Not all clients can collaborate effectively. Collaboration requires that clients be trusting, emotionally controlled, willing to listen, have realistic goals, and display few red flags. If a client appears unable to be collaborative, but wants to continue in the process anyway, suggest that the team can help him or her develop communication skills and emotional balance, but it will require commitment and hard work. Your client must be willing to change his or her attitude and behavior to participate in a collaborative divorce or the process will fail. Begin the assessment by asking your client what collaborative means. Judge whether your client can make decisions without becoming emotional and keep agreements after they are made. Can the client listen to constructive feedback and change? Ask why your client chose a collaborative divorce rather than litigation and encourage him or her to expound on the decision.
Level of Trust. Assess whether there are areas of agreement between the clients that can be used to build collaboration and a settlement. Can each client realistically see the good and bad features of the other and focus on strengths rather than weaknesses? Can they distinguish between betrayal and parenting responsibilities? Determine whether there is enough trust between the partners to keep emotions in prospective and forgive past hurts. Do the clients trust the collaborative team and will they listen to professional advice? What kind of attitude do they have toward each other? Are they willing to forget the past and plan for the future? Can both clients build trust going forward for the sake of the children?
Levels of Anger. Assess whether either client is excessively angry or acting out in passive-aggressive ways. Is a client likely to disrupt meetings, avoid coming to scheduled sessions, show up late, cancel a meeting at the last minute, or show up unprepared? Is either client likely to interrupt frequently, bully, threaten, or storm out of a session? Finally, assess how each client is likely to react when he or she hears something unpleasant or has to make a difficult decision.
Empathy. Can your clients appreciate how their partner feels? Do they care about each other and their children? Are they willing to discuss their goals and interests openly and frankly? Can the clients consider the interests of their partner and the children as well as their own needs? Are they flexible and open to creative solutions? How do they plan to handle being a single parent and can they realistically assess the strength and weaknesses of their partner’s parenting skills?
Assess Each Client’s Goals. It’s important that both clients have realistic goals about the outcome of the divorce. Assess whether they share common goals and interests, especially concerning the children and the future co-parenting relationship. Ask each client to discuss what they expect out of the collaborative process and how they expect it to unfold from start to finish. Are these expectations realistic?
Red Flags. Pay attention to red flags that appear during your first interview with a client. For example, was the client late for your meeting, did he or she get emotionally upset discussing the divorce? Was he or she prepared for the meeting? Ask whether your client can tolerate being in the same room with his or her partner and if he or she is afraid. Assess each client’s ability to manage emotions and self-care during your meetings. Can the clients listen without interrupting or becoming excessively emotional? Can they be flexible in trying to solve problems? Are the clients generally respectful and honest? Can they moderate their emotions and manage their behavior?
If a client lacks trust, is excessively angry, shows little goodwill toward the other partner, has unrealistic goals, and displays red flags during your initial interview, go back to the beginning and ask your client why they chose the collaborative process. Find out what they expect to get out of the divorce and ask them is they still believe they can effectively participate in the collaborative process in spite of the negative indicators. If he or she still wants to participate in the collaborative process, offer to help your client acquire the communication skills, emotional control, and realistic goals required to make the collaborative process work. Remind your client that you can offer support, coaching, advice, information, and guidance, but ultimately, it’s their responsibility to collaborate and make the process work. If your client is still interested in the collaborative process, take the time to educate them about what will be expected before agreeing to represent him or her in a collaborative divorce or the process will fail.