Regardless of the situation, conflicts are more effectively resolved when opposing sides can sit together (or nowadays, in a Zoom or virtual meeting) to work through the issues that started the conflict in the first place. Their mutual agreement establishes the firmest foundation for the future.
This is especially true when couples are going through a divorce. Coming out the other end of a divorce with both parties committed to an agreement for the future keeps families—especially children—happier despite the breakup of the marriage. Such an agreement allows them to continue to work together as co-parents, including making adjustments as circumstances (e.g., shelterat- home order) change.
Brigitte Bell knows this well: she has been doing this work for almost 40 years. Bell’s law firm focuses on constructive processes for finding agreement rather than litigation. Mediation and Collaborative Law (which some have called “mediation on steroids”) are alternatives to court and litigation. Mediation and Collaborative Law involve couples coming together and settling their cases through carefully guided discussion of available, workable solutions to the myriad problems—financial, parental, and relationship problems—that divorce engenders.
“Our Collaborative approach is a client-centered process that replaces combat with cooperation and vilification with respect,” Bell says. “We support clients as they work together to find solutions to their problems and issues. Every family is different, and helping clients be thoughtful about what works for them, not their neighbor or best friend, is what we do.”
In addition to eliminating the unpredictability of court outcomes, mediation and Collaborative Law are also both confidential. For couples who want to protect their financial information from public view (all court records are otherwise public), these processes provide a way to ensure their privacy.
Unlike legal proceedings, where much is done by the lawyers without client involvement, in the Collaborative process the clients are integrally involved in resolving their cases, and as they work through their issues become invested in the outcome they have helped create.
While Collaborative Law has been in existence for about thirty years, twenty years ago Bell was one of the founders and first co-president of the Collaborative Law Institute of Illinois, which brought the process here to Illinois.
“If you can help clients find their own voice, you ultimately help them much more than if you speak for them. That’s what we aim to do. I tell my clients they’re going to work harder in this process than if they had a judge decide, but they’re going to come out at the other end much more ready to step into their new life, because they participated in making it,” Bell says.
These days Bell is busy rewriting legal agreements and adjusting her practice to allow for online communication so her mediation and Collaborative Law cases can proceed despite the changes wrought by the shelter-in-place rules. Since decisions are made through meetings with clients and professionals, not in court and not with a judge, the restricted access to the courthouse is not a problem for these types of cases.
“We’ll never do business the same way again,” she says. “Some good will come of it, including the more effective use of virtual technology and more online access for certain court procedures. We’ll be allowed to do business in ways we never thought were possible.”
As of now, she misses those magic moments that happen every now and then, when one spouse reaches over to the other and with all sincerity says, “I’m really sorry about that.” That just isn’t the same in a Zoom meeting.
Brigitte Schmidt Bell, PC is located at 161 North Clark Street, Suite 1600, in Chicago, and at 500 Davis Street, Suite 1006, in Evanston, 312-360-1124, brigittebell.com.