Divorce Resolution

The time of divorce is not fair. It is well-studied that the ability to make good decisions is impaired in times of stress and upset. Yet, some of the most important and difficult decisions anyone can be asked to make in a lifetime occurs during divorce -- at precisely the time when one is likely to be least able to make well-grounded decisions.

As if this were not enough, divorce involves interacting and learning about worlds that are unfamiliar to many people -- the worlds of divorce law, financial analysis, parenting children in divorce, and resolution processes.

I have written a lot about Collaborative Law and mediation as effective dispute resolution processes. I have written less about a key distinction within those processes. That is the distinction between dispute resolution and conflict resolution.

What is the difference? "Dispute resolution" is about resolving the legal issues. It is about dividing the property, establishing a parenting plan and child support, and dealing with all the other legal nuts and bolts in reaching a settlement. Dispute resolution is a highly valuable and beneficial process. Taken to an extreme, an example of "dispute resolution" is when the court make all decisions, but even most other processes are "dispute resolution" processes rather than conflict resolution processes.

If dispute resolution is treating the symptoms of a disease, conflict resolution is treating the disease itself. When successful, in both cases the symptoms are reduced or disappear. However, if the underlying disease is not treated, then some symptoms may continue at a reduced intensity, or symptoms may reappear, or completely new manifestations of the disease may occur. The same is so with dispute resolution instead of conflict resolution. Unless the conflict itself is resolved, new or additional disputes (legal or emotional) may well become new symptoms of the unresolved conflict.

Dispute resolution therefore is not the same as "conflict resolution." Conflict resolution takes everything that dispute resolution has to offer -- seeking to settle legal issues -- and aims deeper, towards the very root of the conflict. By addressing the root of the conflict, the likelihood of "symptoms" -- irreconcilable problems in the future -- is diminished.

In divorce, most people want the pain to just be over. That is normal -- no one likes being in pain. And yet, without exploring and addressing what lies at the root of the conflict, the symptoms of the conflict -- the pain -- may well continue or be worse. Perhaps there is a reason for the terrible pain of divorce, and perhaps that reason is because there is something to learn, however difficult or unpleasant.

More and more Collaborative teams -- especially those working in an interdisciplinary team model, with all core professionals (legal, financial, emotional) being part of the Collaborative divorce process from the outset -- are offering the possibility of conflict resolution in addition to dispute resolution. This is one more reason why an interdisciplinary team approach often makes sense.

When there is closure on the conflict (as opposed to the dispute), all are more likely to be able to make good decisions by looking at the situation and making informed choices without so much emotional charge.

As unfair as divorce may be, it does provide the opportunity for some growth and addressing the conflict and not just the disputes. While not always available, or even desirable, it is well worth considering what type of divorce process would be best for you -- dispute resolution or conflict resolution.
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