It started with an idea: What if every divorce petition or Suit Affecting Parent-Child Relationship (“SAPCR”) filed in Bexar County had an attached order suggesting the collaborative process? For years collaborative practitioners have been trying to reach this targeted population that needs our help most. This could do it.
In Bexar County, all divorces and SAPCRs must have a standing order attached to the original petition. Near the end of the six-page order was the following language, which encourages mediation but doesn’t mention the collaborative process.
X. PARTIES ARE ENCOURAGED TO MEDIATE
The parties are encouraged to settle their disputes amicably without court intervention. The parties are encouraged to use alternative dispute resolution methods, such as mediation, to resolve the conflicts that may arise in this lawsuit.
What? Mediation and no collaborative? This posed a challenge for the board members of Collaborative Divorce San Antonio (CDSA).
At a cocktail party on July 4, 2018, Kim Munsinger asked retired judge Larry Noll how
one would go about requesting a change in the standing order. He suggested talking to several of the district judges about the idea to see if they would support it. He said if the idea is a go, several collaborative practitioners should go to the judge’s monthly meeting and present the idea.
During the next CDSA board meeting, the board approved the idea. Three members— Mickey Gayler, Gary Barnard, and Kim Munsinger—volunteered to talk to the judges. Shortly after that, Mickey Gayler had an opportunity to speak with Judge Sol Casseb III and Judge Karen Pozza. Both judges were supportive, and Judge Casseb was so enthusiastic, he made a phone call on the spot to put the standing order idea on the agenda for the judge’s meeting the following Monday. That was Friday, the meeting was Monday, and Mickey was going on vacation. The CDSA board had to scramble.
Kim volunteered to make the remarks at the judge’s meeting and pulled together a team of collaborative practitioners to add weight to the proposal. Our CDSA president, Rebecca Carrillo, Chad Olsen, Julian Schwartz, and mental health professional Gary Barnard all graciously agreed to support the effort. Timing was so tight, Kim and Gary had to speed out of a Monday morning collaborative meeting without the debrief and drive to the courthouse.
The five members waited outside the Presiding Court until it was time, then filed in alongside two counsel tables set up like banquet tables where the district judges were eating pizza. Kim briefly presented the reasons to add collaborative to the standing order; Judge Casseb had allowed five minutes. Two judges asked questions. One was about what our collaborative organizations have already done to get the word out. Julian described the considerable efforts and expense through Collaborative Divorce Texas’s marketing initiatives. Another judge asked Kim if she knew how the family law bar would react to this addition to the standing orders. She didn’t know. The judge said, “Find out.” At the end, the judges burst into applause. This was encouraging, but there was still a big problem: how to find out what the family law bar thought of this proposal.
At the Advanced Family Law Conference on August 13, 2018, a resourceful friend and member of the Bexar County Family Law Section Board suggested taking a straw poll at the annual section luncheon the next day. He said he could get it added to the agenda. Yikes! Mickey Gayler and Kim Munsinger went to that luncheon, took handouts, and explained the proposed language. There were about 70 attendees—some openly hostile.
The straw poll was 30 in favor, 5 against, and 10 abstentions. Many of the district judges were there and voted. The deal was done.
Kim and Mickey raced back to the Collaborative Divorce Texas luncheon to share the good news.
Below is the new language. This link will take you to the full text of the revised standing order. We encourage our fellow Collaborative Divorce Texas members in other jurisdictions to help spread the word.
X. PARTIES ARE ENCOURAGED TO MEDIATE
The parties are encouraged to settle their disputes amicably without court intervention. The parties are encouraged to use alternative dispute resolution methods, such as mediation or collaborative law, to resolve the conﬂicts that may arise in this lawsuit.