes a joint effort where recognition and empowerment of the speaker is honored. A mindful mediator embodies this practice and encourages this behavioral change for life.

A mindful mediation also benefits from the party’s resources within their family and community. This may be direct by working with therapists, financial planners, children’s teachers and coaches, and concerned family members. A mindful conversation for third party support presents a crucial distinction as the spouses can avoid feeling alone or ashamed about
their situation. The professional and communal team is coached to provide this support. The mediator is not the only neutral entity involved in resolving the marital separation because other professionals in the community collectively hold the field for a peaceful and practical
settlement.

How is a Collaborative Divorce mindful?
The collaborative divorce includes individuals with multiple disciplinary skill sets so the divorcing couple is served by experts such as: legal, parental coaching by a licensed therapist, a child coach by a licensed therapist, a financial planner/analyst and a real estate expert. All professionals are trained in the collaborative law model and as mediators. The participation
collaborative agreement entered into at the start of the process, commits to an out of court settlement meeting the key needs of the divorcing spouses while eliminating many of the usual games that might go on between attorneys, such as protracted discovery and divisive/adversarial tactics.

Parties in the collaborative process are empowered to take responsibility for the settlement. The process goes as slowly or quickly as they need, while clearly understanding key provisions of the agreement. It is mindful because all interests and concerns get addressed – to the spouse’s mutual satisfaction.

Can a negotiated settlement, out of court, be a mindful process?
There are occasions when a spouse is up against a difficult situation, in which case a mindful divorce involves me working closely with one individual who is grounded and clear in wanting to escape this conflict while keeping the family core healthy. If there are no children, then just
wanting to keep him or herself safe and protected becomes a priority. A mindful divorce is key in preserving parenting for the best interests of the children, while having the strategic and tactical skills to negotiate or litigate the best possible outcome for the client.

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As an attorney who has been settling litigated matters for the past 35 years and who has been meditating for 40, I understand the import of being in the balcony, encouraging deep seated listening, and creating a space of respectfulness and dignity. This is not easy work and sometimes it gets messy. A mindfulness approach to divorce provides the client with an
opportunity to reduce the karmic impact of the divorce and move into a field of future cooperation.

I am available and welcoming new cases at this time. If you have any questions or would be interested in having a talk on the above subjects by me and one of my therapist/coaching colleagues, please let me know.

Best Regards,
Steve Shapiro

BIO: Steve Shapiro has an established family law practice and has extensive experience in settling disputes concerning civil litigation, business law, civil rights, employment, contract matters, wills and probate. He also served as a federal mediator for the Department of Justice settling September 11, 2001 claims and settling complex energy related matters. He is a member of both the Maryland and District of Columbia Bars. He has a Bachelors’ Degree in
Organizational Science and received his law degree from Antioch University School of Law in 1983. He served as Chairman of the Maryland State Bar Association’s Dispute Resolution Section and was Chairman of the American Bar Association’s task force on confidentiality in federal dispute resolution. He is on the board of directors for the Conflict Resolution Center for Montgomery County, is a member of the DC Academy of Collaborative Professionals, the Collaborative Dispute Resolution Professionals, and the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals.

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