The Collaborative Garden:  Mother Nature’s Relationship Blueprint

Gardens are glorious. In the spring, when the flowers begin to emerge and greenery peeks from the trees, I get the sense that anything is possible. New blooms lead to gorgeous colors and scents that awaken Mother Nature all over again. This is my favorite season to be outdoors, toiling in the garden. I am always amazed at how wonderfully certain plants grow together and complement each other. One of my favorite plants in the world is English ivy. It is versatile, solid and thick, with dark green leaves. The vines grow wild and free, clinging to the nearest solid item in its presence and stretching out for miles. Clematis is another favorite, yet it has many of the opposite qualities of the sturdy ivy. Clematis is sweet and delicate with perfect flowers. It requires special care when first planted and along its way to maturity. When paired next to each other, these two make a perfect combination. The solid base of the dark ivy, with the thin tentacles and soft flowers trailing up on top of it, is a beautiful combination. While I do not claim to be a master gardener, I am enthusiastic and quite experienced with my plantings. When I first planted the ivy at the base of my backyard arbor, several years ago, I also planted a small clematis plant next to it - lavender with dark purple stripes jutting from the center. These two grew together in perfect harmony, swirling like a set of satin ribbons up the side of the arbor and draping over the top. Then, as the years passed, the combination did not seem to work as well. The ivy was so strong that it continued to cover the clematis vines. The clematis needed more sun and was unable to resist being covered by the ivy. It took several years but the time finally came when their lovely relationship deteriorated and the two could no longer live together. 

Like the relationship between these distinct vines, there are times when two people must part. Once a perfect match, seeming destined to grow and thrive together, come to realize that their individual growth means that the relationship must end. They are holding each other back. They decide that divorce is inevitable. Yet what is the best way to go about this process? Should they just run to divorce attorneys and see who can be the first to file? Perhaps they should start dividing up their assets and settle the issues on their own? Should they tell the kids? Should they keep it from the kids until everything is finalized? Maybe they should ask their neighbor or family member? The trouble with ending a relationship - any relationship - is that the process can seem overwhelming at first. You need sound advice. So, speaking to the right professional and gaining the necessary information is vital during these times. Learning about the available options during such a stressful time, can save a tremendous amount of time, money and emotional turmoil. 

As a Mediator and Collaboratively trained attorney I welcome and encourage questions about the different methods you can choose from. I also embrace the notion that, armed with this information, the person best suited to make a decision for your future is you. You and your spouse entered the marriage together and the two of you can leave it together. And you can do it without ever going to court. This is where appropriate dispute resolution techniques come into play and two of my favorite methods are mediation and Collaborative Divorce. Mediation allows the couple to sit with one neutral person, who can assist with reaching a solution that best suits their needs, now and into the future. This method works best with couples who are able to communicate their wants/needs in a private, mediation setting. While the mediator would not be acting as a representative for either party, he/she can give some sound direction and help the two come up with an agreement that can be used in a divorce filing. Mediation is a beneficial process that helps couples keep costs and conflict low. Then there is the Collaborative Divorce process which provides more support than mediation and can be instrumental in assisting the couple move forward, without going to court. Looking at the relationship from a holistic viewpoint, the Collaborative process fosters healthy communication and problem-solving techniques within the divorce “team,” each member being there to assist the the couple in coming to a resolution that will not destroy everything they have worked for and will protect their future. Instead of having one neutral, like in mediation, the Collaborative approach allows each party to have independent legal representation, it provides the couple with a family support specialist who can assist with effective communication strategies and a financial expert who can assist with budgeting, retirement plans, etc. What it does not provide the couple with is wasted time in court, as all of the participants agree not to enter the court system on the case and instead everyone is dedicated to working out all of the details, outside the courtroom. While this may sound overwhelming and overly expensive, it is neither. Choosing the team is a process that the Collaboratively trained attorney will help each client with, step by step. And without the wasted court time and back and forth between litigation attorneys, one can save a significant amount of time and thousands in billable attorney hours. When I speak with couples or individuals about how I can best assist them throughout the divorce process, I always stress that while I enjoy educating and guiding, I am not here to make any final decisions. As a mediator and as a Collaborative attorney, my job is to inform each person about the law, about the options and about how the future might look. Then we work together to ensure that they end up in the right place. 

Just like with the ivy and the clematis vine, when there is no other option but to separate and live separate and apart, there is usually a specific process that works best to meet this end goal. With some careful forethought, the transition can be fairly smooth and each plant can live independent of one another. When you think about it, plants naturally live in their own Collaborative environment, each one growing independently, while also existing among a group of other varied vegetation - all with the common interest of beautifying our planet. Even these plants can benefit from guidance and encouragement from the right professional. Just as the English ivy and the clematis vine must be carefully disentangled from each other, careful not to damage the vines, the roots or the base, so must an intimate relationship. Do not pull out the roots and move one individual somewhere that seems convenient in the moment. Instead, take the time to ensure that the foundation is protected during the transplant process and then search for the best way forward, where each will thrive and prosper. Just as gardening requires careful attention and a delicate approach, so too does divorce and separation. 

Elizabeth Vaz