Designing Divorces

lego builders “Mom, why won’t this piece fit here like it should?” My son is trying to build a dragon Lego kit, and, eager to get to the end, missed a couple steps in the instructions.  He keeps fitting the pieces together, but isn’t getting any closer to completing the dragon.  I tell him he needs to go back a few steps and figure out where the pieces aren’t put together correctly.  Interestingly, the pieces he missed are small and seem inconsequential; however, as he soon discovers, they allow the dragon’s wings to unfold.  Without those tiny pieces, the dramatic dragon simply could not be.

As a collaborative divorce lawyer, working with my clients towards their ideal divorce is similar to building a Lego creation.  The divorce, however, is not a collector’s edition kit that is pre-designed. The clients actively design this project themselves.  At the beginning of the process, we sit down and identify what an ideal divorce would look like for their family. This becomes our own design on the box that we aspire to build. To build it, the client brings the crucial information regarding their life, financially and otherwise, that we have to work with. These are the Lego pieces that we must fit together to replicate the design on the box.  As a lawyer, I come to the table with knowledge of the instructions, which in this case is not just the law, but the psychology of the family, as well as the order in which the process occurs.  Working as a team, the client and I look at the pieces we have to work with and build a divorce agreement that fits the desired outcome of both parties.  Sometimes we run into the same dilemma as my son and we get a little stuck.  Through years of experience, I know the solution is this: go back a few steps, look again at the building blocks, review the directions, determine if steps were skipped (the most likely culprit), and rearrange the pieces, if necessary. Before you know it, we have built what we wanted to build.

– Audra A. Holbeck

Put the (Divorce) Puzzle Together

pieces-of-the-puzzleHave you ever put together a jigsaw puzzle? It can be a rewarding pastime, but it requires patience. The pretty picture on the cover of the box suddenly seems a lot more daunting when the pieces are dumped out in an incoherent heap. Having a strategy at this point can make or break the puzzle experience. offers some strategic tips for putting together jigsaw puzzles. These strategic tips overlap with what collaborative divorce attorneys do, as putting together a divorce agreement is not unlike putting together a puzzle. Here are six pieces of advice from, with related insights into the collaborative divorce process:

  1. “Flip all pieces upwards.”
  • “Having all your pieces facing the same way can be tedious, but it makes it so you’re working with the whole puzzle the whole time, and it’ll make the next steps quicker.”

What is true for puzzles in this first step is certainly true for divorcing couples. When couples begin the divorce process, they need to bring all their information (the “pieces”) to the table. To “flip a piece upwards”, whether it is an emotional concern or financial detail, is to bring it to the attention of everyone involved so it can be a part of putting the bigger picture together.

  1. “Find all the edge pieces.”
  • “Constructing your border gives you a defined space that you’ll work inside as you build.”

During the first meeting between the clients and their chosen attorneys and any other professionals, parameters for the collaborative process are determined. This includes expectations of conduct and a participation agreement, as well as identifying the goals and interests of each client. This step sets the clear boundaries that are necessary for collaboration to work for the clients.

  1. “Sort by color.”
  • “From here you can build recognized sections of the puzzle.”

Once clients gather the information regarding their lives and assets, attorneys help the clients identify different options for the agreement.  If the pieces are sorted neatly and no information is missing, it is easier to fit everything together, from spousal maintenance and child support to real estate and personal property, so the big picture that’s formed is agreeable to both parties.

  1. “Special pieces.”
  • “Some pieces will be part of really distinguishing parts of the puzzle because it has text on it, or a color that’s only in one spot. Keep those separate and build on them as you can… it will be easy to spot where it goes as you start assembling the puzzle.”

Each collaborative divorce is unique, and each couple has a different set of goals and circumstances they bring to the divorce process. Some issues take priority over others and must be addressed and put together before the other pieces can be finalized. Examples of special pieces in a divorce may be an out-of-state job offer, special needs children, or a family business.

  1. “Work on small sections at a time.”
  • “Instead of trying to work on the entire puzzle at once, it can be really helpful to work on small portions so that you’re accomplishing sections. This will help keep you motivated and you’ll have a visual record of your progress.”

We help clients break the process down into manageable pieces, yet maintain perspective from 10,000 feet. It is easy to get lost “in the weeds” and get overwhelmed, so checklists and journals often work well for clients.

  1. “Don’t give up.”
  • “When you’re tired… take a break… sometimes too much time at one problem can take away from [the puzzle process]. A fresh look at it later may help you see things you missed, too!”

Divorce is a project and often very stressful, but a collaborative team tries to pace the work so all parties are as comfortable as possible. Open communication is encouraged at all times, so needs are heard instead of missed. Taking an easier pace at times helps avoids burnout that often happens with litigated divorce cases.

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It makes sense that people who have put a lot of jigsaw puzzles together would be more efficient when starting any puzzle than someone who has never put together a puzzle. In this way, collaborative divorce attorneys and professionals have developed their skills through practice and love to efficiently lead their clients towards the best agreement for everyone.


– Audra A. Holbeck

Divorce and Demolition

Construction HelmetsWhenever a building that has been around for decades is demolished, I often feel a bit sad: it seems that, surely, there should be some use left in it.  When I think about the new building and the interesting new businesses it will hold, I become hopeful for the future.  I remember that the reason for tearing down the old structure is often one or both of the following: 1) the structure is outdated and can’t be renovated to suit the needs of today, or 2) the location is valuable, and so it is appropriate to dismantle the old structure to build a new one in its place.

The divorce process can be thought of as the very beginning of an exciting new construction project – the part where the old structure occupying your life is dismantled in order to make space for whatever you will build in the future.  Just as a valuable lot of land is limited in how many buildings it can hold, your life is limited in how many endeavors it can hold.  You only have so much time and energy with which to live your life.  Whether it is a habit, friendship, or marriage, if something in your life isn’t working for you and you’ve tried everything to make it work, perhaps it makes sense to dismantle it to make room for something more suitable.

With the divorce process, like constructions sites, viewing through the lens of the past may only make us sad.  But if we look through the lens of the future, the process can raise our spirits and give us hope.  In the collaborative process, we look at the opportunities ahead: by choosing to dismantle a marriage that no longer works, we make room for revitalization and growth in the lives of our clients.

– Audra A. Holbeck

Who Will Be My Valentine?

Couples, particularly those in a newer relationship, often feel pressured with romantic expectations for Valentine’s Day.  For those contemplating or in the middle of a divorce, Valentine’s Day can be particularly stressful because expressing romantic love to a sweetheart simply can’t be fulfilled.  And unfortunately, we are bombarded with all that is Valentine’s Day when out and about because in the greeting card aisle of every store, you will find mass-produced cards full of sugary sentiments.  The hearts!  And glitter!  As with so many holidays, commercialism has found its way into expressing love through cards.

While there is nothing wrong with buying/receiving a store-bought card (or any other classic Valentine’s Day gift, like roses or chocolates), I personally think it is more meaningful to spontaneously express your feelings in your own words and gestures throughout the year, not only to your sweetheart, but to all the special people in your life.  If you are going through a divorce and not at all in a Valentine’s Day mood, what would it cost to focus on making your precious kiddos your Valentines?  Honestly, kids take Valentine’s Day to a whole new level, and it’s so fun!  Instead of feeling pressure to be in a romantic relationship and consume everything that is red and sparkly on February 14th, perhaps Valentine’s Day can serve as a reminder that every day is an opportunity for us to tell all the people we care about – not just a sweetheart – how much they mean to us.

-Audra Holbeck

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