By Nancy J. Ross, LCSW, BCD
Sometimes I like to imagine what the outcome would have been if a family were to opt for a court process to settle their family differences rather than a collaborative process. This came to mind recently when a Collaborative lawyer colleague of mine called me and asked if I would be willing to sit down with a couple for whom she had created their trust. She was concerned that the couple were so angry at their adult children that they wanted to leave them out of their trust and instead leave the money to a charity that would be “more deserving” in their eyes. Since the lawyer was trained to think “interdisciplinary” when faced with family issues, she thought that by including a Communications Coach that she might be better able to help the couple make the right decision for themselves and their children. She asked if I would be willing to sit down with the three of them and discuss their decision. I agreed to do so and joined them in her office.
During the conversation, the parents, who viewed their children as unappreciative and irresponsible, opened up to the possibility of having me facilitate a conversation with each adult child to explain why they made the decisions they had regarding their trust. For them, this wasn’t an easy decision but the more they talked about each child, the more they realized the consequences of their decision on their children. They decided that it would work if each child were seen separately with both of them present and my serving as Communications Coach to help them talk about sensitive topics they had avoided. The lawyer, picking up on the theme of the conversation, suggested that they might want to consider an incentive trust as a possible option, one that could build in steps for each child to demonstrate responsibility.
Building on that idea, the parents engaged in some very difficult conversations with each of their children and through the process began to see them in a different light. The idea of incentives that would give each child a chance to “prove” themselves to their parents was an exciting idea for both children and parents. The parents called the lawyer and let her know that they wanted to take some time to give their children the opportunity to develop their incentives. For one child that meant going back to school and showing she could get good grades; for the other, it involved getting a job that had some future opportunities.
So you can probably imagine how different the outcome would be if they hadn’t decided to have these difficult conversations ahead of time. You can also imagine what might happen if their trust was challenged in a court battle after their deaths.
Collaborative Practice offers families a different way to face their personal challenges in a way that benefits everyone involved by having professionals work together as a team to create more creative solutions that any one profession could alone.